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A Year Later, Reflections on Tragedy at Virginia Tech
By Jim Hodges

The words were stark on a dark screen, "We Remember."

More than 80 employees of NASA Langley were in the Reid Center at noon Wednesday because they remembered a year earlier, when the word began to stream from Virginia Tech that 32 students and faculty had been killed in a shooting rampage by a 33rd person, who then killed himself.

Most of the deaths were in Norris Hall, where so many Langley engineers had been educated. Perhaps half of those in the Reid Center wore Tech colors in support of the school.

"We don't have anything officially to do with the school itself, but there are a lot of ties between Virginia Tech and Langley," said George Finelli, the center operations director. Finelli's son, Kevin, is a junior at Tech.

They watched pictures of the victims, shown on the screen accompanied by "Teddy Bear," a haunting instrumental performed by Richard Thompson.

Then followed the words by poet Nikki Giovanni: "We Will Prevail."

Virginia Tech Remembrance Ceremony.Image right: Employees gathered in the Reid Conference Center auditorium for the Day of Remembrance, honoring the victims of last year's Virginia Tech shootings. Credit: Sean Smith.

Mike Chapman, who works in the Center Operations Branch and is a Tech alumnus, helps recruit students for the school. He took a busload of Hampton Roads high school students to the campus almost a year ago.

"The shootings were on Monday," he said. "We were there on the following Saturday. Most of the students we had planned for went on the trip. They knew what happened, but they said, 'we're coming anyway.' "

Dan Mazanek, also an alumnus working with Space Mission Analysis Branch, also was on campus on that Saturday after the shootings.

"It was a somber day, but kids were trying to get a feeling of normalcy," he said.

In the aftermath, there remains a question of what is normalcy.

"There was no excuse for the bloodshed, for the killings," Mazanek said. "But it's important that we go back and look at the root cause."

He spoke of the troubled Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter who eventually turned a gun on himself.

"One of the lessons that comes out of the tragedy is that love and respect we have for each other," Mazanek said. "I'm not saying that Cho wouldn't have done this thing if he had been treated differently, but …"

Almost a year ago, a "day of remembrance" was held at Langley. That was an emotional time. This year, there was more of an aura of reflection.

"When I look back to the last year's (ceremony) by the flagpole, I was very affected," Finelli said. "I don't know if I could have said anything."

This year the words came, and so did the feelings of more than 80 people who remembered that a year earlier, to the day, there was a tragedy that they will never forget.

NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Adams