SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — April 16, 2007 is when everything changed for Tricia and Mike White from Smithfield.
Their daughter, Nicole, was in Norris Hall on Virginia Tech’s campus for German class. Around 10 a.m., a fellow student chained the doors to the academic building and started shooting, killing students and professors before turning the gun on himself.
20-year-old Nicole White was one of the victims.
“This is the cards we’ve been dealt,” said Nicole’s father Mike White. “There is nothing we could do about it, so we just try to keep moving on.”
32 families were dealt that hand 10 years ago. It was the worst school shooting in American history.
“It was devastating,” added Nicole’s mother Tricia White. “It was devastating.”
“It was definitely a life changing event,” Mike White said.
While Nicole was in German class, her parents were at work.
News of the mass shooting quickly spread.
“At that point I still didn’t put two and two together that she was in the building and that the German class was even in that building,” Tricia White added.
“The hours went on I couldn’t get a hold of her,” Tricia White said. “I couldn’t find her roommate. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone.”
The Whites decided to head to Blacksburg. Seconds turned to minutes, which turned to hours. Still no word from Nicole.
“I just remember President Bush being there the next day and there was some ceremony,” Tricia White added. “I was sitting in one of the conference rooms there waiting to find out where she was. She was the last one identified.”
“One person,” Mike White said. “One person in your life changes everything. Everything that you’re hoping for.”
“She was a bright, cheerful, loving, caring, kind, passionate and vivacious redhead,” Tricia White added. “Every day we think of her.”
Back home in Smithfield, there are reminders of the tragedy everywhere you look. There’s a plaque in a memorial tree garden.
“She was a great person,” said Connie Chapman of the Luter YMCA in Smithfield.
White made the most of her young life. She was a volunteer EMT for the Smithfield rescue squad. She pitched in at the local animal and battered women’s shelters. She worked pool side at the YMCA.
“She was the first lifeguard that was hired,” Chapman added. “She was kind of a celebrity among all the staff. Everybody knew her.”
Even in death Nicole is still giving back. The Peninsula Metropolitan YMCA set up a yearly scholarship in her name, giving $5,000 to a Smithfield High School senior who is making a difference in the community.
“She will always live on,” Tricia White said. “Her memory will always live on.”
It’s been 10 years since Mike and Tricia have been to Blacksburg. They’re still not ready to return.
“Eventually one day maybe we will go back, but I can’t go back,” Tricia White added.
The decade old pain will never go away.
“It’s hard to go to her friends’ weddings,” Mike White said. “The possibilities of what could have been. I would have loved to walk her down the aisle and give her away in marriage. I would have loved for my wife to be planning a baby shower for her. We always looked forward to grandchildren we would have, so that is something we have thought about many times.”
The Whites’ focus is now on living. Living the same way Nicole did while she was here.
“You should hug your child every day,” Mike White added. “You should tell them you love them. You should cherish every second you get with them, because you never what tomorrow brings.”