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Town of Blacksburg, Virginia Copes with Aftermath of University Killing Spree


As new details emerge about the gunman blamed for the killings at Virginia Tech University, and more is learned about his 32 victims, the small community of Blacksburg, Virginia struggles with the burden of this tragedy. Julie Donnelly reports on how local people are coping.

Regular programming at Q99 radio station near Virginia Tech has taken a back seat to a more important mission -- as an emotional outlet for a community in mourning. Disc jockey Joey Self has become a shoulder to lean on.

"As you can imagine, via phone and e-mail, a lot of people are calling in to express their thoughts about the victims, and to offer condolences to the families," he says.

The people of Blacksburg, Virginia are finding ways to cope with an unexplainable loss, commemorating the victims with yellow ribbons on Main Street. Local children passed out pins in Virginia Tech colors.

And they are turning to their local leaders -- such as Mayor Ron Rordam -- for answers.

"One message that I have tried to tell is, this is an isolated incident, this is not the town of Blacksburg,” says the mayor. “We did a citizen survey two years ago and people say they feel safe in the parks like this, they feel safe on the streets. And I don't think that will change Blacksburg and who we are and what we are."

But as the mayor was speaking, his town hall was in lockdown after a bomb threat in a neighboring town.

Earlier in the day, police locked down a campus building next to where the shootings took place. The local police force, under international scrutiny, cannot afford to take any chances.

It is a new reality for a town where people usually leave their doors open.

Many local businesses closed Monday immediately following the tragedy. But Cabo Fish Taco stayed open, becoming a haven for locals and students alike. But owner Gary Walker says it has not been easy, since more than half of his waitstaff is comprised of students.

"So a lot of them are going home,” Walker tells us. “A lot of their families are coming and picking them up and making them go home, which leaves the community a little drained because we don't have the staff to maintain our business because half of the staff are gone."

Meanwhile, the town is reeling from new warning signs about the shooter, Cho Seung-hui. An English professor says Cho's writings and strange behavior prompted her to alert school authorities and the counseling service. And police say Cho was investigated for allegedly stalking two female students in 2005.

Local peace activist Justin Yonker says Cho fell through the cracks in a society where violence is too often the answer. "Violent solutions aren't solutions. There are always non-violent solutions to a problem. They might be the ones that take longer, not the ones you immediately think of, but they are there. And I'm just trying to get on my soapbox, prevent something like this from happening in the future."

The future is something Blacksburg is trying to focus on -- but the people know the town will never be the same.

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