Today is the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, and folks here in Virginia and throughout the country are keeping the Virginia Tech community, along with the families of those killed, in their thoughts and prayers. State flags are flying at half staff. At my church preschool today, about a dozen people wore Virginia Tech shirts or pins.
We remember the 32 victims of the shooting.
But 33 people died that day. Victim number 33, of course, was the shooter, Seung Hui Cho. Nonetheless, at memorial displays and commemorative bell ringings, the count will stop at 32. In popular perception, there were 32 victims that day.
But it is not enough to say that 32 were victims of violence, for victim number 33 also died of a gunshot wound. There are 33 families mourning the loss of loved ones today. 33 body bags were needed on the Blacksburg campus last April. 33 people died.
Ignoring Seung Hui Cho risks ignoring the root causes of the tragedy in the first place – poorly diagnosed and treated mental illness, and easy access to guns. We make him into a monster, not a victim, and thus his death is not to be grieved but to be received with gratitude and relief. When we ignore Seung Hui Cho, we ignore why 32 others died and we diminish their memory.
On this day let us remember in prayer all those who died, and ask God to bring comfort and hope to their families.
Let the bells ring. 33 times.