Respectful Insolence

The horror that consumed Virginia Tech on Monday produced an unexpected hero: Professor Liviu Librescu, who gave his life to save some of his students:

In Monday morning’s lecture on solid mechanics, all was quiet except for the sound of Professor Liviu Librescu’s voice.

Then came the gunshots — in the classroom next door. In an instant, Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, a building dedicated to the science of engineering, was torn apart by the worst shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Junior Richard Mallalieu said he and about 20 classmates instantly dropped to the floor, ducking under and behind desks for what sounded like the first 10 shots.

“It wasn’t like an automatic weapon, but it was a steady ‘pow,’ ‘pow,’ ‘pow,’ ‘pow,’ ” Mallalieu, 23, said in a phone interview with The Sun. “We didn’t know what to do at first.” Then the sound of the gunshots shifted. Coming closer.

Their next move became instantly clear: Get out.

Mallalieu said his professor held the door shut while students darted to the windows. Some climbed on desks, ledges and a radiator cover to pull down the screens and kick at the metal-framed glass, Mallalieu said. Three windows easily gave way and swung open on hinges as the gunshots got louder.

Closer.

“It sounded like he was going out into the hallway,” said Mallalieu, a civil engineering major from Luray, Va.

Once the windows for the sec ond-floor classroom were open, Mallalieu and most of his classmates hung out of them and dropped about 10 feet to bushes and grass below, he said.

Some students ran to a nearby building. Others waited to help students who had been injured in the fall, Mallalieu said.

But then the sound of gunfire filled their classroom, sending all who had escaped toward nearby Patton Hall, he said.

Mallalieu said he never saw Librescu escape. “I don’t think my teacher got out.”

Sadly, he didn’t, but his heroism in blocking the door as long as he did appears to have allowed many of his students to escape the gunman’s rampage.

Comments

  1. #1 Jud
    April 18, 2007

    Amen.

    In the midst of large-scale tragedies, a focus seems to be required to begin to grasp emotional reality. Prof. Librescu is the focus of the Virginia Tech tragedy for me thus far, the person whose story makes tears come to my eyes.

  2. #2 TheProbe
    April 18, 2007

    Sometimes a person comes along and makes you glad to be human.

  3. #3 fusilier
    April 18, 2007

    Hear, O Israel….

    fusilier, who had to phone Daughter #2, even though her college is 1500 miles from VT
    James 2:24

  4. #4 Steve
    April 18, 2007

    What I wonder about is how a gunman can systematically line up and shoot adults who let him do it? He goes into a college where there are hundreds of 20+ “adults” There was certainly no “Flight 93″ attitude there.
    If a few students of Professor Librescu’s character would have acted the total count would have been a lot less.

  5. #5 THobbes
    April 18, 2007

    Ahh, and the righteous, “I’d run at that gunman and stop him!” victim-blaming begins. You know what the people on Flight 93 were fighting against, Steve? A couple guys with knives–short knives, in fact. A plane full of people against a couple guys with knives–and guess what? They’re all dead now. Their massive, combined effort was not enough to overpower the terrorists on Flight 93, as evidenced by the very fact that they flew the plane into the ground.

    A room full of people against a single gunman is quite a more even situation than the Keyboard Kommandos would ever acknowledge. Our human reaction is to run from danger–we have to practice running toward danger, if that’s what we want to do. And you know what? Despite that instinct, despite what must have been an incredibly chaotic atmosphere, the gunman managed to kill 32 people. The fault is his. The bullets were his. People were running away from him, jumping out windows, and he still managed to kill 32 people.

    But even if we admit that their argument has merit (which is being too generous, to be sure), there are many, many other mass shootings that they will have to criticize first. Start by considering George Hennard, who shot up a cafeteria in Texas in 1991, and Martin Bryant, who killed a lot of people in Tasmania in the 1990′s. Look at Columbine, as well–why did all those student athletes let Harris and Klebold shoot up the library? Shouldn’t they have tackled the gunman? Why did those cowardly dead people let them get away with it?

