“Often they knew a student and wanted me to find out [how the student was],” says Tyndall. “But information was very hard to come by. Phone lines were jammed. Even some cell phone providers were jammed and could not provide service, and the campus Web site people finder went down. Everything was just jammed from overuse.”
As the bad news continued, Tyndall decided to follow dinner for the students with a discussion and prayer service. United Methodist Bishop Charlene Kammerer arrived to offer support. Twenty students decided to stay overnight. “Everybody is very close in our group,” says Tyndall. “The main focus was to provide comfort and a listening ear.”
Classes were cancelled for Tuesday and speakers at a campus-wide convocation included President Bush, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, and other dignitaries. Stallings and her colleagues decided to proceed with the usual Tuesday night student gathering, adding a prayer and worship service open to the entire congregation.
That evening was the first time many of the students had seen each other since the tragedy. “It was an emotional time,” says Stallings, her voice breaking. “It was good to lay eyes on them.”
After the evening worship service, the entire congregation—about 300 people—made the five-minute walk to the candlelight vigil together. Visitors included supporters Bishop James Mauney of the Virginia Synod and Jan Tobias of Lutheran Disaster Response. “Part of our purpose was to let the students know that the congregation was with them,” says Stallings.
It turned out that neither Tyndall nor Stallings knew any of the dead or injured. At the Wesley Foundation, a couple of students remembered Cho from an English class. Several had friends who were either shot at or killed. Others knew professors who died.
“Virginia Tech has 27,000 students, but it’s amazing how, when this happened, how small it feels,” says Tyndall.
Among the Lutheran students, one escaped the gunman by jumping out a second-story window. The roommate of a freshman was killed. At least a half-dozen students lost good friends. And the losses extended all the way to the middle school attended by Stalling’s daughter.
“Two of my daughter’s friends in 7th grade lost a parent, and four children at that school lost a parent. There was an amazing ripple effect,” she says. “A growing circle that became unbelievably big and overwhelming.”
Both Tyndall and Stallings express gratitude for the outpouring of sympathy and support after the shootings. The overwhelming number of contacts ranged from calls, e-mail and letters to banners, cards and homemade cookies. People around the country, including students at rival schools, wore orange and maroon and held candlelight vigils.
“I think that this university and this community are going to be even stronger,” says Tyndall. “The solidarity and compassion from around the country has been absolutely amazing, but the prayers were the most important thing.”
Tyndall attributes the volume of support to the sense of identification people felt with the random nature of the shootings. “Blacksburg is anywhere U.S.A.,” he says. “If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.”