This article was originally published on WTOP.com
WASHINGTON — Sunday is not only Easter, but also the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.
For the past 10 years, even while dealing with their own pain and loss, the families of the victims and survivors of the shootings have been fighting to save the lives of others.
“Obviously, the Virginia Tech experience sent a shock wave through America,” said Paul Friedman, executive director of the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation.
“This is an extremely difficult time for the families of the victims and the survivors who have to relive this experience,” he said.
The foundation was created in June 2007 to care for the survivors and family members left behind. But the foundation continues to grow.
Friedman said it’s dedicated to preventing another Virginia Tech shooting from happening.
“Our organization has spent years working to try to help colleges create safer environments,” he said.
The group also advocates for stronger campus safety.
Friedman said a great deal has changed since the VT shootings, but the most dramatic change since has been the text alert system.
The VT mass shooting — which killed 32, injured more than 24 and traumatized many more — remains the largest shooting at a college campus in American history.
Friedman said the foundation has changed the whole dynamic of college safety. Even the design of doors in campus buildings has changed. He said that’s to prevent people from being chained in the way the VT shooter chained the door at Norris Hall to prevent people from escaping.
Ten-years-out, foundation members are still committed to saving other families from going through a tragedy like Virginia Tech.
This month, the foundation is launching Campaign 32.
The 32 represents the number of lives that were lost on that day.
Friedman said the idea behind Campaign 32 is to get every state and D.C. fully involved. The goal is to get them to enter the names into law enforcement’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System if a person has been deemed a danger to themselves or to others and has been committed for mental health treatment — whether that is inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment. He said that goes to the heart of what happened at VT.
According to Friedman, the VT shooter had been committed for treatment, but it was outpatient treatment, so his name was not entered into the system.
That meant there were no red flags when he bought the guns used in the tragedy.
The shooter also made a mental health appointment but never went.
“Unfortunately the Virginia State Police didn’t enter his name into the system. They felt since he was receiving outpatient treatment that he didn’t qualify. We need to send the names not just people who’ve been committed to treatment in a facility, but also outpatient treatment, as well. This is a critical area and we believe we can make real progress in this area,” Friedman said.
Since the VT shooting, Virginia law has changed fixing this loophole. It requires all the names be entered into the system.
Friedman said the foundation is dedicated to making sure every state gets those names into the system.
“We want to prevent another tragedy like ours.”
He also said the foundation has broad support on both sides of the aisle.
“Not only the Brady Campaign, we also have the NRA and the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) supporting this mission. It’s a big mission and it’s going to require a lot of help.”
Suicides are another major concern.
“That’s also something that’s prevented when the names of people who’ve been found to be a danger to themselves are entered into the background check system. It sends up an alert if they go to purchase a gun,” Friedman said.
Thousands of people were at at Virginia Tech over the weekend to mourn the passing of 32 people. Both students and professors were killed on April 16, 2007.
“One professor was a Holocaust survivor he barred the door to the classroom he was in and was killed while doing so, while students jumped out the second story window. But that’s only one of the many brave acts by the people who died. In fact, truly they were all heroes in their efforts to protect one another and survive this experience, such a horrific experience,” Friedman said.
But Friedman noted that the foundation is not a “gun control group.”
“We really want to focus on the behavior,” he said. “We want to focus on the fact that we can cross the political spectrum and have everyone to try and come together to solve this really basic problem, which is troubled people who are determined to get access to weapons.”
He said the foundation continues to care about college safety and about those who’ve been traumatized by mass gun violence.
“We remain involved in working on those issues and we’ll continue to make contributions in those areas,” Friedman said.
The foundation deploys teams to support victims of violence. And everything the foundation members do is all in honor of those 32 lives lost on that tragic day 10 years ago.