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Students struggle to deal with emotions

It's not just individuals at Virginia Tech who are struggling, but the entire community. That in itself could be helpful along the road to healing. NBC's Dawn Fratangelo reports.

There's disbelief, fear and anger — you can hear it all in their voices.

"It's just insane," says Virginia Tech student Nathan Hernandez. "I mean, the feelings I'm going through right now are somewhat sad and angry." 

The emotions are common and will continue to overflow, according to Dr. Elizabeth Carll, a leading psychologist in violence and trauma.

"We may have many physiological reactions — headaches, stomachaches, difficulty sleeping, not wanting to eat or overeat, and certainly the general being — anxious, crying, depressed — all of these are normal events to such an abnormal, horrific situation," Carll says.

"You come here for safety, you come here for the community,” student Sumbet Goel says. "And it's kind of shattered a little bit.

Time and again we've seen the safety shattered — Kentucky, Arkansas, Colorado and most recently, Pennsylvania.

Missy Jenkins was paralyzed when a fellow student shot her 10 years ago in Paducah, Ky. Remarkably, when I spoke with her a month after, she offered forgiveness.

"It's weird, but, you know, I don't have any ... bad feelings towards him like, you know, I mean, revenge thoughts or anything like that," Jenkins said. "I felt like I needed to forgive him."

It's not just individuals, but entire communities left wounded. The University of Iowa is still recovering from a multiple shooting in 1991.

And now, Virginia Tech, best known for its winning football program, has a new identity.

"Since it is the entire community, it can form a wonderful support group for each other, and since everyone has a shared experience, everyone understands," Carll says.

Another emotion bound to emerge — survivor's guilt, not only for the students inside the classrooms, but for college and police officials who are being criticized about security.

"We would expect someone to protect us from that," Carll says. "How could this happen? Someone should be there to prevent this from happening, when in reality it’s very hard to prevent something like this from happening."

As young adults, these college students may be better equipped to deal with the trauma than some of the younger victims of the past.

"It still hasn't settled in with me yet, and I'm afraid for when that time comes, because it's going to be bad," says Virginia Tech student Amie Steele.

But the key will be to talk about it — amid the fear and the disbelief — to just keep talking.