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12:44 am EDT 44°F (7°C) in Mechanicsburg, PA
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This is some of the most shitty weather I’ve seen in months — at least since I drove right through the middle of Tropical Storm Ernesto last September 2 in western Virginia. For the most part, what I got to run through today was just a very windy, cold rain, but in some of the higher country in western Pennsylvania, the rain turned into snow which piled up as high as 3” (8 cm) in some places. Between the summit of Laurel Hill, at milepost 100 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the bottom of the long grade on the eastern approach to the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel (milepost 129), visibility was close to zero in spots with the blowing snow. April weather is not supposed to be like this at all.
Of course, the shitty weather in the Northeast pales in comparison to the tragic events that unfolded yesterday morning on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, VA. As I’m sure you’ve probably heard by now, some 32 people were shot and killed in two buildings before the man believed to be the sole gunman killed himself; two people were killed in a residence hall, and the other 30 were gunned down two and a half hours later in a classroom building. Although obviously not everything is known right now, it is believed that the suspect was a young man from China studying at Virginia Tech with a student visa, and that at least the first two shootings — if not possibly even all 32 of them — may have been motivated by a recent break-up of a (straight) romantic relationship between the gunman and one of his first two victims.
I could do exactly what we all know so-called “fundamentalist ‘Christians’” would be doing if this massacre appeared to have been motivated by the break-up of a same-sex relationship, and claim that what this Chinese young man did yesterday “proves” that heterosexuals are more prone to such violence because of the mental instability their “sinful” relationships cause. I could do that, but I won’t — for two reasons: one, it would be absolutely reprehensible to actually make such a suggestion in light of the fact that 32 people are dead, and two, I have a lot more decency than so-called “fundamentalist ‘Christians.’”
I do hope that so-called “Christians” will think about this: that blaming homosexuality for all of the world’s ills, or even for isolated acts of domestic or other relationship-related violence in same-sex relationships, is the moral equivalent to urinating on the yet-to-be-dug graves of these 32 innocent victims who lost their lives yesterday. Just as this young man’s heterosexuality is not what led him to mow down 32 people, nor is homosexuality ever the cause of violence, murder, or any other form of mayhem. It may be a lack of coping skills, a lack of anger-management skills, a whacked-out brain chemistry, or any number of other things, but one’s sexuality is not automatically the cause of any bad things one might do. As tragic as these events at Virginia Tech are, they do represent a learning opportunity for all of God’s children to absorb this truth.
I don’t mean to minimize what went on at VT, but I cannot help but be struck at how eerily similar the accounts of the first two VT shootings are to a tragic incident at my former school, the University of Michigan, in 1981. Since that was back before the days where the
series of tubes intarwebs were everywhere, not much about this incident is extant online, so I’m going to tell the story in hopes that it might also not be forgotten. This actually occurred in the very same dorm, Bursley Residence Hall, in which I would live for the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 academic years.
One student who lived on the sixth floor of Douglas House in Bursley that year, 22-year-old Leo Kelly, had apparently already once been asked to leave U-M on account of poor grades. He had managed to get himself back into the ‘U,’ but as finals in the winter 1981 term approached, his grades were again so poor that he was likely going to be asked to leave a second time. Additionally, Leo Kelly was known among his hallmates to be a loner who had few real friends.
Another young man who lived on that floor, a 19-year-old freshman and 1980 graduate of my alma mater Detroit Catholic Central High School, Edward T. “Eddie” Siwik (SEE-vick), was the antithesis of Leo Kelly: a popular student earning near-perfect grades. If memory serves, he had also been an accomplished athlete during his CC days. As Kelly’s journals would later reveal, he was — to say the least — extremely jealous of Eddie Siwik, and under the extreme pressure he was feeling as a result of his grades, Kelly would crack.
Around 6:00 am EST on Friday morning, April 17, 1981, Leo Kelly threw a Molotov cocktail into the hallway and set off the fire alarm. As the residents of 6th Douglas awakened and evacuated, Kelly was waiting with a sawed-off shotgun; he first shot Siwik in the upper right chest, then shot the floor resident advisor (RA), 21-year-old Douglas McGreaham, in the back as he tended to the wounded Siwik. Both Siwik and McGreaham would later die at two different hospitals in the Ann Arbor area. When Ann Arbor police came to the scene, they found Kelly sitting in his room; they arrested him without incident, and he would eventually be found guilty (after attempting an insanity plea) and sentenced to life in prison.
This tragic 1981 incident is remembered in several ways. A lounge on the west side of Bursley, on the third floor, was named the McGreaham/Siwik Lounge in honor of the two victims, and scholarships at both U-M and Catholic Central were established in Eddie Siwik’s memory. A more macabre manifestation of that morning’s events can actually still be seen in 6th Douglas: if you know where to look, between room 6210 and the restroom door, a few feet above the floor, a hole in the wall left by one of the five bullets Kelly fired is still visible — I took several friends and fellow Bursley residents up there to see it on multiple occasions. Finally, perhaps for that very reason, I was once told by a friend of mine who worked Bursley’s front desk that 6210 Douglas was “the cursed room”; he remembers one year where 10 different people asked to move out of that two-person room for various reasons!
I had two more ideas for updates waiting in the pipeline here, but as a result of this multiple murder at Virginia Tech, those are going to have to wait — even the one in which I am planning to riff off of an article in last Friday’s (April 13) USA Today. We’re getting farther and farther from that date as we go — but what am I to do when current events demand my writing time? That said, goodnight for now.