PEMBROKE, NC (WMBF) Now an assistant coach at UNC Pembroke, Ben Thompson once walked the halls of Virginia Tech, and this Monday, five years after the tragic campus shooting, recalls how he felt on that somber day.
Ben Thompson is currently the Assistant Men's Basketball Coach at UNC Pembroke, but five years ago he was a graduate student, and a Hokie.
WMBF News Anchor Heather Biance asked Mr. Thompson a series of questions about that solemn day, and how he now recalls those hours when many were in fear for their lives.
Walk me through that day. Where were you? What were you doing when you heard the news? How did you find out what was happening?
I was a Graduate Assistant on the Men's Basketball team and had just picked up a coach interviewing for a spot on our staff the night before. I picked him up that morning from his hotel and was driving him to the office when I saw my 2nd ambulance of the day, which to me was odd to see two of them before 8am in the morning. I took him to the office and was on the computer when I saw a posting on VT's website and our secretary actually had a police radio that began to give us updates on what was going on.
Explain the emotions you were experiencing when you realized that what was happening around you wasn't a dream?
Fear, fight or flight, and anxiety of what was going on were big emotions of that day. At the time, we were hearing that the shooter was in our building and looking out our office windows, there were what looked to be SWAT team members with automatic weapons and they were in full patrol gear. Knowing things in hindsight, he wasn't, but at the time we didn't have that information
Did you know some of the students and staff who were killed? Any personal stories?
I don't, just friends of friends. Hearing stories of lives lost and some of the professors' courage, was very inspirational though
Was there ever a moment you were concerned for your life? Or do you ever think that if you were in a different spot at a different time that you could have been one of the victims?
Yes, at the time when we thought he was in our building, it was my job to shuffle the interviewee back to the airport. We had to slowly maneuver our way through the building and outside to get to my vehicle. I was expecting a bullet to whizz past my head any moment.
Sometimes I get caught up in asking why that time and why those people, because I did have a class in Norris Hall as a Freshman
When you woke up this morning (5 years later) what was the first thing on your mind?
The families of the victims. This has to be harder on them than it is on anyone else. Just keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
Today is the fifth year anniversary since the shooting -- is it easier to think about that day now that more time has passed? Or does it feel like yesterday?
I can remember it like yesterday. I don't think I will ever forget those memories. It's a little easier to look back on it now, but the memories remain. I just feel for those families and how hard it must be for them
Do you or anyone you know have special traditions you've created to remember this day?
I normally wear a ribbon on my shirt in memory of the day. It gives a talking point to people and just kind of reminds them and gives an opportunity for me to ask others for prayer for victim's families
What changes have you noticed on college campuses since the shooting? Do you think security and the communication between university officials and students/staff is better?
I've been on several college campuses since then. Now security is heightened to get in buildings, doors no longer have windows, and if they do they are normally covered up.
In closing, please just spend some time in thought and prayer for the Virginia Tech campus, community, and families of those affected. Also, take time for your own loved ones. Make sure everyone around you knows how much you love and appreciate them. Below is an article that discusses how every survivor of the shootings returned to Virginia Tech and finished their degree. As well as a video of our remembrance ceremony after it happened. Never was Virginia Tech's rally cry more evident than that day. WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH!!!