In the aftermath of the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, many of the affected families gathered together in support of one another.
United by tragedy, with paths crossed and lives all-at-once intertwined, we shared stories and memories and sometimes just silence ⎯ raw emotion ⎯ as we walked down this broken journey together.
We felt the gaping presence of those lost and gone forever ⎯ taken all too soon in one of the most inhumane ways possible ⎯ as we bonded together as a family of sorts. We became an unintended family not a single one of us ever wished to be a part of. But here we were: the survivors ⎯ the parents, siblings, students, classmates, spouses, and children of those killed in the largest mass shooting on a college campus ever in our nation’s history ⎯ navigating through horror of immense magnitude, destruction, and violence.
We came from all different backgrounds, from a handful of different countries, with varying political views and religious affiliations. Still, two common themes united us: prevention and care. How could this have happened? How could this have been prevented? We felt a burning responsibility from the beginning to use our own experiences, and the resources we gained through our own journeys toward recovery and resiliency, to create a foundation that would help prevent future similar tragedies from occurring. We wanted to create a living legacy for the 32 lives lost that might bring awareness to, and provide education on, school and campus safety and the resulting aftermath of mass gun violence. Just as importantly, we wanted to make sure, barring all of our best efforts, that should a future tragedy occur, everyone involved would have the opportunity to receive quality, compassionate, medical and psychological care, long-term.
And so was born VTV.
We each respond differently to trauma. Just as there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, there’s no right or wrong way to navigate through life again following the trauma associated with mass shooting. Over the course of the first one to two years post-tragedy, our needs will be starkly different than they’ll be 5, 10, or even 20 years thereafter. We’ll be knee-deep in the trenches, maybe even hip-deep, smack in the thick of it all. Depending upon our injuries, we may require surgeries, hospitalizations, medications, and/or therapy. These needs will inevitably be different from the needs we’ll encounter a decade down the road. Survivors may receive an outpouring of support short-term when needs have yet to be clearly defined, but 3, 4, or more years down the road, when the attention of the tragedy starts to dissipate, and another news story takes precedence, individuals may start to feel alone and helpless as funding for their injuries runs out. Insurance premiums rise. Out of pocket expenses are maximized. Individuals are forced to choose between treatments they can afford and those they cannot. As a result, conditions like PTSD may be left untreated. This is when VTVCARE is there to step in.
Although some survivors may eventually be able to heal from the psychological and physical trauma associated with surviving a mass shooting, others will be permanently injured. It's our belief that we have a social and ethical responsibility to take care of these individuals. This is where the VTVCARE endowment fund comes into play. We are here to help fund the long-term physical and psychological care needs of mass shootings survivors so that they might be able to achieve some form of recovery, new normalcy and, hopefully, joy in life once more. What they have endured is horrific. It was not warranted, deserved, or fair whatsoever. Mass shooting violence is senseless. It changes life forever, in the blink of a eye. The VTVCARE endowment fund exists to help those in need achieve resiliency.
Ultimately, we seek resilience for survivors of mass shooting tragedy. It is our hope that survivors achieve physical, psychological, and spiritual healing to the fullest extent possible, regardless of financial ability. We’ve been fortunate enough to find a way to participate in life once more following tragedy. With the right resources, we've found our own sense of peace and wellbeing. It’s our hope that other survivors have this same opportunity, too. Life will never be the same again, but we at VTVCARE are living proof that for some better days can and do lay ahead.
History and Accomplishments
Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation (VTV)
VTV is a 501(c)(3) organization and was formally incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia on October 9, 2009, but its origin stems from the mass shootings that took place on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia, which took the lives of 32 people, injured 24, and traumatized many more.
Crisis Response Team (CRT)
VTV’s CRT is a group of trained VTV family members and staff who provide assistance upon request to the survivors of mass school violence. Emanating from the tragedy, VTV’s team realized it learned a great deal from its experience which it could share with others. In the midst of a crisis, they realized that their assistance could be invaluable at a time when people are emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed.
