BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–Brian Bluhm, a Virginia Tech graduate student who had been involved in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, was one of the 32 victims of the April 16 massacre at the Blacksburg, Va., campus, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“Pray for the family of Brian,” Darrell Cook, the BCM director at Virginia Tech wrote in an e-mail after the tragic day, identifying Brian as “a grad student in our ministry who was killed yesterday. Pray for our alumni and students that were close to Brian as well.”
Mark Appleton, associate BCM director at Virginia Tech and a Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, said Brian “was very active at the BCM as an undergraduate but as a graduate student we didn’t see him as much. But everyone knew him.”
Appleton had just been dismissed from jury duty and was returning to the BCM center on the edge of Virginia Tech’s 2,500-acre campus when he spotted a large detail of police officers and vehicles quickly converging on the campus. It would be the beginning of 12-hour ordeal for Appleton and everyone else in Blacksburg.
The BCM center became an oasis of prayer, grief, sharing and peace at 7 p.m. Monday when Appleton opened the facility to any students who needed a place to come. More than 300 students -– mostly Southern Baptists and members of Campus Crusade for Christ -– came by.
“As far as people coming together, it has been amazing,” Appleton said. “In the middle of the chaos, it’s been a beautiful thing to see the body of Christ work. We’ve been contacted by ministries all over the U.S., offering prayer and resources.
“Local churches have been fantastic. They brought food. The Baptist General Association of Virginia sent trained crisis counselors to be available to students. The center became a place where students could process what had happened and could come to talk, eat or just cry. We set up side rooms where students could pray. We had a corporate time of praying and even singing,” Appleton said.
More than one student told “just-by-the-grace-of-God” stories of how they miraculously altered their schedule and were not at Norris Hall when the shooting rampage began around 9:15 a.m., Appleton said.
“One student said he had a foot that was hurting so he left Norris Hall just before the shooting started. Otherwise he would have been there.
“Another one of the students was a grading assistant to a professor who was shot and killed by the gunman. The assistant didn’t go to Norris Hall yesterday because he had not yet graded all of the professor’s recent test papers.
“There were a bunch of stories like that -– small tales of joy in the midst of the horror,” Appleton said.
In his two-year ministry at Virginia Tech, Appleton said it was easily his worst and most challenging day ever. What words did he have for the few hundred dazed and grieving students at the BCM center Monday night?
“It was a time for them to cry, talk and even laugh. There was a lot of processing going on. But we all acknowledged that Christ is still on the throne and the world is in God’s hands.
“If anything, it’s a testimony for the need for Christ. To me, it’s a blaring message of the hope and love Christ offers. That was a lot of our focus at the center last night.”
He said over half of the prayers voiced by the students were pleas for the further proclamation of the Gospel and that God would make something good out of the unprecedented campus tragedy.
“Right now, prayer is the best thing Baptists can do for us,” Appleton said. “The Holy Spirit is working here already and needs to work in even mightier ways in the days ahead.”
Appleton said three Southern Baptist churches are close to the Virginia Tech campus, where 26,000 students are enrolled. Virginia Tech -– officially called Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University -– is located in the middle of Blacksburg, a town of 40,000 people in southwest Virginia.
The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia sent a disaster relief kitchen unit to Blacksburg and had parked on the street next to the dorm where the first shooting occurred. They reportedly were preparing 200 meals for President Bush’s entourage for the April 17 campus convocation and planned to feed about 250 law enforcement officers Tuesday night.