Story by Chris Graham
Amy and Emily Almarode knew firsthand that the early reports that one person had been killed in a single shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech Monday morning represented just the tip of the iceberg.
The twins and sophomores at Virginia Tech were awakened by the sounds of police sirens blaring across the drill field at Norris Hall.
“We were kind of wondering what was happening, so we went and checked our e-mail, and got the e-mail that there was a gunman loose on our campus,” said Amy Almarode, like her sister a 2005 graduate of Waynesboro High School.
The sisters looked out the window of their room on the third floor of East Campbell – a “perfect view,” as Emily Almarode described it, of the drama unfolding at Norris Hall across the drill field laid out in front of them – to a scene that both described as “pure chaos.”
“People were running across our drill field trying to find safety, trying to find their friends, and there were police officers with guns crouching behind buildings and crouching behind cars,” Amy Almarode said in an interview for “The New Dominion” weekly podcast scheduled to air on Monday.
“We could see, when we were looking out the window, we could see directly into Norris Hall, and we could see bodies being carried out one after another. And they were reporting on the news that, you know, it was two people who were shot in West AJ, and Emily and I were looking at each other and just saying, No, it’s so much more than that. We were just seeing bodies after bodies being brought out,” Amy Almarode said.
The sisters were able to get in touch with their parents before anybody back home in Waynesboro knew what was going on in Blacksburg – “which was not only a good feeling for us but for them as well,” Amy Almarode said.
They were thus able to devote their energies to tracking down their own friends on campus to make sure that they were all OK.
“Tech’s a huge school – but at the same time, everybody’s connected to somebody somehow. So every time you heard somebody was OK, it was a sigh of relief,” Emily Almarode said.
They were not able to make contact with one close friend – Caitlin Hammaren, a sophomore from Westtown, N.Y., described in a story in the Roanoke Times as “A best friend to everybody she met.”
“We hadn’t heard from her all day, and none of her friends had – and she hadn’t gotten in contact with her parents. And it’s completely out of character for her not to contact her parents in a situation like this. So her parents drove down from New York – and all day we were worried about her,” Emily Almarode said.
The Almarodes got word that Hammaren had been shot and killed around midnight Monday night.
“It’s an unreal feeling. You don’t expect somebody that you’re close to to die – anytime. But in a situation like this, it’s just … horrible,” Emily Almarode said.
“She’s such a sweet girl. She was always friendly to everybody – everybody’s best friend. Everyone thought that they were her best friend – because she acted like it all the time,” Emily Almarode said.
The twins will honor Hammaren and the others who lost their lives in Monday’s shootings this evening in a community memorial service at Waynesboro High School.
The most poignant part of the 5:30 p.m. event figures to be the reading of the victims’ names by the students and a ceremonial release of balloons to the heavens in their memories.
“We’ve always been a really close-knit family – ever since I’ve been at Virginia Tech. But especially the last few days, everyone has really come together to support each other,” Amy Almarode said.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you have the support of your entire Hokie family – not only just on campus, but from colleges across the nation. We’ve been getting e-mails and messages on Facebook from people I’ve never met saying, Hey, I’m praying specifically for you, I am thinking about you, I’m thinking about your friends, I’m thinking about everyone on your campus. It’s really been touching and humbling,” Amy Almarode said.
“People really need to make sure that they honor the victims and honor the victims’ families – and by doing so, hopefully, eventually, they’ll be able to find it in themselves somewhere to be able to move on from this. Even though images from Monday are going to be stuck with everybody, I imagine, for the rest of their lives. I know I haven’t – it’s been haunting me,” Emily Almarode said.
(Originally published 04-20-07)