Virginia Tech shooting survivor recounts her story at lecture

Kristina Anderson shares her experience as a student during the shooting at Virginia Tech.

(courtesy of Kristina Anderson)

On April 16, 2007, Kristina Anderson chose closed-toed shoes over flip flops and got to her French class at Virginia Tech a little late. The same day, another student chained the doors shut in the same building so no one could escape. He walked to the second floor and began shooting students one by one. Anderson was shot three times, yet she survived.

The date is remembered as one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. The number of fatalities reached 32 that day, the deadliest mass shooting until the shootings in Orlando in 2016 and Las Vegas in 2017, in which there were 50 or more fatalities each.

On April 4, 2018, Anderson retold her story to an audience at the University of Oregon. She  recalled the smells, the temperature in the classroom and the sound of gunshots echoing in the halls. She remembered how SWAT patrol officers originally said she was in bad condition and then critical condition as she lay wounded in the classroom.

Anderson travels around the country talking about her story as a survivor of a mass shooting to teach others what it’s like to go through a shooting and what they can do to prevent one from happening.

“I want our event to be remembered not just as one of the worst mass shootings ever; I want it to be remembered as a place for hope and learning and inspiration as well,” she said.

At her speech at the University of Oregon, she played a video someone took from outside the building she was in during the shooting. Audience members heard the sound of gunshots and the sirens as police arrived to the scene. Knowing the video played the sound of students dying was terrible, but Anderson plays it to help people understand the horror of a school shooting without having to experience it.

She made sure never to mention the shooter’s name in her speech and likely never will. She believes that as a community, we have a responsibility to elevate the names of the victims and responders over the shooter out of respect.

Another reason for keeping the focus off of the shooter, she said, is to prevent copycats.  “Perpetrators of violence – they study each other and they look for inspiration from other shooters,” she said. “When we put their names and faces above the victims and the families, we almost make it seem like an aspiration-worthy goal for others. That might motivate someone who is already going down that pathway of violence to act upon that,” she said.

As Anderson has prepared for her speeches, she has met with other survivors of mass shootings and first responders. When she met with a responder to the Virginia Tech shooting, she said the officer began to cry. He said he was sorry they didn’t get there fast enough.

As awful as the day was, Anderson doesn’t hold a grudge against police who came to their rescue. She’s grateful and knows they did the best they could. What Anderson said failed in preventing the shooting was the school’s ability to watch out for the student’s debilitated mental state.

In her speech, she said the shooter was very creepy, had been writing dark and gruesome poems and had few to no outlets to vent his anger. She said his roomate, classmates and professors could tell something was wrong, but nobody shared information or realized what he was planning. In her speech, she congratulated Virginia Tech and UO for currently having channels of communication to take care of students in that condition.

She then turned the lens on safety at UO. While she was here, she took a tour of the school and found that UO and the UOPD are thoughtful in their approach to prevention and preparedness for shootings and other tragedies. Anderson mentioned the systems UO has in place for faculty and staff to monitor and take care of students they are worried about; however, she had disdain for all the glass in the newer buildings, saying glass walls are simply not secure.

Anderson encouraged students to think about what they would do in the event of a shooting.

“They say ‘Your body will never go where your brain hasn’t before,’ so at least you have some mental game plan,” she said.

She also hoped students would consider what they would do if they noticed something suspicious that could be a warning sign.

In the event of an emergency, students should call 911. Students can also report any potential danger that isn’t an immediate threat to UOPD. Students can report small things they may notice, even if they think it might not mean anything, to the Office of the Dean of Students, through the tip line here.

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