Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund

There is no amount of money that can bring someone back from the dead. There is no amount of money that can take away the pain of that loss.

Families of those killed or injured this past spring at Virginia Tech are as aware of that as others who have suffered that kind of loss.

And yet some of them are saying, “Show me the money.”

On August 15, Tech representatives announced the school's intent to distribute the entire amount of the privately donated $7.1 million Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund to the families of those who were killed and to the survivors. Even uninjured students who were in Norris Hall classrooms where the shootings occurred may choose to receive free tuition for their remaining years at Tech or receive a one-time payment of cash.

Many intended recipients have stated they think they are entitled to more than the fund will provide.

Thomas J. Fadoul Jr., a Vienna, Va., lawyer who claims to represent the families of nearly two dozen students killed at Tech, is quoted in a July 18 Washington Post article saying relatives of those slain at Tech “…are entitled to ‘at least what the 9/11 people got’” (Va. Tech Relatives Seeking Payment; Attorney Says State Should Create a Fund, July 18, 2007).

I am sickened and so very disappointed.

These grieving people and their representatives appear to be using the tragedy of the terrorist attacks to set the bar for compensation.

In fact, Fadoul says his clients believe the generosity of the people of the nation, even the world, to contribute money toward those in need after the tragedy, is not enough for them. They want more, and someone will pay.

Who will pay? More innocents — possibly even the people suffering the loss.

If Tech has to shoulder the burden for any kind of financial payout, future Tech students could see their tuition increase not because the commonwealth has not supported their schools, but because the families and survivors want cash to assuage their wounds.

If the Virginia legislators set up a separate fund with state monies, all residents of the commonwealth will be required to contribute. Virginia residents whose families were affected by the shooting could themselves pay into a fund from which they receive monies.

The point is, money is not free. When “someone pays,” we all pay: increased insurance costs, higher tuition, tax dollars routed from one fund to another, increased tax obligations levied on all Virginians.

We are a litigious society. A few years ago, I was acquainted with a European woman in the U.S. on a work visa. She sued her boss for sexual harassment. She didn’t say a word to him or his supervisor to address the issue at hand, but went straight to court because, she said, that is how she saw things were done around here.

What a damning observation.

During my daily run, I have heard George Mason University testing its emergency announcement system. I can imagine universities around the world are doing the same, particularly before students return to campus for the fall semester. The April shooting has highlighted possible needs to increase security measures, identified shortcomings in the current student emergency notification system and helped both administrators and students figure out how to make such measures work.

Those who want Tech to “pay” should be able to see how everyone is paying — and making changes to try to prevent this kind of horror from happening again. There are no guarantees in life, but we must always attempt to do our best to protect ourselves and our charges against the evil and insanity of the world around us. If any additional money is collected or taxes and fees levied, let it be for this.

I am not among the 32 families who lost their children or spouses or the 27 families whose members suffered injuries. I am so very sorry for their losses. I cannot imagine their grief, their sadness. I wasn't in the classroom with bullets flying around me. I cannot imagine the fear, the loss of innocence and feelings of safety.

But demanding more money is not going to assuage the grief and fear. Press the issue of campus safety, work toward a solution on the issue — but don’t demand more money because someone else got more.

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