    End of rant. I just find that attitude displayed above pathetic, and despicable.

  6. #6 Icepick
    April 18, 2007

    Steve, you can’t possibly know that. We are still learning about what actually happened. Early reports mentioned the line up, but later reports I’ve read have only said that he walked into the class rooms and started shooting. (I believe that it was the eyewitness in the German class that has given the best inside account so far.) If someone walks into a room and starts shooting people methodically there’s not any time to act, only to react.

    And who rushes towards danger? When the shooting was going on in another room who is going to decide that it’s a good idea to rush that room unarmed, without knowledge of the situation and without any training?

    Finally, comparisons to Flight 93 are extremely inapt. After the initial hi-jacking the people on Flight 93 were hearded to the back of the plane. They were not continuously attacked, and they had the opportunity to call people on the ground who informed them of the morning’s events. After all of THAT, and the time to ORGANIZE and work up their courage, some of them rushed the hi-jackers. And let’s not forget that the people on Flight 93 had no opportunity of escape, while the people in Norris Hall did have such opportunities. Flight 93′s situation was completely diffferent than the Va Tech incident. If you’re going to bitch about people’s lack of courage, at least give SOME thought before making a bad analogy.

  7. #7 THobbes
    April 18, 2007

    One last point: the victims of the Srebrenica massacre were lined up and shot methodically (unlike, as far as we know, the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting). There’s video of these shootings circulating on the internet; I admit that my voyeuristic nature got the better of me and I watched it once. It’s quite horrible, as you might imagine.

    Were those victims cowards? Was it that there were more gunmen around, and that made it ok for them not to fight back? But courage, by the definition apparently being used here, means something like acting with a complete lack of consideration for one’s own safety. Shouldn’t they have tried to fight, regardless? Again, this attitude is little more than a not-so-subtle justification so we can believe that the victims deserved their fate. An all too human reaction, I’m afraid, and one to be avoided scrupulously.

  8. #8 Steve
    April 18, 2007

    THobbes,
    I find your rant loathsome and ignorant. Nowhere did I blame the victims. I do wonder about some of the other students. I know that the pyscho was at fault.
    Amazing that the Prof. could act with courage, but no one else seemed to. I do criticize the other shootings as well for much of the same reasons.
    Icepick
    Agreed there is only time to react in that situatiion(till you get out the window etc). I guess I wonder why all the reactions were to run? Is it symtomatic or just human nature. Yes training helps, time to plan helps, but the Prof wasn’t trained, didn’t plan. His example proves your rant wrong.
    The students who were shot had no chance, but some of the others did.

  9. #9 Stacy
    April 18, 2007

    It’s human nature to run, and it’s human nature to not be able to think straight when adrenaline hits the brain. I’ve been taking Krav Maga for a year now, and it’s continually pounded into us how often we need to practice all the self-defense techniques we learn, because when we are in a situation where we have to react within seconds to danger, and the adrenaline is flowing, it has to be something you have trained thousands of times. Otherwise (and even then) there’s a good chance you’ll freeze and forget everything. We do self-defense techniques against handguns, but one crucial detail is that the gunman has to be close enough for you to take the gun away. They don’t teach civilians how to rush a gunman on the other side of the room, because if you think you can do that, you’ll probably end up dead.

  10. #10 Steve
    April 18, 2007

    I’m not disagreeing that the guman was at fault and that the victims weren’t. I just find it sad that the courage the Professor showed is so exceptional by it’s rarity.

  11. #11 Calli Arcale
    April 18, 2007

    Probably the biggest difference between this and Flight 93 was that the people on Flight 93 knew their fate. They knew that they were definitely dead if they did nothing, and that their tiniest glimmering of hope came from the possibility of attacking the hijackers. Their way out wasn’t the windows; their way out was through the hijackers.

    Besides, as this story points out, some did make a stand. Prof Librescu did. He died in the process, but he gave these kids a chance to escape. A noble but still heartbreakingly tragic end. It’s impossible to know what would’ve happened had some kids stayed to help him, and not really useful to speculate. It’s just as possible that there would simply be more bodies.

