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10 Years Later, Virginia Tech Instructor Recalls Her Students' Response To Tragedy

Americans were once again forced to grapple with gun violence in schools when three people were killed in a murder-suicide in San Bernardino, Calif., on Monday, less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the nation's worst school shooting.

On the morning of April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech, killed 32 students and teachers and wounded 17 others. Until last year's massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Jane Vance, an instructor at Virginia Tech, recounts the first day back in the classroom after the tragedy with Lucinda Roy. Roy was head of the university's English department and had tutored the shooter, who was an English major.

"I came back into my classroom of 35 and expected maybe five students," Vance says. "But not one was missing. And they were still, like statues, until a young man named Patrick stood before the class, with his hair nicely combed and his shirt tucked in."

Vance says Patrick told the class that his sister, who was the worst wounded out of the 17 survivors, had a bullet next to her spine, and another in her French braid.

Then another student spoke up. Vance says Kristen told the class that her friend Caitlin, one of the victims, had been the only other person at Virginia Tech from her "little hometown."

And that was when Patrick finished Kristen's sentence: "Yes, Caitlin, she sat next to my sister. She died very quickly."

That was the information Kristen said she wanted to know.

"And the class rose spontaneously, hugged, and sat down," Vance says.

After the response of solidarity from the class, Vance says she asked her students, "Is it time for me to teach?"

They nodded, and class began again.

"That kindness in such young people changed me forever," Vance says.

Produced for Morning Edition by Von Diaz.

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