Reflections on Columbine and Blacksburg

A reporter who covered the Columbine school shootings for ABC News eight years ago reflects on the events at Virginia Tech — and ponders the parallels between two dark — and snowy — days in U.S. history.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech made commentator Judy Muller think of another shooting, which she covered at a high school eight years ago this week.

JUDY MULLER: Of all the memories I have of Columbine, the remark of one woman I interviewed still haunts me. I found her at the makeshift memorial outside the high school, the mountain of flowers and poems and teddy bears and balloons, and she said very quietly: What's really sad is that we already know what to bring.

Her one sentence commentary, eloquent and awful, is still true. The location, the victims, the perpetrator, the motive may be different, but make no mistake we already know what to bring in the form of grief, in the form of outrage, in the form of questions.

Columbine was one of the most wrenching stories I have ever covered. The vigil outside the school as parents waited to hear if their children were among the dead or living was excruciating. As a former high school teacher, I tried to imagine what had gone on inside those classrooms. As a mother, I could not bear to imagine it.

I thought about that nightmare of a day as I watched the Virginia Tech scene unfold on television. Yesterday, dozens of parents were getting the kind of news no one should have to bear, dozens of parents who sent their children off to college with the confidence they would return, so many empty nests. Unbearable to think of, impossible to put into words.

But there will be words because we know what to bring. The families living this horror, the reporters covering it, the country watching in the sort of national spasm of post-traumatic stress, the narrative is already scripted, only the details are missing. Watching that cell phone video play and play and play endlessly, I was struck by the absence of words and the power of sound: the gunshots and the shouting. But most of all I was struck by the swirling snowflakes. So odd, I thought, snow flurries in April. Then I remembered another April, another place. It's snowed there, too. And as the flowers multiplied in the snow, we all knew what to bring.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Judy Muller is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

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