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Public Statements

Commemorating Virginia Tech Shooting

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I rise to perform a solemn duty today, which is to commemorate the shooting at Virginia Tech of 32 students and faculty members who were killed 6 years ago today and many others who were injured:

Ross Alameddine, Jamie Bishop, Brian Bluhm, Ryan Clark, Austin Michelle Cloyd, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva, Kevin Granata, Matthew Gwaltney, Caitlin Hammaren, Jeremy Herbstritt, Rachael Elizabeth Hill, Emily Hilscher, Jarrett Lane, Matthew La Porte, Henry Lee, Liviu Librescu, G.V. Loganathan, Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan, Lauren McCain, Daniel O'Neil, Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz, Minal Panchal, Erin Peterson, Michael Pohle, Julia Pryde, Mary Karen Read, Reema Samaha, Waleed Mohammed Shaalan, Leslie Sherman, Maxine Turner, and Nichole White.

I read those names to honor those who were killed and had their lives snuffed out on April 16, 2007. I acknowledge also that many students and faculty members were injured. We have with us today both family members of those who are deceased and even some students who were injured. I also honor all in the Hokie, the Virginia Tech community that is very close, that still suffers the wounds from this horrible shooting.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech 6 years ago today, we learned a lot. We learned that we have to make fixes to the mental health system: that school security and safety is incredibly important, that alert systems that can notify people when bad things happen are incredibly important. We also learned a tragic but important lesson; that is, background record checks make us safer. The young, troubled individual with no criminal record who committed those horrible crimes had a long history of mental illness. He had been adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous. Because of that adjudication, he was not supposed to be able to own or purchase weapons, but a flaw in the background record check system kept that record from being entered into the national database. So when he decided and went to purchase the weapons he used in committing this horrible homicide, he was allowed to purchase them.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with the strong support of the Virginia Tech families, we fixed that problem in the background record check. As Governor, I worked with my Republican attorney general, the current Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. We fixed the background record check system that facilitated this gruesome crime. Background records checks make us safer. The better the system, the safer we are.

I later went to my legislature and tried to get them to fix the background record check in another way--by closing the gun show loophole, to require records checks at gun shows. I failed in that task. I not only could not convince my legislature to do it, I could not even convince a single committee to report a bill out to the floor.

That is why I am so glad we are debating on the floor meaningful fixes to gun violence, including a fix to our background record check system when it comes to gun shows or online purchases. I look forward to the debate, and I look forward to supporting the proposals that have been advanced by Senators Manchin and Toomey.

I read the names, the 32 names of those who were killed. As I conclude, I wish to take a couple of minutes to tell the story of one of the individuals.

I read the name of Liviu Librescu, who was a professor at Virginia Tech, a professor of engineering. He was teaching a course in Norris Hall on the day of this horrible tragedy, and as shots rang out, he heard the shots. He went to the door, and he barricaded the door with his own body, and on the second floor of Norris Hall, he told his students to get out of the window and get to the ground and get to safety. He stood there against the door as Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, fired repeated rounds through the door, striking his body many times and eventually killing him. But not until the last shot when he was killed did he stop saying to the students: Hurry. You have time. You can get out of the window. And all but one of Liviu Librescu's students were able to get out of the window. One student, Minal Panchal, ended up being killed because he bravely waited for the other students to go out the window first.

What heroism and bravery. Yet the Liviu Librescu story is even more powerful than that because Liviu Librescu, the professor, was 76 years old--long past retirement age. He had continued to teach because he loved teaching.

He was born in 1930 in Romania. When the Romanian Government became allied with Nazi Germany in 1940, because he was Jewish and his family was Jewish, he was subjected to the persecution Jews in Romania were subjected to, his family was sent into forced labor camps, and Liviu Librescu lived in a crowded ghetto in a Romanian city, being persecuted, but he came through the Holocaust as a survivor. Many Jews, after the war, left Romania because of the persecution of Jews, but it was Liviu Librescu's home, and he stayed. He went to a university, and he became a world-renowned aerospace engineer, and he continued to teach.

