Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Heroism at Virginia Tech

I know this isn't exactly a sports post, but in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech yesterday, there was this bright spot amid the chaos that I felt like I had to post about. We always talk about great athletes being able to make good decisions in the blink of an eye - and this student did the same with infinitely more pressure on him than any athlete will ever have to face.

Seems like with any unthinkable tragedy like this, you always hear at least one story of true heroism come out, and this is no exception.

(Via CNN.com)

BLACKSBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- Monday's toll inside Virginia Tech's Norris Hall might have included 11 more students had it not been for a long, rectangular table and a quick-thinking senior who used it to deflect the rampage of his fellow classmate.

Zach Petkewicz said he didn't recognize the sounds that pierced the door and cinder-block walls of his classroom as gunshots until he heard a scream from the hallway of the engineering building.

"The girls in my class peeked out in the hall and saw a gunner come out of a classroom with his gun pointed down," Petkewicz told CNN.

"They immediately slammed the door shut, told us, everybody kind of went into a frenzy, a panic. I hid behind the podium and then just kind of looked up at the door. Like, there's nothing stopping this guy from just coming in. And so I said, 'We need to barricade this door.' "

Petkewicz described his state of mind unabashedly: "I was completely scared out of my mind originally, just went into a cowering position, and then just realized you have got to do something."

Petkewicz and two other students shoved a table against the door and held it there as gunshots continued to ring out from the hallway outside the classroom.

"He came to our door, tried the handle and couldn't get in because we were pushing up against it -- and tried to force his way in and got the door to open up about 6 inches -- and then we just lunged at it and closed it back up and that's when he backed up and shot twice into the middle of the door, thinking we were up against it trying to get him out."

But Petkewicz said that instead he and the other students had placed themselves in front of the cinder-block walls, where they listened to what was going on out of sight a few inches away.

"I just heard his clip drop to the ground, and he reloaded and I thought he was coming back for a second round to try to get his way in there. He didn't say a word, and he just turned and kept firing down the hall and didn't try to get back in."

As the drama was unfolding, Petkewicz said, other classmates were on their cell phones with 911 operators, who told them police were on their way.

Soon, "I could hear police shouting all around the building. They were there really fast, it was just a matter of getting up and getting to us and getting this guy out of the picture."

The shooter -- identified as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major and South Korean native from Centreville, Virginia -- used one of his two guns to take care of that himself, police said.

Asked what he would say to those who call him a hero, Petkewicz looked away, began blinking rapidly, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head back and forth, removed his right hand from the pocket of his blue jeans and used it to stroke his forehead, then said in a voice choked with emotion, "I'm just glad I could be here."

Norris Hall is shut for the remainder of the semester.

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