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I was…a Hokie father

Judges are supposed to be steeled to hear about difficult circumstances, sad events and even horrific crimes.  It comes with the territory of what we do; it’s part of our training.  We shouldn’t let juries know what we think of the evidence because we don’t want to influence their decision-making.  We try not to come to early conclusions in a trial because we need to insure that all parties have a full and fair hearing.  Much about our work requires us to rely on our head more than on our heart.

But when I heard that students had been tragically killed at the college my daughter attends, I was as numb and despairing as everyone else.  My immediate thought was relief that I knew my daughter was safe because she was spending the semester abroad.  Then I quickly realized that my relief would be another parent’s sorrow – another parent would soon learn that their son or daughter had been murdered.  My wife reached all of our friends who had children at Virginia Tech.  Their children were all safe.  The relief we felt was bittersweet and tinged with guilt.  The good fortune of our family and of the families we knew would be the misfortune of another family.

In this era of instant access to information, our daughter, halfway around the globe, learned the news as quickly as we did.  We reached her and tried to console her.  In conversations and emails we came to understand that her grief was of a sort that distance from classmates, family and friends made even more difficult to ease.

As a judge, I often follow events that I expect are likely to lead to a trial from a perspective that is different from that of others.  I assess them from the standpoint of a prosecutor, of a defense counsel, of a juror, of a judge.  It is more of an intellectual exercise.  But on April 16, 2007, and in the days and weeks and months that followed, I could not view the tragedy at Virginia Tech through that lens.  I could only view it through the pain that so many families (those of the victims and that of the shooter) must have felt.  I could only see it as a father, not as a judge.