- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

“Jarreau is OK. I’d be telling you that I’m in the car on [Interstate] 81 if he wasn’t.” Whew. Those reassuring words were spoken yesterday even before the dreaded question was asked by my cousin, Lynette Thomas, as concerned family members and friends sought news of her son, Jarreau Williams, a sophomore at Virginia Tech.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook with people I haven’t heard from in a long time,” Lynette said. So was her mother’s, her sister’s and, of course, so was Jarreau’s.

I know because I tried to contact all of them, too, and those were some pretty scary moments for me and lots of folks after learning of yesterday’s horrific shooting rampage on the campus in bucolic Blacksburg, Va.

“Praise the Lord, he’s all right. I talked to him,” said my aunt, Constance Yvonne Terrell, who I reached after several attempts. By late afternoon, she had to get away from her phone and the wall-to-wall television coverage.

But when I finally reached him, Jarreau gave me the typical young folks’ shout-out, “Oh, I’m good, Cuz.”

You never know just how close violent crime can come to your door. Our hearts and sympathy go out to the grieving families who were not as fortunate as we were yesterday in the aftermath of the deadliest shooting rampage in American history.

Thirty-three persons — including a gunman — were dead and many more injured yesterday morning on the Virginia Tech campus. Two were fatally shot in West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory; the remaining victims were shot in Norris Hall, a building across campus where engineering and architecture classes are held. Apparently, more targets were saved when they jumped from windows or decided to “play dead.”

There was a two-hour gap between the first killings in the dorm at 7:15 a.m. and an electronic notification to students well after 9 a.m., and classes were allowed to continue until after 10 a.m. University President Charles W. Steger said at a late-afternoon press conference that officials thought holding students in classrooms was the safest option. More explanation is needed.

“People were out and about,” Jarreau said. “Somebody could have been killed that didn’t have to while this was going on.” However, once campus authorities moved into action, he added, “They had good protocol.” Sitting in his dorm during the lockdown, he was “trying to stay calm” because “everybody is on edge. … It’s been crazy. It’s unbelievable and just a traumatic experience for a college student to get through, especially being so close to the action that’s been going on.”

Like others, he was “wondering if [the victims] are people I know, or did I know the gunman, or what would make him do this.” One of his roommate’s friends, who took classes in Norris Hall, was unaccounted for hours later.

His mother echoed his apprehension. “I know some other parents, and I’m hoping their children are OK, too,” Lynette said. And if her son knew some of the victims, “He’ll be a basket case.”

Although Jarreau was so close to the action, he learned of the massacre from a fellow student, Sherita Daniels, who checked to see if he was all right.

That cell-phone call was his first notice that he was in harm’s way. It was nearly two hours after the first reported shooting. By the time Jarreau discovered the danger at Virginia Tech, he said he had already taken an exam, eaten breakfast and walked around campus.

Only then did he seek safety in his dormitory room, on the fifth floor of East Ambler Johnston Hall, which is connected to the scene of the first shootings in West Ambler Johnson Hall, where he lived last year.

“Then I got to my dorm and saw the e-mails, and the campus Web site and the police started going around with intercoms, telling everybody that we were on lockdown,” said Jarreau, 19, a psychology and theater arts major at Tech.

With the communications systems either overloaded or blocked, Jarreau said it was difficult to make calls or use text messages.

He was able to reach his father first, who called him back with more information he heard from broadcast outlets. He was finally able to reach his mother, a D.C. schoolteacher on the Emancipation Day holiday, who was unaware of what had happened.

Even with the unusually crime-ridden year with the latest carnage, recent bomb threats and an incident in the fall involving an escaped convict, Jarreau said he intends to return to Blacksburg. He “never, never” even considered a crime of this magnitude happening there, or one person shooting so many people.

Now finishing his second year, Jarreau was “just starting to make my way and blend in with the VT community.”

“It’s a great school, and you definitely get an education here,” he said. “They challenge you here,” and for “engineering and architect students, it’s really no joke for them.” Jarreau and his mother said they were appreciative of all the calls they received. “It’s good to see everybody is concerned. It makes me feel loved,” he said.

As Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who was in Tokyo and made hasty plans to return to Virginia, said, “It’s difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale.”

Indeed, especially when you have the horrible nagging notion that your young loved one could have just as easily been a victim, or knows those who were.

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