A tragedy hard to fathom, prevent

Published April 18, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - It's a small world that becomes even smaller in the wake of a national tragedy like the mass killing Monday on the campus of Virginia Tech.

A. Keith Furr (left)w of Brooksville knows the school well. He taught physics and science courses at the sprawling Blacksburg, Va., university for 34 years before retiring in 1995.

Furr worked in the same department as two of the professors who were killed in Norris Hall but "thankfully" didn't know any of the victims, he said.

He also knows a thing or two about campus safety, serving as the founding director of the university's environmental health and safety department. In this role he worked with campus and local law enforcement and served on the area emergency planning committee.

Since the shooting, Furr has received a number of calls from friends at Virginia Tech and here in Florida. He said, "They call me and ask, 'What in the world do you think, Keith?' "

Below are some of his thoughts from an interview Tuesday.

Could this tragedy have been prevented?

I don't know how you can stop something like that. Students do get upset and they do strange things. ... Not knowing what triggered the guy, I don't see how it could be avoided. Students are under tremendous pressure.

What could law enforcement have done differently?

I would have locked down the entire school when they couldn't find the shooter. But that's in hindsight. The people in charge try to do the best they can. But it's a 10,000-square-foot campus with 100-plus buildings. ... About 30,000 people go on or off campus in a given day. It's hard to keep track of all of them.

When you were on campus did you see students act out violently?

While I was there, a physics student built a bomb (in a science lab) and set it off in a stairwell of the building. ... Another guy was making some drugs with hydrochloric acid and blew up the lab.

How does the fact the shooter was allegedly an international student from South Korea contribute to incident?

Foreign students even more than most undergraduates are under more pressure to succeed.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 754-6114.