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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 23, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 8Oakland, CA

Virginia Tech professor, a Catholic deacon,
describes ministry after campus massacre

Virginia Tech students kneel in front of a memorial during a candlelight vigil in the wake of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The campus Newman Center had a special Mass April 17 for the victims and center staff consoled grieving students.
CNS PHOTO/PAUL HARING

ROANOKE, Va. (CNS) -- Deacon Michael J. Ellerbrock of St. Mary Parish in Blacksburg had just wrapped up his 9 a.m. class at Virginia Tech April 16 “when it all happened,” he said.

Student Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed two people in a residence hall and then went to Norris Hall where he killed 30 others and wounded many others before taking his own life.

Deacon Ellerbrock, a professor of natural resources and economics education at the university, said that, as soon as the shooting stopped, he went to Norris, where he was met outside by state trooper Andy Mitro.

Mitro, a parishioner from St. Mary, knew him as a deacon and allowed him to get information from law enforcement officers on the scene.

“One officer told me an ROTC student grabbed (Cho) from behind and got a bullet right to the head,” Deacon Ellerbrock said recalling the awe that struck him in the first minutes afterward as he stood on the lawn of the classroom building where the massacre took place. “It’s beyond comprehension how one person could kill so many with just two guns.”

Later in the afternoon, Deacon Ellerbrock would learn that a fellow St. Mary parishioner, Kevin Granata, a professor of engineering science and mechanics, was killed.

He also would find out that one of the two victims Cho shot in the residence hall was one of his own students, Ryan Clark. “He was a good student in both science and religion class,” Deacon Ellerbrock noted. “He was just a lovable young man.”

As the chaotic campus scene turned to general shock and later grief, Deacon Ellerbrock and St. Mary pastor Father James Arsenault joined area clergy ministering to families and students at the Inn at Virginia Tech, a hotel that serves the campus. It became central headquarters for victims’ loved ones and media briefings.

For Deacon Ellerbrock, the day’s ministry was simply one of presence. As both professor and clergy, he has long been a favored counselor, both formally and informally, among students on campus who know him.

“That was the role I played” in the morning with students and that evening with families, he said. Of the latter he said, “I just sat with them. We tried to find private rooms for each family but it was difficult.”

 

 


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