By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA, VA – On a breezy spring April Sunday afternoon at Chinquapin Park at 3210 King Street in Alexandria, the Virginia Tech Victims memorial grove founder, Paul Friedman, along with City dignitaries and PARKnership supporters, gathered for the planting of 18 new oak trees.
The April 28 ceremony proved to be poignant not only because the tragedy occurred in April but also because the City was celebrating Earth Day that weekend. Expansion of the memorial grove came one year after 49 native Virginia trees, one for each shooting victim, were planted in remembrance of that tragic day on the Virginia Tech Campus.
The 2,000-pound memorial Hokie stone was laid Sunday, marking the event which occurred 12 years ago on April 7, 2007. Thirty-two people were mortally wounded and another 23 injured, 17 by gunfire. The stone hails from Virginia Tech’s own quarry. Most of the buildings on campus, including the two in which the shootings occurred, were constructed using the Hokie stone.
The students of the Virginia Tech Alexandria campus graduate landscape architecture program also created a bench to add to the ambiance of solace — an arbor oasis of comfort designed to facilitate mediation and contemplation. The bench was generously donated by the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.
The planners of the memorial chose not to memorialize the 33rd loss of life to gun violence, the mentally-ill shooter who took his own life at the scene of the massacre.
City Council Member Amy Jackson delivered remarks before the new tree planting. Former candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia and federal prosecutor, now a defense attorney and political commentator, Alexandrian Gene Rossi also spoke to the crowd. He was moved to speak of the loss of life from suicide by gun.
All in attendance pitched in with the planting of the Blacksburg indigenous oak trees, mostly White and Black Oak. Joining the dignitaries were students from the TC Williams High School Junior ROTC and members of the Arlington Young Democrats.
Students and faculty from the landscape architecture program at the Virginia Tech Graduate School of Architecture and Design, Alexandria Campus designed and planned the memorial grove.
Mr. Friedman, formerly the Executive Director of the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation, and now Executive Director of Safer Country, also spoke in tribute to the victims and the groundbreaking memorial grove.
Safer Country is an organization formed by Mr. Friedman to advocate for strengthening the gun purchase background checks registry. Currently the Virginia State Police estimate that 55,000 convicted felons are not in the system. Gene Rossi and Boyd Walker are Safer Country board members. Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and former police officer Bryan Porter, now the Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney, serve on the Advisory Committee.
Paul Friedman explains the spirit and mission behind the creation of the memorial groveand founding Safer Country: “Promoting life is part of the purpose of this memorial honoring the victims and survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy.”
One of the first success stories of the City PARKnership Program, the flowering native Redbud trees were recently in glorious full bloom — a fitting living monument to those lives lost on another sunny springtime morning once upon a dark, terrible day in Blacksburg, Virginia.