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Virginia Tech Shootings

Departments work to help students in the aftermath of a tragic day

by William G. Schulz
April 23, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 17

Credit: Courtesy of Turner Family
Credit: Courtesy of Turner Family

A senior chemical engineering student, 22-year-old Maxine Shelley Turner, was among the victims of the April 16 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. She was due to receive her bachelor's degree in May and had planned to start working for Newark, Del.-based W. L. Gore & Associates, the makers of Gore-Tex fabric and other products, according to a statement from her family.

The head of Virginia Tech's chemical engineering department, John Walz, tells C&EN, "Our priority is to help students who were affected by this." He says he held a meeting with students in his department on April 18 so they could "talk and express their feelings about Maxine, and we could get some input on how they are doing."

Joe Merola, head of the chemistry department, says Turner and three of the other victims were taking chemistry classes. "One of the students in my freshman chemistry class was severely injured," he says.

At the time of the second round of shootings, Merola was about three buildings away, teaching a chemistry class. He says the class started at 10 AM, and by 10:15 AM, the university was in lockdown. At that point, he says, he knew only that there had been a shooting and that a gunman was on the loose.

In his class, Merola says, he perused some news websites with his students to find out more information, and they played chemistry Jeopardy and "a few things like that to lighten the mood." As news of the shootings spread, he says there was "a symphony of cell phone ring tones" as worried loved ones attempted to contact students. He says the university plans to send counselors to visit classes in which victims were enrolled.

"We have been helping each other get through it," says Max Van Tassell, a freshman biochemistry major who was in Merola's class on the day of the shootings.

"I witnessed it on CNN like everybody else," says Peter J. Kennelly, head of the biochemistry department, who was in a Chicago airport at the time of the shootings. "The thing we have all come away with is incredible pride in our students," he says. "They have been magnificent.".



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