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MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 2007
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VT students write book on attack

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)— Some of the students thought they’d heard gunshots. Many were huddled on the floor of the darkened Virginia Tech classroom.

But a handful of those in professor Roland Lazenby’s locked-down media writing class hurried to their computers, grabbed their phones and began reporting from their desks on the shootings in nearby Norris Hall for planetblacksburg.com, the student-run news Web site.

In the eyes of Lazenby and many others, their choice to work through the terror of April 16 was remarkable. But in the days ahead, some of those students would face another difficult choice: should they continue their reporting and write a book about the day one of their fellow students killed 32 people?

Lazenby and seven student journalists eventually decided they should, and their book, “April 16th: Virginia Tech Remembers,” is to be released Aug. 28. The decision to publish the manuscript, however, wasn’t an easy one.

“There are certain people who think this book is a good idea. There are other people who think it is a terrible idea,” Lazenby said. “And frankly, we spent every day of the summer as we prepared this book trying to answer that question.”

Their book does not investigate the events leading up to that day. Nor does it assign blame. Instead, in a series of narratives submitted by students, faculty and community members, it tells the story of April 16 and its aftermath through the eyes of those who experienced it first-hand.

For the students — who grieved along with the rest of the community — working on the book was a deeply personal and challenging experience. “It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said 20-year-old Suzanne Higgs, who worked on the book and was one of the students reporting from Lazenby’s classroom April 16. “But I felt it needed to be done.”

A book about the shootings was inevitable. But when an agent approached Lazenby about writing one, he and the students had some reservations. Was it too soon? What would their peers think?

They agreed to go forward with the project with the understanding that the decision to publish the manuscript had to be unanimous; they had the option of voting to archive it in the university library instead.

Their decision to write the book has been met with some criticism. Higgs received a verbal lashing from a victim’s roommate, who called her insensitive. Some have suggested Lazenby and the students are seeking to profit from a tragedy.

Others felt the community’s pain is still too raw and it is simply too soon for a book.

But the students stand by their decision, which they say was driven, in part, by a desire to honor the victims. More than a third of the book is reserved for victims’ profiles and a portion of the proceeds will go to a fund for the victims’ families. The students also felt they could approach the subject with a greater sensitivity than an outsider could.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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