Monday, October 1, 2007

Preventing Violence - Part 6

We wrap up our Preventing Violence series where it began. Last Friday’s post, which inspired the series, described the “Resolution in Support of the Victims and Families at Virginia Tech” that was to be presented on the college’s campus that day. Now MVFHR member Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins gives a report on the ceremony:

A group of victims and victim advocates made up the resolution’s “presentation team,” and we were joined by John Gillis, the head of the federal Office for Victims of Crime; Will Marling, the interim Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance; some of Maryland's leading victim advocates; leaders of Virginia's chapters of Parents of Murdered Children. I was there representing not only MVFHR but also the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, for whom I work as victim outreach staff.

The ceremony, in which we presented a lovely large framed copy of the resolution, was accompanied by much more than just words on paper. Each organization that signed on to the resolution has promised specific kinds of support, ranging from donations of MVFHR board member Bill Jenkins' book What To Do When The Police Leave: A Guide To The First Days of Traumatic Loss for each family to trainings in trauma and crisis support and counseling sessions for all in the Virginia Tech community who wish to have them. The university will be considering these offers of help and working with us to provide them.

At the ceremony, we each spoke about our shared stories, our grief, and our determination to make some good come out of this tragedy. We then went as a group and laid a wreath at the memorial in the drill field at the center of campus.

We were all struck by the graciousness of Virginia Tech’s President Charles Steger and the university leadership who took us to lunch and thanked us profusely for this outpouring of support. They are so focused on finding out what went wrong and making sure that they do all they can to help it never happen again. It was a powerful and indescribable feeling being present in the conference room with all of us together.

I was changed by this visit – being close to Norris Hall, seeing the signs all over Blacksburg in support, hugging President Steger and knowing how broken his heart was, yet how he has persevered with such dignity. It made me more focused than ever on making the personal connections with the victims of crimes, just being there in the moment of need with some kind of aid. I had never been this close to such a mass tragedy; the scope is too big for us even to imagine the full impact. I bought a shirt that said "We Are All Virginia Tech" – because we are. I invite everyone to make stopping this kind of violence a priority in our lives.

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