Students at the College participated in a “lie-in” last Wednesday to memorialize the 32 lives lost one year ago during the shooting spree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“As we are lying down, we will be standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, the victims of easy guns,” Carole Stiller, president of the New Jersey and Mercer County Million Mom March, said, referring to the ease with which guns may be purchased.
“We’re not going to just wring our hands,” Stiller said as she addressed the crowd gathered in Brower Student Center. “We have to take action.”
The memorial, which began at 11:30 a.m., was organized by Million Mom March, an organization that “promote(s) sensible gun laws,” and Alpha Phi Omega, a community service group at the College.
The event included speeches by College President R. Barbara Gitenstein and Teresa and Michael Pohle, parents of Mike Pohle, a native New Jersey student who was killed in the shooting spree at V-Tech.
“For me, it’s important because my friend goes to Virginia Tech and she was in the next building from where the shooter was,” Dyana Reisen, junior clinical counseling and psychology major and participant in the lie-in, said. “This is just a way for me to show that I’m thankful that she’s still around.”
The lie-in, where students and Mayor Jack Ball of Ewing Township laid down on the floor of the student center when a victim’s name was called, was followed by three minutes of silence.
The three-minute time frame represented “the three minutes it takes to buy a gun without a background check,” according to fliers distributed by Alpha Phi Omega.
“Over 80 organizations nationwide are joining together with lie-ins,” Stiller said, telling the audience that since Virginia Tech, there have been 32 school shootings and that there are approximately 32 people killed by guns every day in the United States.
After an introduction by Stiller, there was an opening prayer given by the Rev. Robert Moore, member of the Coalition for Peace Action. He was followed by Gitenstein.
“There are certain moments in a nation’s history that cut to the core of its citizens,” Gitenstein said, referencing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Sept. 11 attacks and the Virginia Tech massacre. “In fact, we all lost something last year. We lost a great deal of our security in the idea that colleges are places of only student exuberance.”
In the aftermath of Virginia Tech, it is necessary for colleges and universities to become proactive, Gitenstein said. She suggested making it possible for students to feel more comfortable to ask for help and installing emotional counseling programs that are more proactive, rather than reactive.
Mercer County prosecutor Joseph Bocchini and Sheriff Kevin Larkin also spoke at the event.
Finally, the parents of victim Mike Pohle, for whom donations were collected for a memorial in his name, arrived at the podium.
“Thank you for bringing us here,” Michael Pohle said to the crowd with his wife beside him. “We truly believe that Mike and the others who were lost that day are looking down on us.”
He expressed the solidarity between families of the victims and students who want to remember the victims.
He also urged that it is necessary to make sure students who need help get it. He illustrated his belief in the need for tougher gun control laws by making an analogy between purchasing a car versus purchasing a gun from a gun show.
While cars are inspected and registered, guns from private collections at gun shows are not, according to Pohle.
“Our family is truly grateful to you for keeping this critical issue at the forefront,” Pohle said. “What is being done here is the right thing to do.”
“I think (students) ought to take away two things from today,” Gitenstein said. “There are things we can do in a socially responsible way (for change), not just protest but voice our opinions, bring change. We can do this. Second, be kind to our friends, to each other.”
“My presence here today is to represent all 36,000 citizens of Ewing Township,” Ball said. “We want to express our deepest condolences, especially to the Pohle family. … To lose a loved one is something no one ever wants to happen. The loss is compounded when you lose a child.”
Ball agreed to participate in the event after being notified of it by Alpha Phi Omega.
“We e-mailed and called everybody from the government that we could,” Kati Lentz, president of Alpha Phi Omega, said.
Alpha Phi Omega had originally been planning to simply distribute ribbons with the Virginia Tech colors and have a moment of silence.
They collaborated with the Million Mom March after receiving literature about lie-ins from Stiller in the club mailbox.
Together, they organized the memorial to include speakers and a lie-in, which took about three weeks to plan, according to Lentz.
“I’ve received positive and negative feedback,” Lentz said regarding the collaboration with Million Mom March. “The e-mails I’ve gotten from Virginia Tech students all support our cause. The only negative response we’ve gotten is from outside of campus. I got two e-mails criticizing us for connecting with an anti-gun organization. . We know our purpose is to honor the victims.”
There are definite plans to continue memorializing the victims of Virginia Tech.
“We’re still doing the ribbons next year,” Lentz said. “This is not something we’re just going to do for two years and then just forget.”
“For the future,” Ball said, “this is to be a definite opportunity to make people aware that the only way problems in this country are resolved is when people get proactive.”