Rich Galen

What can you say about a madman grabbing two pistols and killing 32 people? Nothing. Words fail.

How do you describe the terror of the students in the dorms or in the classrooms? You can't. Words fail.

What words do you use to comfort the parents of those who were killed? Or the parents of those who were injured. Or the parents who couldn't get through to their children for hours because the cell system was overloaded? None. Words fail.

Shortly after the scope of the calamity in Blacksburg became known, the cable news anchors and reporters ran out of words. Then, having turned the sound off to avoid listening to obvious conjecture and unavoidable repetition, even the pictures couldn't convey what had happened.


Blacksburg, is in southwestern Virginia; much closer to Winston-Salem, NC than to Washington, DC.

Virginia Tech began as a land-grant college named Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1872 - two years after Virginia was re-admitted to the union - on the site of what had been a Methodist school.

In 1896 VAMC (it was, apparently, never popularly known as Virginia A&M) was re-named Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute - which was immediately shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or VPI. In 1944 the name was changed to its current official name: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and in usage to Virginia Tech. Its logo uses the letters VT.

This horror occurred at Virginia Tech, but it could have occurred at any major university - public or private; north or south; east or west.

Its student population of about 26,000 is the biggest among schools in Virginia but only about half the size of schools like Ohio State and the University of Texas which are each about 51,000 students at their main campuses.

Over the course of the next days and weeks people will tell us more than we want to know about the killer. That he was Korean is already known, and that fact was noted with relief by Blacks, Muslims, Jews and other ethnic groups: "He wasn't one of ours."

The Blacksburg Police Chief and the Virginia Tech President held a press conference at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I thought they were marvelous, even in the face of some outrageous challenges by some reporters.

In fact, I thought the only thing the two did wrong at their press conference was not putting a stop to it when it became clear reporters had nothing else to ask, and they had nothing else to add.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at