  12. #12 THobbes
    April 18, 2007

    Sorry you find my rant loathsome–I feel the same about yours. Despite your protestations to the contrary, you did indeed blame the victim here. That question–”Why didn’t they fight back?”–blames the victim for what happened. It suggests that the crime, or at least the scale of the crime, was aided by the victims not fighting back.

    Now, it is possible to ask a similar question dispassionately–”Does fighting back against an attacker raise the odds of living?”–and the answer is often yes, though not always. Fighting a mugger, for example, is likely to get you shot or stabbed. Fighting a gunman sometimes saves your life, but sometimes it gets you shot. Let’s not forget as well that retreating can be a perfectly valid self-defense strategy, particularly when you’re being shot at.

    You, however, have not only asked how the outcome might have been different, but suggest the moral culpability of students for not fighting back. You impugn their character for not standing up to the gunman; implicity, it says that since no students walked up to the gunman as Librescu did, their character was lacking or weak. You say there was no “Flight 93 attitude” here. If there’s a clearer way of calling somebody a coward these days, I don’t know what it is.

    You are wrong, incidentally, in saying that no one else attempted to stop the gunman. There is a well-referenced point in news stories about students who prevented the gunman from entering their classroom by barricading the door with their bodies while shots were fired through the door. Heroism, self-sacrifice–call it whatever you want–it was not lacking among students in this case.

    Anyway, I’m done with this argument. I promised myself that I would not get drawn into arguments about this, but have failed myself in that. You could at least have the decency to keep attacks on the character of murder victims to yourself for some time.

  13. #13 rbucsh
    April 18, 2007

    Reports are coming that some students heard the shots and baracaded their classroom doors. Some had no time to prepare, no chance to fight back. How many 20 year-old engineering students have any defense training? In countries with mandatory military service, more people are prepared to fight. Shall we follow the example of Israel?

  14. #14 Steve
    April 18, 2007

    Sun, 20 Jan 2002

    Blue-collar Appalachian community embraces its new law school in time of crisis

    Chris Kahn
    The Associated Press

    The gunfire sent terrified students running from the building before classmates tackled the alleged shooter. Peter Odighizuwa, 43, who had been dismissed from the school because of failing grades, is charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons charges. The prosecutor said she will seek the death penalty.

    Published Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 7:44 a.m., in National Review Online

    Disarming Facts: The road to bad laws is paved with good intentions.

    By John R. Lott, Jr.*

    On the same subject Kip Kinkel at Thurston High in Springfield Oregon was overpowered the first time the magazine was empty, because one of the students lived in a home where use of firearms was taught and he recognized the moment the slide locked to the rear as his opportunity. At my last high school reunion I talked with a guy who was the first teacher in the cafeteria and said the situation was under control when he arrived.
    People’s reaction to the horrific events displayed on TV such as the Minnesota attack are understandable, but the more than two million times each year that Americans use guns defensively are never discussed — even though this is five times as often as the 450,000 times that guns are used to commit crimes over the last couple of years. Seldom do cases make the news where public shootings are stopped or mothers use guns to prevent their children from being kidnapped. Few would know that a quarter of the public-school shootings were stopped by citizens with guns before uniformed police could arrive.

    Resistance does work and can/has been done

  15. #15 djinn
    April 18, 2007

    Steve, where do you get your numbers that more than two million times each year Americans use guns defensively? This number is absurd. John Lott fakes his evidence, poorly. I believe there was some study he published–perhaps the one you are quoting–and then when challenged was unable to provide any backing for, any, saying, I believe, that his computer ate the data. Yeah, right.

    In the case you quote, the Appalachian shooting, the gunman was brought down by two off-duty police officers after he ran out of ammo. And what public school shootings have been stopped (presumably with others carrying guns) before uniformed police could arrive? I’m not aware of any, except in cases where the Gunman ran out of ammo.

