Virginia police seek motive; Virginia Tech seeks peace of mind
As the Virginia Tech campus tries to reclaim its peace of mind after last week's violence, state police are working to establish a motive and re-create the movements of shooter Ross Truett Ashley “in the days and hours leading up to the murder-suicide.”
In a recent statement, Virginia police confirmed that Ashley stole a white Mercedes SUV from a Radford, Va., real estate office at gunpoint the day before he shot and killed Virginia Tech police officer Deriek Crouse and then himself.
In a letter to the campus community, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger called Thursday’s shootings “senseless,” “tragic” and “regrettably familiar.”
Students had their own take, including a dread of the “media field day” that would inevitably follow the new incident of violence on the campus.
“We felt like we knew we didn’t deserve” the negative media attention, said senior Drew Jenkinson.
The campus tragedies have been of horrifying scope. In 2007, undergraduate Seung-hui Cho killed 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage by a lone gunman in U.S. history. In 2009, graduate student Xin Yang was decapitated with a knife by a man she knew. And on Thursday, Ashley gunned down Crouse, an Army veteran and father of five, for no apparent reason, according to police.
These incidents, however, are not what life at Virginia Tech is about, Jenkinson, a well-spoken communications major, told the Los Angeles Times. For the nearly 30,000 students, Virginia Tech is simply home.
He and fellow senior Bethany Darnley have been working diligently on “Hokies for Crouse,” a student fund-raising effort for Crouse’s family, and they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars.
"Everybody's very supportive of the Crouse family," Jenkinson said. "We feel like they are one of our own, and they really are."
Jenkinson and Darnley's effort includes a system for donations. A PayPal account is linked to the official memorial fund for Crouse.
"I went to bed with $40 in the PayPal account, woke up the next morning and there was $10,000,” Jenkinson said. “And by the end of that day $40,000. Then by the next day we were approaching” $60,000.
By Monday night, the students had raised $82,000.
“We never could have imagined that this would have happened,” said Jenkinson, seeming a little weary and slightly overwhelmed. “The community's taken this project on as their own and really spread it in an amazing, kind of beautiful way."
The effort has become more than its beginnings as “a Facebook event,” he said. Jenkinson sees it as a movement -- and part of that is getting out a positive message about Virginia Tech.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Jenkinson said, full of “kind and generous” people. "It's unfortunate that we get such negative ... perceptions because of these uncontrollable events that have happened in our past and like the one on Thursday."
School pride is heartfelt and hasn’t dimmed because of those events, he said. At orientation, students learn that if someone asks them, "What's a Hokie?" The answer is, "I am. … That's the first thing you hear when you walk into the doors."
Jenkinson and his friends will continue to try to get out the message out that “Hokie Nation” remains unbowed: “We live Virginia Tech every day.”
-- Amy Hubbard