HARRISONBURG — Thomas Kapsidelis was not supposed to work the day of April 16, 2007.
He worked as a weekend editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, giving him the day off on Mondays.
Kapsidelis and his wife, Karin, were following the first reports of two students fatally shot in a dormitory at Virginia Tech that morning before he drove his wife to work.
Still in the car, he pulled over on a neighborhood street, called his brother and heard the confirmation that a mass shooting worse than Columbine had occurred in Blacksburg.
“It was sad and terrifying,” Kapsidelis said. “My mind just raced with what a tragedy it was.”
Kapsidelis went to work to help out, then went home to pack a bag before driving to Blacksburg to help with the newspaper’s coverage.
“I knew there was a story that had to be told,” Kapsidelis said.
In his new book, “After Virginia Tech: Guns, Safety, and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings,” Kapsidelis examined the decade after the shootings through the experiences of survivors and community members who have advocated for reforms in gun safety, campus security, trauma recovery and mental health.
As part of WMRA October Books & Brews, Kapsidelis made a trip to the Valley on Tuesday to discuss his book, which he dedicated to the 32 Virginia Tech students and faculty members who were killed on April 16, 2007.
Kapsidelis said the original vision of the book was to focus on the gun debate, but later developed to include safety measures and the healing done after a tragedy.
“I was drawn to the notion of why a state would grieve but be unable to achieve gun safety reforms,” Kapsidelis said.
Kapsidelis began working on the book in 2010, writing from 2012 to 2018 and publishing in 2019.
In his book, Kapsidelis writes that what led him to pen the book was the “fleeting attention spans on how soon today’s tragedy moves to the rearview mirror.”
“Social media can help sustain a cause, but the sheer volume of information can drown out the most earnest pleas,” Kapsidelis wrote.
When he knew he would not have the book finished in time for the 10-year anniversary, he began looking for a different perspective.
“With the repeated mass violence after Virginia Tech, it became difficult to protect the experiences of the survivors,” Kapsidelis said.
He said he wanted to take the longer view and look ahead, saying he “didn’t want to minimize what was that tragic day.”
“The goal was to see what happened after a tragedy,” Kapsidelis said. “How does a community come together and what they do to try and heal.”
Kapsidelis said writing the book was difficult as he continued to relive that day.
“[Writing the book] affected me emotionally,” Kapsidelis said. “But I showed perseverance because I wanted to show what happened after a tragedy.”
The book opens up with a recollection from Kristinia Anderson, a sophomore at Virginia Tech who was in class with French instructor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak at the time of the shooting.
Over the course of several interviews with Kapsidelis, Anderson recounted the atmosphere of her French class moments before Seung-Hui Cho began to fire shots in several classrooms.
Anderson was shot three times by Cho. Later in the book, Anderson remembered the day she returned to Blacksburg in June 2007 to retrieve her belongings.
“She was very calm and composed,” Kapsidelis said. “I was more nervous asking the questions than she was talking probably.”
Anderson was Kapsidelis’ first interview and framed the beginning of his book.
Kapsidelis said having people remember a tragic experience that happened to them is always difficult.
“We should never take for granted that it is easy,” he said.
Throughout the book, Kapsidelis brought to life the memories of survivors Colin Goddard, John Woods and the Rev. Alexander Evans, along with Elizabeth Hilscher, Uma Loganathan, Jerzy Nowak, Michael Pohle and Joseph Samaha, who all lost loved ones to the shootings in Blacksburg.
“There is so much more to be told,” Kapsidelis said.