Injuries Heal, but Mental Scars May Last Much Longer
Nearly a week after Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people, dozens of his lesser-known victims, some of whom avoided death by fractions of an inch as the bullets flew, are beginning to heal.
Many of the 30 wounded were shot while crouching under classroom desks, afraid that the gunman’s next round would find them. Some were struck when they raised their hands in panicked attempts to stop bullets aimed at their heads. Others jumped from classroom windows and were injured when they hit the ground.
The severity of their injuries ranges widely. Some will require reconstructive surgery and extensive physical therapy; others are healing relatively quickly from superficial wounds and broken bones.
Five of the injured remained hospitalized in the Blacksburg area last night, all but one in stable or good condition, officials said. Sean McQuade of New Jersey is in critical condition, with a bullet lodged in his brain.
Among the Washington area wounded are Kristina Heeger, 19, of Vienna, who was shot in the stomach, and Katelyn Carney, 21, of Sterling, who was struck in the hand. Doctors will not say how many injuries were caused by gunfire.
In the minutes and hours after the massacre, McQuade was among three students shot in the head who were rushed to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, said Sydney J. Vail, its director of trauma. One of the students died; another remains at a Fairfax hospital with a broken jaw
Vail said McQuade would probably remain hospitalized for six to eight weeks, and a pressure monitor has been inserted in his cranium to guard against dangerous swelling. It was too early to tell whether he would have long-term damage, Vail said.
Some injuries were exacerbated by the 9mm jacketed hollow-point bullets that Cho used, said Vail, a specialist in ballistic injuries. When hollow-point rounds hit the body, they spread into metallic petals “like a flower,” Vail said.
“When the bullet opens, it expands, creating a larger wounding channel,” he said. “There are leaflets, or petals, that peel back.”
The recovery for others will not be so long. Derek O’Dell was hit in the arm when Cho burst into his German class and began shooting. After the gunman left the room, O’Dell and two classmates wedged their feet against the door, straining to keep him out as he shot through the wood.
“I don’t even feel like I can complain or anything, considering what happened to some other people,” said O’Dell, 20, resting yesterday at home in Roanoke.
O’Dell’s father expects his son’s arm to be out of its sling in a week or two. The other part of his recovery could take longer.
“There’s two kinds of health to be looking at, the physical health and the mental health,” said Roger O’Dell. “So far, he’s been good in that regard. But to tell you the truth, none of us have had time to take it in and think about what happened and how bad it was.”
It might be days, weeks or months before the wounded feel the full emotional weight of what they have experienced, said Ted Feinberg, assistant executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists, who counseled students at Columbine High School after the shootings in 1999. About one in five will experience severe depression, post-traumatic stress dis- order and other serious maladies, he said.
“Here you have a beautiful, pastoral campus, a lovely quiet setting, and now it will never be the same,” he said of Virginia Tech. “I hate to admit it, but it will never be the same.”
A year after Columbine, mental health groups saw a spike in families seeking help for depression and substance abuse attributed to a delayed reaction. The community experienced a rash of suicides, and much of the school’s staff has quit, said Feinberg and others familiar with the school.
But about 60 percent of those exposed to trauma cope with support only from friends and family, Feinberg said.
Virginia Tech student Colin Lynam Goddard, 21, of Richmond was shot three times but was on his feet Thursday, impatiently testing his doctors’ limits. “This morning he walked five or six steps in his room. They were ready for him to sit down, and he said ‘Let’s go into the hallway,’ ” his mother, Anne Lynam Goddard, said.
Although they’ve had the news on, they haven’t been paying much attention. But Colin recognized himself in an iconic photograph of a young man and woman being car- ried out of Norris Hall.
“You can see his head kind of hanging down; that’s my son,” said Anne Goddard, president of the Richmond-based Christian Children’s Fund.
The Virginia State Police trooper who carried him has visited, and friends have been coming. There have also been quiet moments as a family. Medical personnel had put mother and son on the phone together as Colin was first in the rush of the emergency room.
“He said today that he felt safe once he heard my voice,” Anne Goddard said.
Cho shot twice into Chang Min Pak, 27, of Seoul — through his side, arm and hand. Recovering at his apartment in Blacksburg, he said in a telephone interview that his physical wounds are healing, but the ordeal is too painful to talk about. “I guess I need some rest,” he said.
The family of Justin Klein, a 2004 Catonsville High graduate who was shot twice in his leg and once in his elbow, released a statement yesterday saying he’d be released from the hospital soon.
Guillermo Colman of Harrisonburg, Va., was shot twice, once in the head and once in the shoulder. A 9mm slug had lodged in his skull. Surgeons removed it, and he was re- leased Tuesday.
Colman, 38, was receiving wellwishers Wednesday. “Gil was standing in the driveway waiting for us. Just the initial sight of him standing there was just amazing,” said Chris Strock, another student. “He said he’s already forgiven the university and forgiven the shooter.”
Dan Carney said his sister Katelyn, 21, a junior, was recovering from a gunshot wound to the left hand and felt well enough to fulfill a promise to serve as maid of honor at their sister’s wedding this weekend. “Everyone’s going to wear a white glove on their left hand” at the ceremony to show support for Katelyn, her brother added.
She was wounded in the German class and was one of the students who helped O’Dell block Cho’s return to their classroom.
Demian Yakel, an orthopedic surgeon treating five of the injured at Montgomery Regional in Blacksburg, said his patients were conscious and in good spirits, talking to each other in the hallways and in the physical therapy room.
“They’re all very positive,” Yakel said at a briefing. “They don’t want to be beaten down by this. They’re really fired up about getting better. They’re dragging our physical therapists down the hallway.” Staff writers Tamara Jones, Michael Laris and Carol D. Leonnig and researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
The 9mm jacketed hollow-point bullets Cho used exacerbated some injuries, says Sydney J. Vail, director of trauma at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The rounds spread into metallic petals “like a flower” when they hit the body.