Virginia Tech: How much is a massacre worth?


At Virginia Tech, where I taught for 10 years, the magic number was one million dollars. According to many of my fellow teachers, that was the cost of closing the campus for a day and, although I never saw any evidence that it was true, that number ruled my life. I sometimes walked to class on sheets of ice or drove to school through blinding snowstorms because of the magic number. On two occasions, I even found myself holed up in my office while a gunman was loose on campus, all because one million dollars was too much money to waste and the potential cost of car crashes, broken bones, lawsuits and shootings all paled beside the awesome power of seven figures.

On April 16, 2007, while Seung-Hui Cho was shooting students and teachers in Norris Hall, I was in my office, preparing to walk to class. My route took me near Norris, and many of the faces that later found their way onto the pages of the nation's newspapers were familiar to me, as I passed them on the sidewalk every day. Jamie Bishop, in particular, struck me; he and I had met in a technology seminar, and we always waved at each other as I walked to class and he walked back to his office.