In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the residents of the Blacksburg, Virginia are visibly shaken. Virginia Tech University is located in this rural town about four hours south of Washington, D.C. In some ways Blacksburg is an extension of Virginia Tech. The university employs many local people, and many local businesses cater to students. And as VOA's Brian Padden reports, the people of Blacksburg are also now trying to cope with the tragedy that left 33 people dead.
While it may look like business as usual at Gillie's restaurant, a favorite hangout for Virginia Tech students, the mood here is somber. Most of the customers are from the school. The cooks and the servers are also students. And almost everyone here knew someone killed or wounded in the shooting rampage at the university.
Owner Ranae Gillie says Blacksburg is a very close-knit community and today all are grieving their loss. "We are all affiliated someway or another with the university. When this horrific event happened, it affected each one of us all. And we are trying, in our own way, to do some act of healing."
While Ranae Gillie strives to find some solace in her work, Kiera Cass is ready to listen. After hearing about the shooting at the university, she set up a sign on a local street corner offering her services as a sidewalk counselor. "I really felt compelled to come and show kindness,” she says. “I don't know why. It is so simple and so silly but it is really what I felt I needed to do."
Blacksburg is in a very rural and usually safe area. Outside of town there are more cattle than people. That a tragedy of this nature could even happen in this peaceful little town is almost unbelievable to many here.
Long-term resident John Lemasters says now that sense of security is gone. "We assumed the town was a safe place, that our university was a safe place. And that morning all of our assumptions were shattered," he says.
Like John Lemasters, many of the residents of Blacksburg feel their lives have been forever changed.