After taping the “Today” show on the Virginia Tech campus on Wednesday, co-host Matt Lauer shared his thoughts on covering the tragedy with MSNBC.com’s Petra Cahill.
Q: You’ve covered so many of these tragedies. What stands out with this one?
A: All of us in this business have unfortunately had to go to communities that have been ripped apart by some sort of violent tragedy, and it’s amazing to see the different responses that people have. Often you’ll find – and it’s completely understandable – that they want nothing to do with the media. They want you to get out, they want you to stay away and give them their time to grieve and come to terms with it.
While I’m sure there was a lot of that emotion among the people here at Virginia Tech, what they showed us was quite the opposite. I was really taken by the fact that the people in this community welcomed us. They really wanted us to cover the tragedy and report the facts and emotions. But at the same time, I can’t tell you the number of people that came up to me and said, “We want you to see the story, but we also want you to see another side of us. We want you to know that we’re more than this story.” They went out of their way to show us that with their spirit and their kindness. And then they would always end the conversation with something like, “We want you to see the ‘Hokie spirit.’” And it sounds clichéd or trite in some ways, but it really made a difference.
Q: Is there one particular person you spoke with who really brought the story home?
A: This morning I spoke to one of Cho's creative writing professors, Lucinda Roy. She had been shown his writings in the fall of 2005 and she was so alarmed that she had him taken out of class and began to work with him individually. Then she was so disturbed by what she found that she brought it to the attention of school officials and law enforcement officials. Nobody could force him into counseling and the law enforcement officials said that there was nothing explicit enough or violent enough in his writings that they could do anything.
What strikes you first of all was how articulate and eloquent Roy was, and how frustrated she was by it. But also it strikes you that we’ve got to figure a way in this country to deal with situations like this. So often when tragedies happen, when someone goes off the deep end, you have people afterward saying there were warning signs. We’ve got to figure out a way in this country – without taking away someone’s rights – to be more aggressive and more proactive in terms of making sure that the system is aware of these situations and monitors them very closely.
Q: Any other impressions that you've gotten from family members of the victims?
A: Viewers often ask why family members do interviews with the media so close to a tragedy, so close to losing a loved one. And here again, we see the reason why: While many don’t want to talk, the ones who did wanted to put a face on the tragedy. They don’t want their child to become a statistic – no. 28 killed or no. 30 killed. They want people to know that this was a living, breathing person who had hopes, talents and ambitions.
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As officials, students and families struggle to come to terms with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, a team of MSNBC.com reporters and editors and NBC News producers and correspondents is on the scene.