October 17, 2021

Survivor of Virginia Tech mass shooting still healing

13 years of recovery

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Lisa Hamp, a survivor of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, shared her experiences and recovery with more than 50 students during a Wednesday night presentation at the Corey Union Exhibition Lounge at SUNY Cortland.

Lisa Hamp was one of the survivors.

She and the rest of her class lived through the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech because one of their classmates had the idea to barricade the door. The shooter still tried to get in — pushing on and shooting through the door — but they managed to keep him out by lying on the floor and pushing back.

Hamp and the others in that room got out physically untouched. The students in four other nearby classrooms were not so lucky — 32 were killed.

But while Hamp had not been physically affected, the emotional trauma continued to affect her without her realizing it for the next eight years.

Hamp shared her experiences Wednesday during a talk, “A Survivor’s Perspective on Trauma and Recovery,” in the Corey Union Exhibition Lounge of SUNY Cortland.

The April 16, 2007, shooting at Virginia Tech was, at the time, the deadliest single-gunman mass shooting in U.S. history — with 32 dead and 23 injured. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, fatally shot himself in the head. Since then, it has been surpassed by the Orlando night- club shooting in 2016 — 49 dead and 53 injured — and the Las Vegas shooting — 58 dead and 851 injured.

Hamp counted herself lucky, but she failed to understand how deeply that day traumatized her. She would develop an eating disorder in the years after the shooting, but she rationalized this away, and initially concealed it from a counselor.

“I felt like she didn’t need to know that I was becoming obsessive about food,” Hamp said.

Every morning, she woke up to get on a scale and start feeling bad about herself. Moreover, she went to the gym obsessively, every day. Meanwhile, she went to a counselor as a way of checking off a box of something she had to do, still not realizing how profoundly the shooting was continuing to affect her.

Eight years later, after she graduated from college, went to work for the Pentagon, got married and earned two master’s degrees, she finally realized her life — while perfect on the surface — was actually out of control.

When she went back to counseling this time, she got fully honest with a new counselor, and she finally began to recover.

After going to a tenth anniversary remembrance of the shooting, she became increasingly involved in connecting with survivors of other mass shootings, and this led her to begin speaking engagements, first to police audiences about safety and threat assessments, and now about her recovery from her post-traumatic stress as well as her eating disorder.

She does this part-time now, speaking at conferences, universities and work places a couple times a month.

“I think it was very moving how someone would be so impacted by something and not realize it at the time,” said Marissa Whitaker, an educator in the SUNY Cortland Substance Abuse Prevention and Education Office.

Senior Carolanne Clark said Hamp presented a compelling message that she could relate to.

“I think the way she told her story was really engaging,” she said. Hamp showed the problems she experienced were not unusual while conveying to students the feeling “that you are not alone,” Clark said.

The event, held during “Body Appreciation Week 2020,” was hosted by Health Promotions.