Shelter's Limits

By Roy Ferri, a teacher and coach at Centreville High School (THE WASHINGTON POST, 18/04/07):

My daughter, Colette, never had a babysitter. My wife and I wouldn't leave her in the care of a stranger -- or with her grandparents, all of whom live within 10 miles of us. For years we sacrificed vacations, trips to the movies and even church. We were the couple with the screaming kid on the airplane and in restaurants. Our daughter was as protected from the world as any two parents could possibly manage.

Before we knew it, 18 years had flown by. Our little girl grew up and applied to the one college she had her heart set upon -- Virginia Tech. She went to a small high school, so she wanted to attend a big university. Tech is a beautiful school, nestled at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, with an excellent academic tradition. I was thrilled with her choice. It satisfied my desire to keep her sheltered and safe.

Four years ago, I loaded up a rental van and delivered my daughter to the doorstep of her heart's desire. In 90-degree heat, I carried garbage bags stuffed with clothes up seven flights of stairs.

Up went the television, DVD player, mini-fridge, microwave and boxes overflowing with everything else imaginable. Five-plus hours later, it was time for my wife and me to leave our beloved daughter behind in her dorm cell, in the care of strangers. It was a proud moment for our family, but that didn't stop my wife from crying all the way home. Letting go was wrenching. Ours was a leap of faith beyond what most parents faced. Others had gradually begun letting go years before we did.

When my wife called me Monday, it was through choking tears. A gunman had opened fire and killed two people in the same dorm whose steps I climbed four years ago. He moved on to a classroom building and fatally shot at least 30 more.

Our daughter is safe, and she will graduate in three weeks. But dozens of her peers will never get that chance, and my heart goes out to their families.

I don't know why she was spared and others were not. I don't know if anything could have prevented this massacre. I have learned that I can't guarantee her safety or anyone else's. All I can do is be thankful that she wasn't in the line of fire and appreciate every moment I have had with her and all the moments ahead.