But now Romania fell under the influence, as a puppet state, of the Soviet Union. He would not pledge allegiance to the Communist Party. He would not relinquish his tie to his Judaic faith. Because of that, he began to be subjected to persecution for a second time, to be persecuted because of his religion, to be denied the ability to publish articles or travel to academic conferences. Eventually, he lost his job at the university because of his Judaism and because he was unwilling to take the oath of allegiance to the Communist Party.

He was persona non grata in his home country of Romania. However, people in the outside world who knew of his scholarship never let go, and they continued to speak on Liviu Librescu's behalf. He was eventually allowed, in 1977, to emigrate to Israel.

He lived in Israel for 8 years and received a 1-year teaching fellowship at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He came for 1 year and never left. He taught as a popular teacher and researcher in Blacksburg, VA, from 1985 until the day he was killed in 2007.

This horrible day, April 16, 2007, started as a normal Monday for virtually everyone who ended up sharing the tragic fate. It was not a normal day. It did not start as a normal day for Liviu Librescu. Liviu Librescu, as a proud Jew, observed that day, from sundown on the 15th of April, the evening before, until sundown on the 16th of April, as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day.

Yom HaShoah, in the Jewish religion since 1953, has been a day worldwide where Jews and their allies remember the Holocaust, perpetrators, victims, and the bystanders--the bystanders who wouldn't do anything to stop the atrocity.

They also remember the heroism of those who fought against the Holocaust.

As Professor Librescu went to his class on this day, while it was a normal Monday for most, I know he walked into his class thinking about Yom HaShoah, perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and heroes. He made a decision, in the split second he heard shots being fired, to be a hero and to save others' lives.

He survived the Holocaust, perpetrated by Nazi Germany, and anti-Semitism in Romania. He survived the persecution perpetrated in his country by the Soviet Union. However, Liviu Librescu could not survive the epidemic of gun violence in this country, the country which he adopted and loved.

In conclusion, I would encourage all of us to take a minute, Senators, staff, pages, people in the gallery, members of the press, take a moment and ask yourselves would you do what Liviu Librescu did. Would you put your body against a door, allow yourself to be shot, and encourage others to be safe? Would you do that? Would we do this?

As I thought about this question, being honest, I would say I hope I would do that. I pray if it comes to that I would act to protect others ahead of myself.

If I am honest with myself, what I have to say is I don't know whether I would do that. I don't know whether I would be a hero like Liviu Librescu. I don't know if I would have the courage to do what Liviu Librescu did.

The good news for those of us who have the honor and blessing to serve in this Chamber is we do not need to put our body in front of bullets to keep people safe. We do not need to put our bodies in front of bullets to protect kids and protect students. All we need to do is have an infinitesimal portion of the courage Liviu Librescu had and cast votes. We need to cast votes on the floor of this body to keep our community safer and to keep our children safer.

I have heard it said this will be a hard vote. For 20 years there has not been a meaningful discussion of these issues on the floor of the Senate because interests are too powerful, the NRA is too powerful. It will be a vote which will be scored, and we need to worry about it. It will take courage. It does not take courage, to any degree, when we think about Liviu Librescu, who saved his students.

Last week I met the daughter of Mary Sherlach, who was the guidance counselor in Sandy Hook who ran to save her students and was killed. When we think about the courage and heroism shown by these individuals, what we are being asked to do on the floor of this body is the least we can do.

It is about heroism. We honor heroes such as Liviu Librescu. The people who put us in office expect us to have at least a small measure of courage, a small measure of heroism. We owe it to those students and others who were shot, killed, and wounded at Virginia Tech. We owe it to the people who were killed or wounded in Newtown. I would ask all my colleagues to reflect upon the example of Professor Librescu and the heroism he showed as we debate what might be a controversial proposal this week.

Again, the blessing we have as Senators is that we do not have to interpose our bodies in the way of violence to make a difference and make people safer. It is my wish we do that as we debate and vote in the coming days.


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