Greg Jordan: Memories of Virginia Tech surface again on anniversary of tragedy

Apr. 18—Seventeen years ago last Tuesday, April 16, 2007, photographer Eric DiNovo and myself were driving south to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. to cover a story I was having a hard time grasping. Somebody armed with a gun had shot students and faculty on the campus.

That morning when I walked in the Daily Telegraph's newsroom, I was expecting to check on a fire and something else that I can't remember now, but those plans were immediately derailed.

Everybody was clustered around the newsroom TV and watching CNN's first reports of the shootings.

It was what I've come to call an "on the run situation." Law enforcement and officials can't tell you much of anything because they're still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

We only knew shots had been fired at Virginia Tech.

Except for sports, we hardly covered Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, but this situation was different. We knew that a lot of kids from our area were attending Tech, so then Editor Samantha Perry asked if anybody could go.

Eric and I were soon on our way. Aside from driving, I was outlining what I was going to do when we got to the campus. We managed to find a parking place and hurried to the campus, not really sure what we would find.

The first exceptional thing I saw was a squad of fully-armed SWAT officers leaving the building where most of the shootings had taken place.

While Eric was getting pictures, I started questioning onlookers and found that a command center had been set up at the Student Union. The media was being directed there, so Eric and I got there as quickly as possible.

Members of the media were already flooding the place. I saw former "Today Show" host and reporter Katie Couric, who had been flown in from New York City to cover the tragedy. There was a sign up sheet for the first press conference and I signed up fast. Couric's name was a few lines above mine.

Soon I found myself covering the first news conference after the shootings. All of our questions were answered with variations of "we don't know" because the investigation was still in its earliest stages. I was later told that staffers at the newspaper could hear me on TV back in Bluefield when I asked a question.

They weren't the only ones who recognized me. My cousin Melody, who was living in South Carolina then, heard me on CNN. She called my mom and dad and told them,"Greg's on TV!"

Eric and I returned to Virginia Tech the following day to cover the continuing tragedy and President George W. Bush's campus visit. News vans and satellite dishes filled the student center's parking lot. I found myself remembering the media covering the Apollo 11 launch decades ago.

Reporters from across the world were there. One man speaking what sounded like Russian into his cellphone walked past me.

A reporter from Chile asked me how to find the student union and a news crew — I think they were from China or South Korea by the sound of their language — were videotaping a report.

I got on CNN again and former reporter Bill Archer told me I looked just as bald on national television as I do in person.

But the memory which sticks with me the most is the sight of two tearful young women sitting in a corner of the student union and sending texts. They were trying to reach one of their friends, and they feared she was among those who had died that day.

To this day, I don't know if they found their friend.

I hope they found their friend alive and well.

Yes, there was the excitement of covering a major story and seeing the president come to the campus to visit the victim's families and share his condolences and those of the nation, but the important thing to remember is that lives were lost.

People who were loved were suddenly gone 17 years ago and are still missed today. That is the most important thing to remember about April 16, 2007.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph's senior reporter. Contact him at

Contact Greg Jordan at