Few will forget where they were during shootings

As word of Monday's shooting rampage spread across the Virginia Tech campus, coaches scrambled to get in touch with their players and make sense of the tragedy.

Originally Published: April 18, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg had just returned from breakfast with a candidate for a vacancy on his coaching staff. Hokies associate head football coach Billy Hite was finishing up a meeting with his running backs. Wide receiver Michael Reid was walking to class, and former offensive lineman Brandon Frye was working out in the weight room on the bottom floor of Cassell Coliseum.

Wherever Virginia Tech's athletes and coaches were when shots rang out on campus Monday morning, it didn't take them long to realize the magnitude of what was taking place at the school. By midafternoon, most knew Virginia Tech had become the site of the worst shooting massacre in modern U.S. history.

The killer -- identified by police Tuesday as 23-year-old senior Cho Seung-Hui -- shot and killed 32 students and faculty members and wounded 21 others during a shooting spree in two campus buildings.

Two days later, many people involved with Virginia Tech athletics were still trying to grasp the reality of what happened. And nearly all of them say they will never forget where they were Monday.

"Everyone wants to find answers and there are no answers," Greenberg said Wednesday morning. "It could have happened anywhere."

AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia Tech football coach, Frank Beamer, center, and his wife Cheryl, left, joined women's basketball coach Beth Dunkenberger, at Tuesday's convocation.
Monday morning, Greenberg had just returned to his office after the breakfast meeting. His wife, Karen, was working at Blacksburg High School and was informed by a police officer there that a shooting had occurred at Virginia Tech. She called Greenberg and told him the news, and he immediately called their eldest daughter, Paige, a freshman who lives in an on-campus dormitory.

"She was in her room working on a paper," Greenberg said. "I told her to lock her door and sit tight."

More than an hour later, Greenberg received an e-mail that was distributed by university officials. It informed him that a second shooting had occurred in Norris Hall, a science and engineering classroom building. Greenberg called his daughter again and told her to get dressed and he would come get her. She said she would get to his office on her own.

"When she got here, obviously, all hell was breaking loose," Greenberg said.

Greenberg said his immediate concern was to get his daughter away from campus. Paige and her boyfriend, a member of the school's soccer team, left campus in her car.

"I went through the same swing of emotions every parent would go through," Greenberg said. "And then I had to worry about 13 other kids."

Around 11 a.m., Greenberg and assistant coach Ryan Odom frantically began trying to contact each of their 13 basketball players. It was a difficult task because few cell phone calls were going through and text messaging was essentially worthless.

"We couldn't get through to anyone," Greenberg said. "It was really windy and phone line service wasn't working. We just kept pounding away."

Finally, around 3 p.m. Monday, Greenberg and Odom had located each of their players. Deron Washington, a junior from New Orleans, was the last player located. He lived off campus and didn't have a class scheduled at the time of the shootings.

"I had them each communicate with their parents," Greenberg said. "As a parent, I wouldn't want to hear from the coach telling me my child was OK. I made sure each one of them contacted their loved ones."

Just down the hall in Cassell Coliseum, Hite and the other eight football coaches were trying to contact more than 100 players, including walk-ons and managers. Hokies coach Frank Beamer directed each of his assistants to locate the players at his respective position. Hite was responsible for locating 14 running backs and fullbacks.

"That was the thing that was so scary, that the circuits were busy and you couldn't get through to anybody," Hite said Wednesday.

For more than an hour, Hite frantically made phone calls. At 12:30 p.m., athletics director Jim Weaver evacuated Cassell Coliseum and Merryman Athletic Center, which is adjacent to the school's basketball arena. The coaches continued to make calls from their homes and cell phones.

AP Photo/Chuck BurtonThe Virginia Tech community came together to mourn those lost in Monday's horrific shooting spree.
By late afternoon Monday, Hite had contacted each of his players, or someone else who had talked to a player. By early evening, the coaching staff had located all of the football players.

"I never dreamed something like this would happen here," said Hite, who has been a Virginia Tech assistant since 1978. "It's a complete shock. If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times -- this is the safest place in America. I still believe that."

But the tranquility of the Virginia Tech campus was transformed into scenes of carnage Monday morning. Reid, a sophomore from Martinsville, Va., was leaving a football position meeting that began at 7:15 a.m. Monday. As Reid approached a building near Norris Hall, he saw six police officers wearing SWAT gear emerge from the bushes and run toward Norris Hall.

"They were carrying M-16s and pump guns," Reid said. "I turned around and ran the other way."

Reid said he made his way toward another campus building, where he found backup quarterback Ike Whitaker watching the events unfold through a window. Eventually, police evacuated the building, and Reid ran through the drill field on campus to his car. He drove to his off-campus apartment and called his mother to tell her he was OK.

Frye, a starting offensive lineman last season, was working out in the weight room as he continued preparations for the NFL draft. He knew nothing about the tragic events unfolding around him.

"I had no idea," Frye said. "I came right down the street and it was kind of quiet."

When Frye later learned what had taken place, his first concern was for his teammates and close friends.

"It's just crazy," Frye said. "We're still trying to get a grasp of what took place."

Greenberg knows the healing has just begun. His family learned Tuesday that one of the deceased victims attended high school with his daughter. Another victim was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, where his wife volunteers as an adviser.

Hokies starting quarterback Sean Glennon attended high school with the killer -- Glennon told reporters he didn't know Cho -- as well as two of the students who were fatally shot.

"This situation puts things into perspective when it happens so close," Hite said. "We were talking about the game of football, and this is the game of life."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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