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Yesterday, an important moment came between all the memorials and tributes marking the two-year anniversary of the massacre at Virgina Tech. Two victims’ families filed lawsuits in Fairfax County. The families of Julia Kathleen Pryde and Erin Nicole Peterson had opted out of the $11 million settlement and had to meet a two-year time limit to file suits. They met their deadline.
Good for them.
I had a feeling the Peterson family would choose to fight over taking such a settlement. I had met them just hours after the tragedy. They had still not heard about their daughter. They waited in the lobby of a hotel/conference center. The medical examiner had quit for the night. The family refused to sleep.
In the morning after, the Peterson family still hadn’t gotten word from the ME. They were furious. I was there in the lobby. They grew suspicious of Tech’s volunteer handlers and flacks.They wanted to express their anger to reporters. The handlers tried to shield them, prevent them from talking, from straying far from the script. I chronicled the tense scene for a cover story.
Here’s what the family told me about Erin:
Erin picked Virginia Tech because it was still close enough to home. This past weekend, she had been accepted into the university’s honor society fraternity and her parents drove down to take her shopping and out to dinner.
“She was just a super child,” says William Lloyd, Erin’s godfather. “Never ran the streets. Her and her dad, man, you couldn’t separate them. He lost a child from cancer —a daughter, 8 years old. A week later, [Erin] was born.”
The only time Erin and her father, Grafton, parted ways was when the Redskins played the Cowboys. “She was a Redskin,” Lloyd says. “He was a Cowboy.”
If you knew Erin, you’d be angry too. Mary Peterson told the volunteers that she was tried of watching them drink coffee. She wanted answers. Maybe now, the family will get those answers.
The two families would certainly have a supporter in Lucinda Roy, a V-Tech professor who tried to help Cho. She recently published a book called No Right To Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech. Yesterday afternoon, I heard her on NPR. She mourned the loss of her students. But she also mourned the behavior of the school’s administration both before and after the tragedy. She suggested they simply have not done enough to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
Roy had tutored Cho one-on-one and had pressed him to get counseling. Yet, Roy told NPR, the administration has not once asked her for advice on how to prevent such tragedies from happening again. They never once solicited her experience or insight in the past two years.
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.