    Besides, why wouldn’t more people with guns just produce more killings? I mean how difficult is it to get a concealed weapons permit? In Utah, not very. A parent left a backpack, open at the top, with a loaded pistol in my daughter’s classroom when she was in 5th grade. Good going concealed weapons permit parent. Yeah, and as this is Utah, the parent got off scott-free. I only know of the incident because it happened just before I was in my daughter’s classroom helping out.

  16. #16 djinn
    April 18, 2007

    Tim Lambert, over at scienceblogs.com/deltoid has much more on the various John Lott fiascos as well as other information on guns and gun control.

  17. #17 jre
    April 18, 2007

    It’s worth noting that both Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross, the two students who subdued Peter Odighizuwa, were also law enforcement officers. Gross had gone to his car for a gun, a bulletproof vest and handcuffs before tackling Odighizuwa. So, unless some of the VPI students were trained as cops and had their equipment nearby, this seems a poor parallel.
    But you get style points for citing John R. Lott, Jr., whose reporting on the Appalachian School of Law incident was … um … remarkable. I see that Mary Rosh stuck up for Lott on this one.

  18. #18 Icepick
    April 18, 2007

    And to make an additional point to the ones djinn and jre made, Va Tech doesn’t allow students to have fire arms on campus legally. So ‘good citizen’ students aren’t going to have weapons with which to fight back. Therefore even if your 2,000,000 cases of defensive uses of fire arms a year was a good stat, it STILL wouldn’t apply.

    Keep digging though, Steve. Maybe you’ll win a Golden Shovel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Hole Digging.

  19. #19 Carolyn the Red
    April 18, 2007

    You know, I spent a few months one summer learning to shoot and getting my accuracy to a certain standard (infantry course, I was in the reserves then). I had shot various weapons before joining the military, including most weekends the previous year (general military training course). I shot some kind of weapon a few hours most days, the other days usually had some weapon handling, if only cleaning my rifle. On top of that, we spent a lot of time doing simulated advances and retreats. In short, I was a pretty decent shot, and had recently practiced choosing targets.

    At the end of the summer was my first exercise, with targets appearing from behind trees, and live ammo. We were shown what the targets were, and what the “friendly” targets looked like, ahead of time. I still shot a friendly and missed (hit the target, but outside the person boundary) an enemy, and my more experienced partner made similar mistakes.

    Assuming I lived somewhere I could carry a gun to class at the time, and did….In a classroom, without the range safety officers making me feel a bit more comfortable shooting around people, with other students running and screaming, with no idea if a person with a gun was “the shooter” or “a rescuer with a gun” I really don’t think I would do better at choosing my targets and be sure to shoot the bad guy and not shoot and kill an innocent other student.

    And that’s all if I realized what was happening before I was shot. And then if I pulled a weapon in defense and the police came in, would they pick the right target?

    Don’t blame people for not being heroes.

  20. #20 Justin Moretti
    April 18, 2007

    I find Steve’s original point valid. He notes Librescu, and others who barricaded entry to the maniac, and wonders why this did not extend to attacking the gunman.

    I think we could all have offered hypotheses without seeing the need to attack him.

    I think Librescu’s life experiences played a big part in him deciding what he would do. Perhaps he knew that he could never get out the window in time? Perhaps, having been helpless as a child, he was not willing to see his young students killed, even at the expense of his own life? He would certainly have had experience of being around guns and merciless killers, which none of his students would have had, and maybe this is why he acted decisively and did not freeze.

    Sadly too many in the West think “It won’t happen to me.” Maybe they should stop thinking about this and reflect on what they might do if it did. I know I would take cover if I could (at least until he’d started to change magazines), but if one were cornered with nowhere to run, a direct assault on the maniac is better than just standing there and getting shot to no good end. I just hope I would have something to throw at his eyes, and be close enough to do it, such that he might miss me and offer me a chance to disarm him.

    Civilians with guns are really only at their best in one-on-one situations where they don’t have to deal with a myriad of targets or the need to miss innocents; barging into a crowded room and blowing away the assassin with a clean shot is for Chuck Norris to do in his films, or for specialized soldiers who burn through thousands of rounds of ammo a year in practice for doing just that.

