BLACKSBURG, Va. (BP)–At least 32 people were killed and 29 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history April 16 at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. Southern Baptists began mobilizing during the day to help the community cope with the tragedy.
An unidentified gunman opened fire in a dormitory around 7:15 a.m. Monday, killing at least one person. Two hours later, shots were fired in multiple classrooms in the school’s engineering building before the gunman killed himself, law enforcement officials said.
Brandon Pickett, a media missionary for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, said the state convention is organizing relief work and a grief counseling effort in response to the Virginia Tech shootings.
“We’re networking our 500 churches in prayer, and we’re asking all SBCV churches to set aside time to pray at noon tomorrow, which is the same time as the Virginia Tech convocation on campus,” Pickett told Baptist Press April 16. “We’re asking our churches to set aside that time to pray for the students, parents, instructors and administrators whose lives have been affected by this tragedy.”
Pickett said the state convention is sending a disaster relief feeding unit and other relief resources to help in any way possible.
“Obviously we can’t go on the campus because it’s locked down right now, but we’re going to be networking there to help in any way we can parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and anybody who comes in and wants to see how their children are doing. We want to minister to them,” he said.
The SBCV will be assisting area pastors and churches in their efforts to deal with the shootings, Pickett said, and the convention has made itself available to help National Guard chaplains with grief counseling.
Jim Burton, senior director of the partnership mobilization division at the North American Mission Board, said the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Tech is reaching out to students on campus. The BCM is a ministry of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
President Bush was described as “horrified” at the “shocking incident” and praying for those involved, Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine returned to the state from a previously scheduled trip to Japan.
“The university is shocked and indeed horrified that this would befall us, and I want to extend my deepest and most sincere and profound sympathy to the families of these victims, which include our students,” Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said at a news conference following the shootings.
Students were on lockdown and were following the developments via the Internet and cell phones while others were witnesses to what they described as “mayhem” and “mass chaos” on campus.
“These two kids I guess had panicked and jumped out of the top story window and the one kid broke his ankle and the other girl was not in good shape just lying on the ground,” Matt Waldron, a student, told CNN.
The shootings came three days after a bomb threat caused classes to be canceled in three campus buildings. And on April 2, one building was evacuated after police received a written bomb threat. Police were investigating whether the threats and the shootings were related.
Serious wind conditions prevented helicopters from transporting victims to hospitals, the campus newspaper reported, but ambulances were being used. The campus was secure and students and faculty were advised to remain indoors during the aftermath, The Collegiate Times said in an update online. Counseling was available and Tuesday’s classes were canceled.
“Southern Baptists from around the country are not immune from this crisis,” Pickett said. “They are probably affected because of students that come from all over the country to Virginia Tech…. I’m sure students and parents and families from all over the country are affected by this and we ask everyone to come together in prayer.”
Until the Virginia Tech shootings, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was on Oct. 16, 1991, at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, when a gunman opened fire on a lunchtime crowd, killing 22 people before taking his own life. The deadliest campus shooting had been in 1966 at the University of Texas, where a gunman killed 16 people and wounded 31 before being shot by police, the Associated Press noted.
Compiled by Erin Roach.