A few weeks ago the big news on Virginia Tech's campus was the quarantine of a veterinary hospital. Yesterday, the staff of the school's paper, confronted with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, did what journalists do: they put out a newspaper.
"It was tough," said Annabelle Ombac, director of the student photography service at the Collegiate Times. "Today I had to do my job."
As the university began mourning the loss of 32 students and faculty yesterday, the Times staff produced a 16-page broadsheet with a bold headline that read, "Heartache."
For two days the staff of the university's newspaper of record, circulation 14,000, posted articles online. As difficult as it was, reporters and photographers said they worked around the clock to document the sadness and suffering in words and pictures.
The paper was sent to the presses at 6 a.m. yesterday and hit newsstands at 9 a.m.
"In the midst of all this chaos, we can bring everyone together," said Amie Steele, the paper's editor in chief. She'd worked nearly 30 hours straight Monday into Tuesday with brief breaks to shower and sleep. "I've had macaroni and cheese and donuts, and a lot of coffee."
Authorities said Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old South Korean national, who had been studying English at Virginia Tech, carried out the grisly attacks on Monday. He later killed himself.
Throughout that day Times photographers roamed the campus capturing pictures of grieving students and families while reporters scribbled notes at news conferences and other events.
It wasn't until the day was over that reporter Taylor Shapiro, a sophomore from Middleburg, Va., had a moment to think about what had happened.
"I sat in my room trying to fathom how many people died, it was as if everyone on my dorm floor had been killed," he said. "That's crazy."
The student-run newspaper has been in the unique position of having access to stories other media organizations can't get. It has scooped CNN, MSNBC and national newspapers, and been mentioned on countless broadcasts. By talking to friends and classmates the stafff has tracked down students who knew the victims - and the shooter.
Editors compiled a list of the known victims early yesterday, and national television news networks and newspapers have linked to the paper's Web site, . Watching the rotating staff put out such a great newspaper was thrilling, said the newspaper's adviser Kelly Furnas.
"They came to work and acted like pros, putting out a paper that serviced the readers," he said. "There is a swelling of pride when I think about it."
Around 5 p.m. last night about 15 reporters, editors, photographers and other staff members were scattered around the newsroom putting out another paper.
As stressful as the day was there were moments of humor.
"Katie Couric is what, 50?" asked one reporter who'd seen the news anchor on campus earlier in the day. "She's smokin' hot."