Alumnus and former campus minister insist Hokies will move on

Friday, May. 04, 2007
 Alumnus and former campus minister insist Hokies will move on + Enlarge
Cate and Dr. Daniel O. Adams met and married on the campus of Virginia Tech. The April 16 mass murder and suicide there will not send the university into a tailspin, Dan said, ?because everyone there is so close. It's like family. Virginia Tech will move on.? IC photo by Barbara S. Lee

SALT LAKE CITY — The shock of that first message from a colleague is subsiding for Dr. Daniel O. Adams, director of the Composite Mechanics Laboratory at the University of Utah. "There’s been a shooting at Virginia Tech., but I’m not sure which hall..."

"I heard it from one of my co-workers who knew I’d gotten my degree from there," Adams said in an April 25 interview with the Intermountain Catholic. "I got on the Internet and the more I learned, the more horrified I became. By the time I could watch any television, it was all over, and I was worried about the people I know who are still there."

Dr. Adams and his wife, Cate, a theology teacher at Judge Memorial Catholic High School, met and married on the Virginia Tech campus where Cate worked as a campus minister. Dan earned his Master’s Degree in Science there in 1983, then returned in 1988 to earn his Ph.D. Cate arrived that same year after earning a Master’s Degree in divinity from the University of Notre Dame. They would marry in 1990 in the school’s War Memorial Chapel. Dan earned his Doctorate in mechanical engineering in January, 1991. In 2000, Dan was named Virginia Tech’s Outstanding Young Alumni.

Norris Hall, where all but two of the killings took place, was Dan’s home away from home. "I know that building like the back of my hand. It’s the home of the Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) program, and my office from 1981-1983 was at the end of the hall where most of the killings took place. My office when I was working on my Ph.D was one floor below the room where the students were jumping out the windows. I could just see it in my mind. It became painfully clear what had happened."

Dan said two professors with whom he was familiar were involved in the shootings. One, Professor Liviu Librescu, a native of Romania, was killed in an heroic effort to rescue his students. He died holding the door against alleged shooter Cho Seung-Hui, while his students jumped to safety from the second-floor windows. Librescu was a Holocaust survivor who had taught at Virginia Tech 1985.

Another instructor Dan knows was injured, though the names of survivors cannot be released because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. Dan and Cate get regular updates from the school’s alumni advisor. Dan said he was relieved to receive an e-mail from the instructor who had been his major advisor telling him he had been working at home that day.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, nestled at the base of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, is known for its atmosphere. Somewhat isolated from its neighboring towns and cities, it’s students and faculty grow close, "like family," said Cate. Sixteen years after they left the school, the Adamses remain in touch with classmates and faculty. It’s that closeness, Dan said, said, that guarantees the Hokies will be able to move forward.

Hokies is a name taken from a college cheer. The students and athletic teams are known as the Fighting Gobblers.

Dan and Cate agreed that there was probably little anyone could do to prevent the shootings. "Their first impression was that the first two shootings were domestic in nature," Cate said. "How could they have known he would come back?"

Both said they were unhappy with press coverage of the event. "We turned on the television hoping to hear more about the victims, but all we heard about was the shooter," Dan said. "Then, there were those terrible photos that every newspaper in the country ran. We opened the Daily Utah Chronicle (University of Utah newspaper), hoping they hadn’t been caught up in it, but there the photos were. I sat down and wrote letters to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, and the Chronicle, asking them to stop publishing those photos. I think my letters were just some of many."

Dan said none of his letters were printed, but at least the publishing of the photos, sent with a 23-page manifesto NBC News, stopped.

Cate said, "Like so many other people, we were in such shock, we couldn’t turn the television off. There was so little information about the victims, and so much on Cho. The press just kept repeating themselves. It was hard. But we have to remember, he was seriously mentally ill... It’s so difficult when we’re dealing with someone who is struggling with mental illness. It’s unfair to demonize him as the press has done."

She said she imagined what a nightmare the shootings must have been for campus ministers. "The campus ministry community there is so strong. There are members from Hallel (named after Jewish prayers) to Campus Crusade for Christ, and everyone has great mutual respect."

Virginia Tech is in the large, rambling Diocese of Richmond, Va., Cate said, and she was moved to learn that priests from nearby St. Mary’s Parish, in which she lived, went to the Campus Newman Center to help out.

"There are more than 5,000 students on the Virginia Tech campus, and the Catholic community is one of the largest," she said.

Dan said although classes have resumed on the Virginia Tech campus, his contacts tell him Norris Hall is still closed, and in all probability will not be opened to classes again. "There is some talk that it might be turned into a memorial, but no decisions have been made yet. But space is limited. There isn’t another building they can just move into.

"I think the healing process is yet to begin with some people," Dan said. "Some are trying hard to move on, but are having a difficult time doing so. I know that e-mails and phone calls are welcome."

Dan wears two ribbons pinned to his shirt – one orange and one maroon, Virginia Tech’s school colors. He said he will wear them until the end of the semester. He is slated to speak at the University of Utah’s commencement exercises May 4. His talk will be dedicated to the Virginia Tech community that means to much to him and to Cate.

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