This post is a preface to our next He Said/She Said regarding the topic of memorializing violence. Comments are turned off for this post but will be allowed on the following post.
On August 1, 1966 a lone gunman positioned himself in the Texas Tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and began shooting. He killed sixteen people and wounded 31 others before Austin police shot and killed him. Forty years later, “university officials added a bronze plaque to a garden near the tower as a memorial ‘to those who died, to those who were wounded, and to the countless other victims who were immeasurably affected by the tragedy,’ according to an inscription on the plaque”*.
On April 16, 2007 a lone gunman entered two different buildings on the campus of Virginia Tech, killed 32 people, wounded several others and then turned his gun on himself committing suicide. Less than two months later, an “intermediate” memorial was designed and the dedication for that memorial was held on August 19th. Plans for a final, permanent memorial are underway.
Do you wonder what the difference is between these two events and how they have been and are being memorialized? Does the difference have to do with what happened on September 11, 2001? Is Virginia Tech setting itself up to be most famously remembered for having the worst act of violence (to date) occur on a college campus?
Consider the responses of these other schools that saw violence and death on their campuses. A memorial for the victims of the Columbine High School shootings, which happened in 1999, is under construction but has not yet been completed. The memorial is not located on the school’s campus but at a nearby park. Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, AR, has a memorial garden on the campus. It is located away from the actual location of the shootings that occurred there in 1998 and was placed there more than two years after the fact by a community group.
In the book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings by Katherine S. Newman, the author starts a section titled “Remembrance” with this thought, “If mental health is not an exact science then ritual observance is even less so.” Our natural tendency as humans is to memorialize loss. Many feel that memorials are an appropriate way to grieve and a comfort to those who will mourn for their entire lives. Anniversary services and remembrances mark the passage of time and ensure that loved ones who were taken from us are not forgotten. Yet it seems that there is no formula for remembering and memorializing, we only know that it will happen in some form or fashion.
But what else do we inadvertently memorialize? Does it not etch into permanent, collective memory acts of violence so devastating, so horrific that an entire nation and even much of the world was riveted to their television sets in utter despair and confusion over unimaginable tragedy? Do memorials not make the troubled, disturbed and lonesome souls that committed these heinous acts somehow immortal?