WISE - Shock waves reverberated across Virginia on Monday as the news of 33 people shot to death at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg swept the state and nation.
The chancellor and president of the two colleges located in Wise County expressed sadness and dismay, and other county officials struggled to grasp the scope of what occurred on a campus where many area students go to pursue a college education.
"We are stunned by this terrible news," said David J. Prior, chancellor of the University of Virginia's College at Wise. "Our friends at Virginia Tech must feel overwhelmed with their loss. We can only say that the thoughts and prayers of the UVa-Wise family are with them."
"Our deepest sympathies go out from the MECC faculty, staff and students to the Virginia Tech community and the families of those struck by this tragic event," said Mountain Empire Community College President Terrance Suarez.
Firearms on the two campuses are forbidden. A sign posted on each public entrance to all buildings on the MECC campus warns: "No unauthorized firearms including those carried with a concealed weapons permit are allowed in building."
The strict firearms policies are enforced at both MECC and UVa-Wise. In addition to the potential of arrest and prosecution, employees can expect to get fired and students expelled for violating firearms rules.
"We had the state police canine officer (Trooper Jason Nichols, based at the Virginia State Police detachment in Wise) here in our office when word came in. He said, ‘I've got to go,' and he went (to Blacksburg) right then. They don't have a lot of attack dogs, and one of them is here,'" said Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins.
"It's a terrible situation when you think about all the families everywhere who have students there," Elkins said. "Devastating. You can't imagine the amount of people in families this affects. Each one sends a shock wave through the state of Virginia. This is one of those just-never-forget-this-day days. There's just got to be a lot of students who will find it hard to go back (to Virginia Tech). Those with friends who died, especially. It's awful. It's one of the worst days in the history of any college anywhere."
Elkins said he has friends who have children attending Virginia Tech.
"We're just waiting to hear and make sure everything is OK. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers will be with the families of those most affected by what occurred out there," he said.
Mike Holbrook, chief investigator for the Wise County Sheriff's Department, said violence is too much with the modern world anymore.
"I guess my first reaction was, our world has taken another turn," he said. "It's something so shocking. There are so many students from here and Southwest Virginia, the first thing you think of is our heart and prayers go out to those where were injured or may have been killed. The second thing I think about is, there is a massive amount of work law enforcement has to do out there over the next several days."
Holbrook said Wise County has a crisis response plan in place to coordinate emergency response efforts, whether the crisis be natural or manmade. The two colleges in Wise County are part of that crisis management plan, he confirmed.