For Virginia Tech student Colin Goddard, April 16, 2007, started out like any other Monday, with no sign that it was “going to be the craziest experience” of his life.
That changed with the sound of gunfire early that spring morning on the campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The bullets signaled the spread of a shooting rampage by 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho — who gunned down 32 people and wounded 17 others before turning the gun on himself.
Six more people were injured when they jumped out of windows to escape his fire.
Sparking yet another intense round in the debate about guns in America, the Virginia Tech massacre, as it came to be known, was at the time the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Last year it was surpassed by a shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people, not including the gunman.
• Watch the full episode of 10 Years Later: The Virginia Tech Massacre, streaming now on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
“For some, 10 years will [still] be as significant as it was 10 years ago,” Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said recently, according to WTOP.
The university’s Day of Remembrance events this year began on Friday and will be held through Sunday, which marks the anniversary of the violence.
Sunday’s events include the lighting of a ceremonial candle, at midnight, at the April 16 Memorial, followed by a wreath laying later in the morning and a full reading of the biographies of the 32 victims who were killed.
The commemoration will end with an evening candlelight vigil at midnight, when the ceremonial candle from the memorial is carried back to Burruss Hall.
The flame is more than just a symbol: School spokesman Owczarski said that over the past 10 years, the Virginia Tech community has been “so important in terms of providing comfort, in terms of providing support and in trying to find that ability to continue in the darkest of times.”
Bloodshed in Room 211
For Colin Goddard, now 31, the darkness came unexpectedly. On that crisp April morning in 2007, as he recalls in a new anniversary special for the People/Entertainment Weekly Network, he headed to his 9:05 a.m. intermediate French class in Norris Hall, with Madame Couture.
He was late, “as usual.”
After settling into a back corner of room 211, Goddard learned that there had been a shooting in a dorm earlier. Fellow student Rachel Hill came to class from the scene, arriving even later than he did.
“We thought, ‘[They] let her go to class,’ ” Goddard says. “Things must be okay.”
In reality, Cho, the shooter, had already fired on two students on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston Hall about two hours earlier that morning.
Cho returned to his dorm room before heading to Norris Hall a little more than two hours later, chaining shut the building’s massive wooden doors.
“It was only a few minutes after that that we heard this weird banging noise coming from what seemed to be outside the building,” Goddard says. “Seconds later, that bang got much louder and much closer. As soon as we heard that, the teacher’s expression dropped. She looked very concerned.”
Their professor, “Madame” Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, peeked out the door, shut it and ordered everyone under their desks.
Moments later, as Goddard called 911, “We had bullets coming through the front of our classroom,” he says.
Covered partially by a desk, Goddard saw a figure enter the room’s only door wearing combat boots, khaki pants and a white shirt with two holsters crossed over his shoulders.
Goddard thought it was a police officer — until the man turned down the row of desks where he and other students had tried to hide.
“Seconds later, I felt like I had been kicked as hard as I have been kicked in my leg, above my knee,” Goddard says.
He’d been hit.
After a “warm, wet feeling,” he felt “a sharp burning feeling — and then everything went numb from head to toe. I realized: I just got shot. This is really happening. This is real.”
The gunman left and then returned to their classroom, shooting Goddard again (twice in the hips and once in the shoulder) and killing 12 people, including Hill and Madame Couture.
The last time the shooter returned to room 211, he shot himself.
The violence felt like it lasted for hours, Goddard remembers in the PEN special. “I was shocked that it was only nine-and-a-half minutes.”
Becoming a Lifelong Advocate
Before the massacre, Goddard says he was a typical college student trying to figure out what to do with his life.
“The shooting changed all of that and really gave me focus and direction,” he tells PEN. “I spent my life since then trying to advocate for better gun laws.”
Married, with a child of his own — and with three bullets still lodged inside his body — Goddard has become a vocal advocate for gun violence prevention: He worked for the Brady Campaign for three years and then joined Everytown for Gun Safety.
He was also the focus of the 2010 documentary Living for 32, about how easy it is to get a gun in America without a background check. In it, he reflected on his survival and his work afterward.
“I will always believe I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Click here for more information about how Virginia Tech is commemorating the anniversary of the 2007 mass shooting.
And click here to contact your Congressional representatives to learn what is being done about gun violence in America — and to share what you think we should be doing.