Americans overseas await word about friends, relatives at Virginia Tech
TOKYO — Everyone at Zama High School who knew Quinn Boyle could only wait and worry.
Students woke up on Tuesday to the news of the Virginia Tech massacre, and many immediately thought about Boyle. The Zama High graduate left Japan last year to attend the university as an engineering student, and some feared the worst.
The gunman killed two people in a dormitory and 30 others in an engineering building on Monday before he shot himself to death.
Zama High students talked about the killings in the hallways and on the bus, but teachers were told not to talk about it. Not until they got a confirmation.
“We just didn’t want to dwell on it,” Principal Jerry Ashby said Tuesday.
Around 10:30 a.m., they found out: Boyle was fine. Fortunately, the freshman didn’t have class that morning. Relief swept through the school like a gust of wind as teachers broke the news to their classes.
“Certainly it becomes more personal when you know one of the students who go there,” Ashby said.
Students and faculty at Defense Department schools across the globe with graduates attending the university held their breath on Tuesday as they waited for police to release the victims’ names.
Those with friends or family who attend or work at Virginia Tech frantically worked the phones and sent out e-mails in hopes of finding out what happened.
Chris McKibbin, director of the teen center at Camp Zama, also fretted about Boyle. His son, also named Chris, and Boyle were best friends in high school. The younger McKibbin attends college in Florida.
McKibbin said he considers Boyle “like a second son.” He tried to reach Boyle at his dorm room but had no luck. Forty-five minutes later, Boyle called.
He told them he actually slept through the rampage. He was OK. But McKibbin said Boyle sounded distraught on the phone.
“We were more concerned about his mental health,” he said.
Other Americans stationed overseas share similar concerns.
Donna Reheiser, who is stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, knows two people who work in Norris Hall, the engineering building that became a grisly crime scene. She spent most of Tuesday morning trying to find out if they survived.
“They all work there,” Rehesier said. “But they’re fine. They’re a little shaken up, but they’re fine.”
The massacre stunned even those who are not connected to the university in southwestern Virginia.
Pam Riddle, a military spouse whose son plans to transfer to a college in the United States next year, said the campus shooting proves no place is safe.
“If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere,” Riddle said. “Here we are in a quiet school, and you think your kids are safe and this happens? You go, ‘I don’t want my kid to go to college anywhere now.’ ”
Michelle Montgomery, whose son is a sophomore engineering student at the University of Arizona, said the shootings give parents one more thing to lose sleep over — especially those who are stationed overseas and have children attending college thousands of miles away.
“You also worry about copycats,” said Montgomery, a military spouse who lives in Yokota.
That is what Michelle Harrison, 17, a senior at Zama High, fears.
She has lived in Japan her entire life, but will attend San Diego State University later this year. Her father used to be in the military and now works as a Defense Department contractor. She said it is difficult to fathom something similar happening in Japan.
“I’m scared about security,” she said. “I’m nervous. It will be my first time living in the States. So, I’m really afraid about the change in environment, the people.”
Zama High Senior Kimi Rakes, 17, said she will leave Japan after graduation and attend the University of Illinois with some trepidation because of the shooting.
“I had never seen anything like that before,” she said. “I mean, I’ve heard stories about maybe somebody breaking and entering your dorm room, but never shooting. It’s pretty scary to think that I’ll be at a university next fall.”
Students and parents will have to overcome that anxiety somehow, Riddle said. With the unimaginable now possible, she said there is only one thing parents of college-bound students can do: pray.
“And you hope they’ll be alright,” she added.