Media Presence Annoys Mourners Gathered To Honor Victims Mondayby Tricia Sangalang
News Staff Writer
April 23, 2007
Rise early at Virginia Tech and you can discover true quiet at, say, 7 a.m. Few students or faculty can be seen, except for the occasional early bird eager to snare a hot breakfast.
That seemed to be the point of “A Moment In Time,” another remembrance event from a week of events that occurred Monday morning to mark the 7:15 a.m. incident at West Ambler Johnston April 16, which left two people dead and ignited the ensuing rampage in Norris Hall two hours later.
This Monday the idea seemed simple enough: Have students and other members of the Tech community gather on Dietrick Lawn to mark last week’s event.
This time, however, a few Virginia Tech Police officers, students and various members of campus ministry found themselves accompanied by a bevy of reporters, with their cameras and microphones in hand.
Media stationed themselves on the sidewalk in front of East Ambler Johnston, pointing their cameras toward about 20 marching members of The National Association for the Prevention of Starvation (NAPS), a non-profit volunteer relief organization started in Alabama that was on hand to mark the occasion.
Dressed in dark blue sweatshirts, these members, who represent several colleges and states, played music just before the remembrance event began.
As the NAPS members continued down the sidewalk, one cameraman walked backwards in front of them, capturing their march on camera. Other media scurried down the sidewalk in hopes of catching a good shot of the seemingly impromptu performance.
Meanwhile, students and campus ministry members walked towards the center of the lawn to honor Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher, who were shot in West Ambler Johnston last Monday.
“I had English class with Emily,” freshman August Sarrol said. “I came to show support. Everyone seems to know about the other (victims in Norris), but these students are just as important.”
While walking to join the group, a reporter stopped a student and asked, “What do you think about all the media that are here right now?”
When he responded, “I’m part of student media,” the reporter backed away and continued to observe.
At about 7:10 a.m., two campus ministry members called for the crowd’s attention.
At that moment, the media bustled, without hesitation, towards the group, eager to catch the opening of the remembrance on camera.
In a piqued tone, one of the leaders asked the media to step away, encouraging students to come and join the circle.
“Please respect us,” the group leader said to the media. “This is for the students.”
Although some listened and stayed a few feet back, one reporter knelt down, holding a microphone towards the two leaders. She was the only person in the middle of the circle.
It seemed the number of media personnel in attendance outnumbered the number of students and community members present.
A few minutes later, the two ministry members led the group in a Buddhist chant. Many sang along, others hummed.
At 7:15, they rang a bell. Ding. Ding. Ding. One minute of silence for one victim.
As students bowed their heads, one cameraman made his way through the crowd, and stuck his camera in a mourner’s face; the reporter, with a microphone in her left hand, followed close behind.
On the other side of the circle, a cameraman stood in front of students in order to capture the moment. A Red Cross representative, perturbed by his insistency, covered the camera lens with her hand. He responded in an equally annoyed tone: “Don’t touch my camera.”
“I guess it’s their job to put this on air,” Sarrol said. “It’s not good. One guy was pushing over students.”
One minute later, three more bells rang. One minute of silence for the other victim.
By that time, at least 100 people stood on Dietrick Lawn, including the members of NAPS, who, according to their website, came to Virginia Tech to, “remind the nation that even in the midst of tragedy, small acts of kindness may leave a greater impression than many kind words.”
The media remained persistent throughout the event.
The same Red Cross representative who had covered a cameraman’s lens earlier walked over to a crying student during the second moment of silence.
“I’m blocking you from cameras,” she said.
“I’m just so angry,” the student said. “Why are they here?”
The Red Cross representative put her hand on her shoulder, and guided her in the direction the group was moving.
One of the members of NAPS began playing the violin. Media gathered around him. After the song was finished, the crowd proceeded to the Drillfield, led by members carrying “prayer flags.” The media followed, taking pictures, filming or holding their microphones within conversations among students.
This “problem,” this “intrusion,” as some have called it, again was in evidence at the university-wide moment of silence on the Drillfield later Monday morning.
The ceremony, which was organized by Hokies United, was marked by the toll of one bell from the tower of Burruss Hall at 9:45 a.m.
Media positioned themselves near the Hokie Stone memorial, on the steps of Burruss Hall and elsewhere within the crowd.
As volunteers walked out of Burruss, each carrying one white balloon, photographers hurried up the stairs to capture them walking. Their clicking cameras echoed.
One minute later, a bell tolled. At each toll, one white balloon was released.
At each toll, more clicks of cameras could be heard in the stillness.
The bell rang a total of 32 times, one time in memory of each victim.
About mid-way through, a photographer quietly walked up the Burruss steps and aimed his camera. A student, who was standing behind him, said, “Can you please move? You’re in my way.”
A release of 1,000 maroon and orange balloons concluded the ceremony. As the crowd looked up to the clear, blue sky to watch the balloons drift away, the zoom lenses of photographers’ cameras were pointed in the same direction.
Thousands of students, faculty and community members attended the ceremony, and to many students’ dismay, hundreds of media were present as well.
“There are so many photographers right here,” a student said on the phone while walking to her class after the ceremony. “They’re in my way.”
Despite the media presence, both ceremonies brought the community together to pay tribute to the innocent victims who lost their lives.
“The ceremony was really good,” sophomore Johnny Cahill said. “It was appropriate and the turnout was amazing. I was happy about that.”