United States Mourns Shooting Deaths at Virginia Tech

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The shooting deaths of at least 30 individuals at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) April 16 was the worst such incident in U.S. history, causing grief and evoking expressions of condolence from across the country, as well as around the world.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said April 17 that the incident was “a terrible tragedy … the likes of which we have not seen in this country ever before.”

Across the United States, flags were flown at half-staff as a sign of mourning, and President Bush joined university and Virginia state leaders at a convocation held on the university’s campus, located in the city of Blacksburg, Virginia.

In remarks April 16, shortly after the shootings, President Bush said educational institutions "should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning.”

“When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community," Bush said.

Virginia Tech’s president, Charles Steger, told the U.S. television network ABC April 17 that the university and its local community are in “a state of shock.”

“We are focusing on, one, trying to get a complete investigation and, secondly, trying to work with the families of the students who've been lost,” Steger said.

Virginia Tech, which is a Virginia state university, has 26,370 students, of which 457 are international students, according to the school’s official Web site.

McCormack said he expects the United States to remain a popular destination for foreign students despite the tragedy.  “It is a good environment for students to explore boundaries of knowledge [and] contribute to a body of knowledge in their given area of study.”

McCormack assured prospective students and scholars that university, as well as local, state and federal officials, “do everything that they believe is prudent, everything that they can to ensure that the students are able to study and thrive in a safe environment.”

He said the events in Blacksburg were unique and that he expects foreign students will continue to study in the United States.

McCormack would not comment on whether any overseas students or faculty had been victims of the attack, deferring to Virginia Tech or law enforcement officials who are leading the investigation to make any official announcements on the tragedy and those involved.

A State Department official who asked not to be identified said the American people have been “deeply moved” by international expressions of sympathy and said the American people “grieve at the loss to the world in lives and potential.”

The official added that international students and scholars “are valued members of our higher education communities in the United States” and that those involved in international exchange programs “work to ensure the safety and well-being of all students and employees, both international and American.”

According to the official, during the 2006 fiscal year, the United States issued nearly 274,000 F visas, used for academic students, and more than 300,000 J visas, which are used for both exchange visitors and students.