Virginia Tech University – Blacksburg, Virginia
April 16, 2007: 32 Killed (33 including shooter), over 20 injured
At Virginia Tech Sam met up with an old friend--Virginia Tech shooting survivor Kristina Anderson.
On April 16, 2007, twelve out of the eighteen students who were in Kristina's French class were killed. She was shot three times but miraculously survived. A photograph of her being carried out of Norris Hall became one of the most iconic images of that tragic day, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Kristina, who has gone on to promote school safety through her organization, the Koshka Foundation, had originally met Sam at a school safety conference at Columbine. They bonded and Sam interviewed Kristina for his film project “Columbine Wounded Minds.” He even gave her a tour of the school. This time it was Kristina’s turn to give Sam a tour of Virginia Tech, including Norris Hall and the room where she almost lost of her life.
A Producer’s Notebook: Izhar Harpaz
Our production day started at 4 am, when the phone rang in my hotel room. An early wake-up call, but in this business you go where the job takes you, where the story takes you. And this, our entire crew was realizing, was developing into a very special story indeed.
Sam had a freelance production job lined up about 10 days after he embarked on his journey, so he essentially had one and a half days for each one of his visits. We, as the proverbial documentary flies on the wall, had to capture as much of Sam's journey as it happened in real time. As I landed with Sam at a regional airport near Virginia Tech it was a wonderfully sunny day. But I braced myself for the next 24 hours, during which we would film Sam’s visit to Virginia Tech almost non-stop.
I accepted that despite all our precautionary measures we would miss important moments. And it's a rule of documentary film making – well, at least my rule – that you have to make the best of what you can get and accept that you can't be everywhere all the time. And what captured at Virginia Tech was as heartbreaking as it was inspirational: Sam’s emotional reunion with his friend and survivor Kristina Anderson, Kristina’s recounting of the shooting just a few feet from where she was almost killed, the reassuring scenes when the bonds of their friendship shone through.
But perhaps the most impactful moment happened when we had almost wrapped up for the day. Before leaving town Sam wanted to pay one last visit to Virginia Tech’s victims’ memorial, a fitting tribute that overlooked a huge open field at the center of the campus. Problem was that what had been a sunny day had turned into a snow storm. Sam seemed undeterred, and we followed him camera in tow, expecting a short portrait shot before the snow and the freezing temperature drove him back inside. Sam found a seat on a stone bench at the edge of the memorial with an engraving “In Honor of the Survivors.” The snow, mixed with rain, was falling heavily, drenching his forehead and glasses. Through our camera’s view finder we could see him shivering. But he seemed to be in some far-off place, his eyes closed at times; he cut a figure of a man in deep contemplation. And to our surprise he continued sitting there, enough for us – shivering ourselves – to reposition our camera several times to get an entire sequence.
The shots we got were absolutely amazing (and I hope you can see the images in part 5 of our show). But when we finally understood, a couple of hours later, why Sam had sat there for so long, it chilled us to our cores. What Sam knew that we had not, was that on April 16, 2007, when thirty-two Virginia Tech students fell victim to a horrific crime…