We Remember: Virginia Tech Five Years Later

vt_ribbon_gray Five years ago, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured at least 17 others before turning the gun on himself.  The 16 April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history.  In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, I created a web archive collection, Tragedy at Virginia Tech, in order to capture the Commonwealth’s “on-line” response.  Included in the collection are the websites of Virginia Tech, the Office of the Governor, and the Virginia Tech Review Panel.  I remember creating the collection because of the “historic” nature of the shooting.  I confess that I initially viewed that day’s events with the emotional detachment of an archivist/historian.  But what made it “historic?” The number of people killed?  The 32 people who died that day are not numbers – they had names, families, hopes and dreams – a future.  The biographies captured in the Tragedy at Virginia Tech collection quickly shattered my impassiveness.  What I saw as “historic” in 2007 is an ever present tragedy for the families who lost their loved ones.  It is a wound that time cannot heal.

I was reminded of this when I began processing the e-mail records of Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  The Kaine administration transferred to the Library of Virginia approximately 1.3 million e-mail messages from 215 staff members.  Included are numerous Virginia Tech-related records including but not limited to the creation, work, and report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, meetings between Kaine Administration officials and family members both pre- and post-settlement, settlement discussions and agreements, and implementation of the settlement.  The e-mail from family members to Larry Roberts, Counselor to the Governor, and Governor Kaine reflect their anger, grief, and search for answers.

Records pertaining to the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting will not be opened until final resolution of all litigation relating to the incident.  Some of these records may be kept confidential for longer in order to comply with the terms of the settlement agreements the Commonwealth accepted.  What the Library can release are the 16 April 2007 e-mail messages from the boxes of William H. Leighty, Governor Kaine’s Chief of Staff, and John Marshall, Kaine’s Secretary of Public Safety.  These records tell the story of that day in real-time through the e-mail they sent and received.  This is not a comprehensive history; it does not include telephone calls, etc.  It is just an outline.  [Note: a few images can only be read by clicking on "view full size"  and then using the "zoom" feature.]

The Library expects to release e-mail from the Kaine administration in several phases by office or secretariat as soon as the Library’s archival staff has finished processing the material per Code of Virginia § 2.2-126 and § 42.1-78. Some records may still remain closed based on other provisions of the Code, such as the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act and the Virginia Health Records Privacy Act

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist

Author’s Note: This post would not be possible without the efforts of my colleague and friend Kathy Jordan.  Kathy, the Library’s Digital Initiatives and Web Services Manager, developed the workflows and procedures the Library will use to make the Kaine administration e-mail (and attachments) publicly accessible through Digitool, the Library of Virginia’s digital asset manager.  Once in Digitool, the Kaine administration e-mail will be keyword searchable.

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