Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Mixed Emotions for Filipino Virginia Tech Student

By Yong B. Chavez

The day that 32 of his schoolmates were murdered, Romeo E. Capuno, Jr. overslept and narrowly missed what could have been the most tragic day of his life.

Due to a tiring night spent cooking Filipino food for an international food fair, Capuno, president of one of Virginia Tech's Filipino student associations, had a late start Monday morning, April 16, thus avoiding any chance encounter with Seung-Hui Cho and his murderous rampage.

"On my way to class, I always go by Norris Hall so any other day I could have been there," he said. "I really feel fortunate that I didn't go that morning. But at the same time, I feel so sad for the victims and their families. I still find it hard to accept that this happened at my school."

The April 16 massacre in West Ambler Johnston Hall and Norris Hall at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia which claimed the lives of 33 people, including the shooter, happened a mere five minutes away from where Capuno lives.

Cho, an American of South Korean descent, was a mentally ill Virginia Tech student who was able to easily purchase guns and ammunitions.

The tragedy shook its students' lives. Days after, they were still shaking.

"We became fearful. Every time we hear any unusual sounds… It was difficult." Capuno said.

Capuno, who's been going to Virginia Tech's graduate school for two years now, learned of the attacks through television and the Internet like the rest of America and the world. Because information from the school took a while to get to the students, some of them were among the last to know even though they lived near the university.

"We were shocked. We knew about the bomb threat the week before [the tragedy] but we got an e-mail Friday night that classes would resume Monday so we thought it was safe," he said.

The fact that the students were not informed immediately after the first attack disappoints him.

When the police learned of Cho's second and much bloodier attack, officers patrolled the area around the university and announced on loudspeakers that all students should not leave their buildings.

This was a warning that came much too late for 32 innocent, young lives.

"There's so much pain and sorrow," Capuno said. He knew some of those who were killed.

When the gunman wasn't identified yet and the media just identified him as "an Asian male," the thought that the perpetrator could be Filipino bothered Capuno a little.
He also worried if there were Filipino victims.

Before he called his mother in the Philippines to let her know he was safe, he called every Filipino student whose numbers he knew to make sure that they were.

But the relief that he felt in knowing that his fellow Pinoys were okay was tempered with a great sense of sadness when he saw the victims' families and friends. Their faces were broken with grief.

What are the odds that on one seemingly normal Monday morning, their lives could be permanently altered, Capuno wondered.

Though not as directly hit as them, he said that the events changed him too.

"I learned that everyday you should be prepared," he said. "I now pray a lot. I thank God for saving us."
(Picture of Filipino Virginia Tech students, courtesy of Virginia Tech, through Romeo Capuno, Jr.; picture of candlelight vigil, from Wikipedia)

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