Since the tragedy, VTV's CRT members have directly responded, supported, and have offered assistance to survivors of mass shootings throughout the United States including at Chardon High School (OH), Northern Illinois University (IL), Aurora Colorado Theater (CO), Sandy Hook Elementary School (CT), Umpqua Community College (OR) and Pulse Nightclub (FL).
32 National Campus Safety Initiative (32 NCSI)
Financed by a federal grant, VTV created 32 NCSI. It is a free, confidential, self-paced, online self-assessment program that looks at key areas of campus safety. Using this new resource, colleges and universities can better assess themselves across nine important areas:
- Alcohol & Other Drugs
- Campus Public Safety
- Emergency Management
- Mental Health
- Missing Students
- Physical Security
- Sexual Violence
- Threat Assessment
For the first time, school administrators can better see all the aspects of their campus safety in one review. It brings people together with a multi-departmental team approach for real collaboration. 32 NCSI is different because it’s solutions-focused, not compliance-based, so it assists schools in implementing or reinforcing holistic procedures to strengthen campus safety.
Promoting Positive Practices (P3)
In 2014, VTV was awarded a $500,000 grant by the Department of Justice/COPS office to develop intervention practices for our K-12 schools. P3 is a new set of practices based on science and key concepts in education and law enforcement for School Security Officers, Teachers, School Psychologists, Social Workers, and School Counselors. P3 is a perfect match for school personnel to promote safer schools and communities.
National Center for Campus Public Safety (NCCPS)
VTV became the leading independent advocacy group for campus safety in the U.S. In 2013, VTV, along with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), successfully championed the funding to establish the NCCPS and is a member of its Advisory Board. The NCCPS serves as a national clearinghouse for research, best practices, and training for college and university police and security.
Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act
VTV was at the forefront, along with a diverse coalition of national organizations, of securing the passage in 2013 of the “Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act” (also known as the VAWA amendments to the Clery Act) that enhanced and modernized two-decade-old federal campus sexual violence prevention and response guidelines.
Joint Legislative Achievements
Between 2010 and 2015, both VTV and its sister organization, Angel Fund, successfully advanced legislation in Virginia that has made our college campuses safer.
2015 – SB 1122 requires each public institution of higher education's policies that advise students, faculty, and staff of the proper procedures for identifying and addressing the needs of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies or behavior to require procedures for notifying the institution's student health or counseling center when a student exhibits suicidal tendencies or behavior.
2014 – SB 239 requires the violence prevention committee of each public institution of higher education to establish policies and procedures that outline circumstances under which all faculty and staff are to report threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a physical threat to the community. The bill also requires each violence prevention committee to include notification of family members or guardians, or both, as a sufficient means of action in the committee's policies and procedures for the assessment of individuals whose behavior may present a physical threat, unless such notification would prove harmful to the individual in question.
2013 – SB 1078 requires the State Board for Community Colleges to develop a mental health referral policy that would require community colleges to designate at least one individual at each college to serve as a point of contact with an emergency services system clinician at a local community services board, or another qualified mental health services provider, for screenings and referrals of students who may have emergency or urgent mental health needs.
2010 – This legislation requires the president and vice-president of each public institution of higher education, or the superintendent in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, to annually certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management comprehension and understanding of the institution's crisis and emergency management plan. The bill also provides that each public institution of higher education shall annually conduct a functional exercise in accordance with the protocols established by the institution's crisis and emergency management plan.
A life-long resident of Northern Virginia, Joe graduated from Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in 1973 and from American University in 1977. Married to his wife, Mona, in 1982, the couple had three children: Omar, Randa, and Reema. The Samaha’s have resided in Centreville since 1987.
Since the Virginia Tech tragedy, Joe and Mona have established scholarships and funds, including the Angel Fund, in memory of their daughter, Reema. Joe has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the Virginia Tech families and other survivors. He serves as the first president of VTVFOF. Joe is currently a consultant/speaker with OVCTTAC (Office for Victims of Crime -Training and Technical Assistance Training), has received training in crisis response, and serves as a consultant to the Medical University of South Carolina – National Mass Violence and Victim Resource Center.
