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Mother spends anxious hours awaiting news of son at Virginia Tech

April 17th, 2007 10:51 pm by SAM WATSON

JOHNSON CITY - Still numb from Monday's worrisome ordeal, Johnson City teacher Cindy Lawson returned to her preschool duties Tuesday thankful that her oldest son, Bob, had survived Virginia Tech's massacre just a few classrooms away from the bloodshed.

"The shooter shot himself before he got to Bobby's classroom," Cindy Lawson said. "It's a beautiful, secluded campus in a small town. I've been up there several times, and you just don't think anything like this is going to happen."

As he started his opening class of the day in Virginia Tech's Norris Hall, the civil engineering student and his classmates heard the chilling sounds from a gunman's rampage echo down the hall.

"You could hear gunshots ringing through the building," Bob Lawson said Tuesday, speaking via cell phone from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. "You could hear people screaming."

His instructor barricaded the classroom door with the large teacher's desk, and students added as many of their desks as they could in hopes of holding off the gunman.

"Once the classroom was barricaded, we felt safe," Bob Lawson said.

As he waited through the barrage of 30 to 40 shots and the ensuing building lockdown, his thoughts immediately turned to his friends and professors in other classrooms.

He later learned that two close friends, civil and environmental engineering professor G.V. Loganathan and fellow student Maxine Turner, were among the dead.

"The names are still being released, so I'm not sure about others," Bob Lawson said Tuesday afternoon. "I may know others."

For a few hours after the news broke, his mother was consumed with worry about her son's fate, not knowing whether he was safe, injured or worse in the deadliest act of campus violence in the nation's history.

Amid her lessons on Monday, Cindy Lawson, a Kingsport native who has taught preschool at Johnson City's Woodland Elementary School for 12 years, received an ominous call from her brother in California.

Asking whether she had spoken with her son in Blacksburg that morning, her brother informed her of the violence. So she left her students with an assistant as she monitored the events on television in another classroom.

Her concerns amplified tenfold once news reports indicated that the shootings took place in a dorm and the campus engineering building. Figuring he would be in class, she tried to call her son's cell phone and got no answer.

She went to Woodland's office to inform Principal Michele O'Hare. Again they monitored the news and saw initial reports that the death toll had reached 20 people.

O'Hare immediately volunteered to drive the frightened mother the 150 miles up Interstate 81 to Blacksburg. They left around noon, still not knowing the young man's status.

"I didn't know if I was going to give my son a hug or if I was going to find him in the hospital or if I was going to bring back a body," Cindy Lawson said. "It's a weird feeling."

As O'Hare drove, the teacher continued trying to reach her son to no avail. About halfway to Blacksburg, though, she finally got relief. Her younger son, Michael, a student at Johnson City's Science Hill High School, called to say that he had sent a text message to his brother. It got through, and the older son replied that he was OK.

Given the Virginia Tech administration's request that parents stay away from the campus if their children were safe, Cindy Lawson and O'Hare reversed course and returned to Johnson City.

"I've tried to respect what they've asked, but I'd just like to see him," Cindy Lawson said. "He e-mailed me last night and just said, ‘Mom, I can't talk about it yet. I just lost two of my friends.'"

Bob Lawson, who attended middle school in Johnson City before moving to his father's home in Atlanta for high school, said he had a sleepless night in the aftermath of the shootings, but he returned to his job as a campus shuttle driver on Tuesday.

"I'm OK. I'm at work and just trying to stay busy," he said.

Though he opted to remain at Virginia Tech as the campus mourned, Bob Lawson said he hoped to visit his mother in Johnson City later this week.

"He's like a caregiver. He wants to stay there, and he'll be helping his friends' parents get through this," Cindy Lawson said. "That's how he'll work through it, I believe.

"I told him I would go up there or he could come home if he feels like he needs to come home. I'll do whatever he needs to work through it."

Bob Lawson is scheduled to graduate from Virginia Tech in December. For his mother, Monday's events changed her perspective about having a son away at college.

"I will always be worried as long as he's there," she said, "and Michael will be going to UT next year, and I'll be worried about him down there too."

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