BEREA, Ohio - As the tape showed images of gun-toting police and mayhem on Virginia Tech's campus, Cleveland Browns safety Justin Hamilton was overwhelmed by one thought.
"I would have been in that building if I was still a student there," he said Tuesday. "I really have been struggling with what I would have done or what it was that decided those people's fates."
Like so many in the Virginia Tech family, Hamilton is grieving over the deaths of 33 people, including a lone gunman, who went on a rampage through a dormitory and classrooms on Virginia Tech's campus in Blacksburg on Monday.
Hamilton, a native of Clintwood, Va., who was drafted in the seventh round by Cleveland in 2006, spent five years at the school. In his final three years, he attended classes in Norris Hall, where most of the killings took place.
He was at the Browns' facility working out early Monday when he first learned of a problem at his alma mater. After showering, he was on his way to breakfast when he began getting more information on the unfolding tragedy.
"I started getting text messages and phone calls, and immediately I knew something was going on that was really bad," he said.
One message Hamilton received was from a close friend, a SWAT team member.
"He said he was dispatched to Virginia Tech, which is three hours away," Hamilton said. "When he sent me a message, I knew something was really bad. I went straight home, turned on the news and basically I have been watching for the last 24 hours."
Hamilton watched in disbelief as a video taken by a Virginia Tech student with a cell phone was shown repeatedly. On it, police are seen working their way up to the doors of Norris Hall, which authorities said were apparently chained shut by the shooter.
"There were chills all over my body because I have seen through the eyes of that camera," the 24-year-old player said. "Almost every day of my career I was in that area. It was just like I was watching a normal day on campus except there were guns shots and SWAT teams and police everywhere.
"To think that we might be hearing the last moments of some people's lives. ... I could not get that out of my mind, how it could have been me. I don't understand why I was spared and those people weren't and that has really bothered me."
Hamilton spent Monday afternoon and evening phoning friends on campus, praying everyone he knew was OK. So far, none of the victims has been someone he knows personally.
Hamilton said the losses have rattled everyone with ties to the school and its surrounding, close-knit community. He simply cannot grasp the horror.
"On a normal day, it's a beautiful campus," he said. "Campus life is just abundant. It just overflows with life. You see smiling faces. You see people who are just happy to be there. It's just a great place to go to school it's a great place to grow up.
"It really rocked me. It's inconceivable."
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