A sur­vivor, now a dad: Af­ter­math of a tragedy

Ten years later, scars of Vir­ginia Tech shoot­ing re­main

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

BLACKS­BURG, VA. | Kevin Sterne has spent 10 years try­ing not to let him­self be de­fined by the mass shoot­ing that nearly killed him at Vir­ginia Tech.

But now that he’s a new fa­ther, Sterne grap­ples with know­ing that one day he must tell his son about the hor­ror he worked so hard to put be­hind him.

“How do I ap­proach that? Do I talk about it? What age is ap­pro­pri­ate to go into what kind of de­tail?” Mr. Sterne asked, seated out­side the build­ing where he was tak­ing a Ger­man class on April 16, 2007, when a men­tally ill stu­dent with a gun chained the doors shut and killed 30 peo­ple be­fore killing him­self.

Not un­til months af­ter the shoot­ings did Sterne’s mother hear him talk about what he saw that day.

Even now, he doesn’t dis­cuss it much: The day a bul­let cut through his right leg and an­other one ripped his femoral artery. The day he wrapped a power cord around his leg as a tourni­quet, likely sav­ing his own life. The day four of­fi­cers car­ried his bloody body out of Nor­ris Hall — an im­age plas­tered on the front pages of news­pa­pers across the coun­try.

How do you ex­plain that to a lit­tle boy? Se­ung-Hui Cho killed 32 peo­ple on cam­pus that cold April day. More than two-dozen oth­ers were wounded by bul­lets or hurt try­ing to es­cape. It was, at the time, the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in re­cent U.S. his­tory. A mas­sacre that claimed 49 lives at an Or­lando, Florida, night­club sur­passed it last year.

The Tech shoot­ing mo­ti­vated schools across the coun­try to re-eval­u­ate cam­pus se­cu­rity.

It also prompted Vir­ginia law­mak­ers to close a loop­hole that al­lowed Cho to buy guns, even though a judge had de­clared him a dan­ger to him­self and or­dered him to get in­vol­un­tary men­tal health treat­ment.

But a push from Tech sur­vivors and rel­a­tives of the slain failed to per­suade law­mak­ers to tighten over­sight of sales at gun shows, re­veal­ing the depth of the gun cul­ture in this South­ern state.

Over the years, other stu­dents wounded at Tech have grad­u­ated and moved away, many be­com­ing ad­vo­cates for gun-con­trol and cam­pus safety. Quiet and unas­sum­ing, Mr. Sterne has cho­sen to stay out of the spot­light, re­main at the school and try to con­tinue his life the way he imag­ined it would be be­fore it was up­ended.

“I just don’t think he wants that one day, that one hor­rific day that he can’t change … to con­trol who he is,” said his mother, Suzanne Grimes.

That doesn’t mean its ef­fects don’t linger.

He still some­times loses feel­ing in his right leg, where the bul­let re­mains lodged in the head of his fe­mur. As the an­niver­sary ap­proaches, he gets more ir­ri­ta­ble and stressed — the ef­fects of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, he be­lieves. Loud noises can still make him uneasy. His mother no­tices he gets anx­ious in crowds and sits with his back to the wall at res­tau­rants so he can see the en­trances and ex­its. And he has never re-en­tered Nor­ris Hall.

“This isn’t some­thing that hap­pens and then it’s gone and every­body is fine … It stays with you,” said Mr. Sterne, now 32.

Mr. Sterne is the only one of the wounded stu­dents still at Tech, where he works as an en­gi­neer in two labs. While re­cov­er­ing in the hospi­tal, he was ac­cepted at grad­u­ate school here and never con­sid­ered not re­turn­ing, de­spite protests from his mother. In the weeks and months that fol­lowed, he found it com­fort­ing to be around oth­ers on cam­pus who wit­nessed the same hor­ror. When he was of­fered a job at the school, he ac­cepted and never left.

He didn’t want to leave just be­cause that ter­ri­ble thing hap­pened to him here, he said.

“It will be an event that changes and kind of shapes our lives, but there are so many other things to do,” Mr. Sterne said.

On the mas­sacre’s 10th an­niver­sary week­end, Mr. Sterne will bring his wife and son to cam­pus to join other sur­vivors for events hon­or­ing the lives lost that day. Not even a year old yet, his son is still too young to un­der­stand the rea­son for the solemn faces. Mr. Sterne knows a tough con­ver­sa­tion will even­tu­ally come.


Kevin Sterne sits in front of Nor­ris Hall on the Vir­ginia Tech cam­pus in Blacks­burg, Vir­ginia on Thurs­day. Sterne was in Nor­ris Hall at 10 years ago when a gun­man walked in and started shoot­ing. To­day, Sterne is an en­gi­neer at the school.

Ten years ago, Vir­ginia Tech stu­dent Kevin Sterne is car­ried out of Nor­ris Hall on cam­pus af­ter a gun­man opened fire in a dorm and class­room. The at­tack killed 33 peo­ple.

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