ESSAY- Friend of Bill: Growing up in Blacksburg

Last time: Morva trial slated for September
According to the Roanoke Times, a Montgomery County jury last month recommended that William Morva serve 38 years in jail for his role in the 2005 attempted robberies of the Freedom First Credit Union ATM, a Burger King, and the Glade Road Deli Market.

Morva, 25, was found guilty on seven of eight charges related to those crimes in late March, and a judge will sentence him in late June. But it's what he allegedly did in and around Virginia Tech last August that has netted him three capital charges.

Charged in the deaths of Montgomery County sheriff's deputy Eric Sutphin and security guard Derrick McFarland, he goes on trial September 17 on those charges and others associated with his August 2006 escape from custody.

William Morva

I remember cowering as the Blacksburg High School drama teacher chastised William Charles Morva for his performance in our final project. Apparently, his portrayal of a criminal hiding from the police had been a little too spirited. He had, after all, dropped 26 F-bombs in the space of just a few minutes.

Six years later, when he actually did kill a security guard and a cop, a highly respected officer with friends in Albemarle, Charlottesville, and Fluvanna, I was practically out there hiding in the grass with him, listening as that dialogue and a dozen others played out repeatedly in my head. They were all equally distressing. 

"I miss the old days," said a buddy later, "when my friends didn't kill cops."

Morva and I once played on the same soccer team, and when I heard what he had done, I began to wonder whether part of growing up was watching fate pick off your classmates. I Wikipedia'd "serial killer" to see if he qualified. He didn't, but it seems he missed the list by a pretty narrow margin. 

Monday's shooter certainly does, though, and his list of victims dwarfs Morva's. Either one is a heavy burden for a town Blacksburg's size to shoulder.

I grew up a stone's throw from the Virginia Tech campus. In middle school, I used to roller blade just around the corner from Norris Hall, site of the classroom massacre. I worked on an eighth-grade English project in the computer lab on the fourth floor of Ambler-Johnston, where the violence began.

Both are now relics of an evaporated innocence– my own, and also the University's. Virginia Tech is Kent State for a new generation, a name that will resonate for decades, quite possibly loud enough to obscure marvelous achievements in sports, academics, and research.

Unless, God forbid, someone else steps in to steal the spotlight at another school. Or even back in Blacksburg. With two multiple-murder tragedies in this academic year alone, Virginia Tech is ranked so high on the improbability scale right now that I'm almost worried we'll see a hat trick before the end of the year.

Predictably, the gun control debate is now in full swing, with a self-fulfilling prophesy on both sides of the debate. If there had been more guns on hand, this wouldn't have happened, say the haves. According to the have-nots, the same would be true if there had been fewer.

Honestly, who gives a damn? According to Wikipedia– this time, the relevant article is "killing spree"– this is one of the largest homicidal rampages in modern history. But even if the Tech shooter had been stopped, other horrors will eventually happen elsewhere.

After all, humanity has demonstrated its determination to self destruct so many times by now that any single concealed-weapon regulation or gun-show sale would have made little difference either way.

Arming drunken teenagers hardly seems like a solution, but the truth is still that guns don't kill people on their own. Whether the result of unlicensed handguns, North Korean nukes, or a New York-bound jumbo jet, tragedies like this spring from the intersection of human distress and agents of destruction– and eliminating either one would benefit us all.

Remember that next time you vote, shop, or take your home for granted.

Paragraph two has been changed to reflect the author's original intent, which was altered during the editing process.