Brad Updegrove is the Director of Global Site Contracting Operations for Johnson & Johnson. In this capacity Brad leads a team that supports operational aspects associated with contracting activities between Johnson & Johnson entities and clinical research sites. Previously, Brad held roles of increasing responsibility within Johnson and Johnson's Procurement organization.
Brad holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Logistics and a Master of Business Administration degree from The Pennsylvania State University. He currently resides in Hopewell, NJ with his wife and son.
Alec Calhoun is a 2008 graduate of Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics. Originally from Waynesboro, Virginia, Alec relocated to central Illinois to take job as a hydraulic design engineer in 2008. He hopes to serve the Board in promoting campus safety, and honoring the memories of those we lost in 2007.
Stephanie is an engineer who initially pursued her degree under the advice of her eldest brother, Jeremy, who was murdered while pursuing an advanced degree in engineering at Virginia Tech. Jeremy was unable to see Stephanie become an engineer but his memory motivates her to find meaning in her education, perseverance to finish her degrees, and a will to impact the world in a positive way with them.
Stephanie is passionate about helping VTV ensure campus safety and remember the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy and all victims of violence in schools. Stephanie feels she possesses the essential skills to help carry out VTV’s mission. And she has faith that through the VTV Foundation, she can help build a solution to ending violence in this world.
Jen lives on a small sheep farm in Hopewell, NJ with her husband and son where they raise Suffolk and Katahdin sheep and Nigerian Dwarf goats. She works part-time as a Physician Assistant at a local gastroenterology practice. In her spare time she enjoys running, home renovations, and writing.
She's written and self-published two books including one about a bike ride she took across America following the death of her older brother, Jeremy, at Virginia Tech. Leaving Virginia: A Bike Ride Across America in Memory of Jeremy is the story of her journey through grief. Her second book, Watermelon Bubblegum: An Anorexic’s Antics on Food, Love and Life, describes her struggle with Anorexia Nervosa as a young girl.
Joseph is an environmental engineer, musician, and outdoor enthusiast living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2007, while Joseph was studying at Penn State University, his older brother Jeremy lost his life in the Virginia Tech tragedy. Joseph now serves the VTV Board to promote a message of peace and comfort to those in the wake of tragedy as well as working to make our cities, schools and public spaces safe for all.
Barbara La Porte
Barbara has watched the VTV Family Outreach Foundation grow over the years into an established organization with hands reaching across the aisles to forge new alliances in the areas of campus safety. She applauds all of VTV’s endeavors and hopes to contribute to its future growth as a well-recognized advocate for the well-being of students. She would like to direct some of VTV’s attention to educating young adults and families on wellness and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. Barbara believes we all need to have awareness and education in order to achieve early intervention and support initiatives.
Her proudest title is simply “Mom.” She has one treasure in heaven, Matthew, and one treasure beside her, Priscilla. Barbara learned to be their advocate, and in turn she wants to help the children of others. She’s been an office manager for an architectural firm for 14 years. She recently received her Master’s degree in Theology. The pursuit of this degree challenged Barbara to look beyond herself and to find wholeness by the giving of herself to others.
Jody McQuade, a Certified Real Estate Specialist and Accredited Buyers Representative, has been a Realtor Associate for 21 years. She also works as the Office Manager and Administrative Assistant for CENTURY 21 Hughes-Riggs Realty, Inc., in Woolwich, New Jersey. Jody is also a Licensed Title Agent and Notary Public. She is a member of the Gloucester/Sales County Board of Realtors Education Committee and also Owner/Manager of Assets and Property Management Company.
After her son, Sean, was wounded on April 16, she helped form VTV and has served as Finance Chair since its inception.
Jamal is a structural engineer working in the aerospace industry outside of Los Angeles. He is a 2008 graduate of Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics and a 2010 graduate of Penn State with a M.S. in Engineering Mechanics. Jamal was injured during the 2007 shooting. Jamal previously served on the VTV board and is looking forward to continuing to promote their mission.