|A screen grab from seven years ago|
At the time of the call, the only thing we knew was that someone had opened fire on people at Virginia Tech. Police had little information, and at first we heard speculation that this was a lovers' quarrel turned violent.
We were horrified, but partially relieved to think the incident had been contained. By the end of the day, an entire People team - and the international media - converged to cover the deadliest and most infamous shooting spree on an American school campus.
The process was both surreal and intense. Part of our mission was to create tributes to the fallen; to collect poignant details about lives cut shockingly short; and to craft the right words that would appear in a magazine sure to be handed down to generations. All of us correspondents were determined to do "our" people justice - and those of us who live in Virginia prayed fervently that our friends' and neighbors' children would not appear on our rosters. The job was both heart-wrenching and purposeful.
I also was given a secondary duty: investigate the killer, Seung-Hi Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech.
People produced a comprehensive, compelling, and respectful story in only two days' time.
Afterwards, as People carried the story forward, I continued to investigate the shooter. I spoke to people who had known him in childhood, who lived in his cul-de-sac, and sat in his high school classrooms. I talked to the neighbors who peered through the curtains from across the street, watching to see if he were on the sidewalk. I spoke to mothers who told me their children appeared on a "hit list" Cho wrote while in middle school. I listened to teachers who told me how scary and unreachable Cho was.