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A letter to Aurora, from Virginia Tech: James Holmes does not define your city

You and I are bound together by the ties of similar tragedy and survival. It is easy to dwell on the horrendous events in our towns and to blame or hate. But such dwelling keeps us looking backward and can prevent our moving forward – as we must. I offer these suggestions.

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Family members hold each other at the memorial across from the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., July 25 where James Holmes allegedly shot and killed 12 and injured more than 50 people. Op-ed contributor Edward F.D. Spencer, vice president of student affairs at Virginia Tech during the 2007 shooting, tells residents of Aurora: '[K]eep in mind that one deranged person should not, cannot, and will not define your city. You will define your city.'

Alex Brandon/AP

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Dear Residents of Aurora,

When the tragedy of April 16, 2007 unfolded on the Virginia Tech campus I went from on-site facilitator with police, to convocation planner, to reassurer and consoler, to family liaison, to press conference participant, to conference speaker, and on and on into many unexpected roles in the days, months, and years following this horrific day. It was a day when 32 of our community members were killed and 17 injured.

When I awoke last Friday and heard of the tragic shootings in your city, my heart sank as I had so many flashbacks, but most important, as I thought about the victims’ families, the survivors, and each and every one of you.

You and I (and so many residents of Columbine, Blacksburg, DeKalb, Tucson, etc.) are bound together by the ties of similar tragedy and survival. It is easy for all of us to dwell on the horrendous outcome of the events in our towns and to engage in the seductive temptation to blame or to hate. But such dwelling keeps us looking backward and can prevent our moving forward as we should and as we must.

The very name “Aurora” refers to the Goddess of the Dawn and its meaning is “the dawn or rise of something.” So, I pray for you a rebirth like we, your brothers and sisters in tragedy, have experienced in our communities. I offer these suggestions.

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