Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Memoriam: Victims of the Virginia Polytechnic University Shootings

On this, the evening of the day that saw the violent deaths of more than thirty victims of a shooting at Virginia Tech, ordinary concerns regarding engineering ethics pale into insignificance. Engineering has few martyrs. But these slayings took place at an institution dedicated to the education of engineers. If any of those who died had not chosen to enter that difficult and challenging field, he or she might well be alive tonight.

We are not told why one person, well-liked, promising, full of life and enthusiasm, is cut down at an early age, while another is spared to live a long, selfish, and unfruitful life. Those who believe that the things perceived by the five senses do not comprise all there is, but also believe in "that which is unseen," can hope to know the Source of all knowledge some day. And it may be that what is shocking and senseless to us now, may then seem part of a larger pattern or shape that we cannot now imagine. Whether any of this we saw today will make sense then—is another question we cannot now answer.

Those that fell today are martyrs—the word originally meant "witnesses"—as much as those engineers who accept assignments in the military to bring the blessings of clean water and electricity to Iraq, or those who fight tropical diseases and harsh conditions to build cell-phone networks in developing countries. Engineering is not an easy course of education, nor is it an easy profession. But it can be a good one—good in the sense of benevolence, in the sense of bringing things of real value to people who need them. And good things that bless people are worth doing, even at the cost of personal risk.

My profound sympathy goes to the families of the victims, the students, staff, and faculty members of the Virginia Tech community.

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered;
Accept our prayers on behalf of the souls of thy servants departed,
And grant them entrance into the land of light and joy,
in the fellowship of thy saints;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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