Virginia Tech shootings take local grads back to 2007 massacre

Published 9:52 am Saturday, December 10, 2011

FRANKLIN—For Jackie Hodges, Thursday brought back bad memories.

News of two noontime fatal shootings at Virginia Tech took the 26-year-old Courtland woman back to April 16, 2007, when student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people before killing himself.

“It was like (experiencing) it all over again,” said Hodges, who was a senior at the college in Blacksburg, where the deadliest rampage ever on a university campus occurred.

“I was at work (when I heard the news on Thursday), coming back to my office and texting a couple people to make sure they were OK and accounted for,” said Hodges, an agent for Manry Rawls insurance in Franklin.

The motive behind the killings continued to elude investigators on Friday, as police worked to determine why a man shot and killed a campus police officer and then himself, according to news reports.

Authorities did not identify the gunman who allegedly shot Deriek Crouse, 39, of Christiansburg at close range while the officer was making a routine traffic stop of a student on campus. Police said the gunman, was not a Virginia Tech student, and that he fled after shooting Crouse, going into a nearby greenhouse to change clothes, before eventually killing himself with the same gun.

Not a day goes by that Hattie Francis, a freshman at Virginia Tech in 2007, doesn’t think about the massacre.

“I think about it all the time, every day. It cut a little deeper (hearing Thursday’s news),” said Francis, a 2010 graduate who teaches ninth-grade English at Southampton Middle School.

The 23-year-old learned about Thursday’s shootings when she was alerted by the college on her cell phone.

Francis also couldn’t help but think about Seung-Hui Cho, who she had a class with at Virginia Tech.

“He was quiet, very awkward and always wore a hat,” Francis said.

Former Courtland resident Calen Fretts wasn’t on campus when the 2007 shootings occurred. A junior at the time, Fretts was visiting his mother in Richmond that day.

“I woke up in the morning and my mom had been watching the news,” the 26-year-old remembered. “She said, ‘Hey, something weird is going on at Virginia Tech.’”

“At first we thought it was some kind of accident and then we eventually heard there were 20 (dead) and 30. It was really pretty devastating.”

The owner of a website development company in Florida, Fretts said he learned about Thursday’s shootings on the news.

“I had a couple people send me some messages,” Fretts said. “I was shocked. It was happening again at Virginia Tech. It’s a small community. It’s a huge campus, but everyone is friends with each other.”

A New Jersey girl who married 2008 Virginia Tech graduate Jason Hodges and moved to Courtland, Jackie Hodges says Blacksburg is a safe community, yet remains scarred by the memories of April 16, 2007.

“The last part of my senior year was stolen from me,” she said. “Blacksburg is such a safe place and such a good school. I hope this doesn’t give it a negative name.”