    We can ask why a university full of young, fit men and women did not turn on or mob the attacker, but we should give calm, rational answers, and we should not assume that the person who asks why they did not is blaming them.

  21. #21 TheProbe
    April 18, 2007

    Those who question why the kids did notjust jump up and go after the shooter have never been in combat. I spent a year in the boonies in SEA and worked as a Sky Marshall for a period of time after leaving the Army. Reacting like you think these kids should have is not a natural human function. Much of combat basic training is designed to develop the reaction mechanism, and, more often than not, the newbie who is experiencing their first fire fight just freezes. I did. You over come it or die. There was not enough time for the kids to overcome it.

    BTW, this is not uncommon. In the infamous LIRR shooting by Colin Ferguson, not one of the grown-ups behind Ferguson went to stop him until he stopped to reload. There, they had the benefit of a confined space, similar in configuration to an airliner.

    It is easy to play Monday moring quarterback when the bullets are not heading in your direction. Enough of the students and faculty reacted to limit the carnage.

  22. #22 trrll
    April 19, 2007

    I am amazed at the number of people who, with very little knowledge of the details of what happened, rush to suggest that the victims “let him do it,” with the implied (or sometimes explicit) suggestion that they were lacking in courage and resolve. Even more amazing when this happens in an article about the heroism of an individual who actually saved the lives of many others at the cost of his own.

    I don’t know what happened in any detail either, but I can think of many scenarios in which rushing an armed assailant would be likely to fail, depending upon details such as the layout of the room and furniture, and where the aggressor chooses to position himself. In a situation like this, there are only seconds to decide how to respond, and an alert aggressor may initially target those most likely to resist. There seems to be some suggestion of this, in that in at least some cases it appears that the gunman immediately targeted the instructor, likely to be the oldest and most experienced person in the room.

  23. #23 jre
    April 19, 2007

    I suspect that others’ annoyance with Steve originated in the same place as my own — a feeling that his criticism of some students’ failure to act was both unseemly and a bit ignorant, given how little we know about the situation, and a sense that this is neither the time nor the place to advance theories of defensive gun use and policy recommendations on concealed carry. It’s way too easy, if you see what I mean.
    For some commentary from people with actual experience who can add something of value to the conversation, try this.

  24. #24 Prup aka Jim Benton
    April 20, 2007

    If you weren’t aware of this, Prof Librescu had survived both the Holocaust and the Communist regime in Rumania. Ed Darrell has a very poignant piece on him.
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/national-embarrassment-national-tragedy/

  25. #25 Ed Darrell
    April 20, 2007

    The two kids who stopped Kip Kinkel in Oregon, and one of the students who administered effective first aid in Blacksburg, got their knowledge in Boy Scout training. (Here’s a link to a story about the Ryker and Ure brothers in the Register-Guard, one of the great local papers in our country: http://207.189.149.131/news/1998/05/22/1a.heros.0522.html)

    Scouting has issues, but generally, kids who get their training there can and do perform valuable public service. In the past two years I’ve been present at the Eagle Court of Honor for two Scouts who, when they joined Scouting, demonstrated many of the anti-social behaviors documented in the Blacksburg shooter. It’s much less likely they’d ever do something so antisocial, just because of what they learned along the way.

    Which youth group do you volunteer with, to prevent future shootings? If none, why not?

    (And, thanks for the plug, Jim.)

  26. #26 Jurjen S.
    April 24, 2007

    Quoth djinn: Steve, where do you get your numbers that more than two million times each year Americans use guns defensively? This number is absurd.

    That number isn’t from Lott’s work; it’s from Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control by Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University. Actually, the estimate he came up with was more like 2.5 million. Note that in Kleck’s methodology, a “defensive gun use” did not necessarily require that the gun be fired; simply scaring off an assailant without shooting him was counted as well.

    May I ask, djinn, on what basis you dismiss Kleck’s estimate as “absurd” with such certainty? It’s one thing to question research findings, quite another to dismiss them out of hand.

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