Gil’s story

Brent Finnegan -- April 18th, 2007

The following email was forwarded to me. You may have read about local Virginia Tech student Guillermo “Gil” Colman in the DNR yesterday. Gil is one of the surviving victims of Monday’s VT shooting. This is a far more detailed account of what happened to Gil, as told to one of his fellow church members and close personal friend of his, Bill Hopkins. Thanks to Bill for his permission to edit and post it here. Be warned: this is more graphic than the DNR story…

The following account was written by Bill Hopkins:

It was about 9pm on April 16th, and Gil, Nell-Marie, Ellen and myself were in the hospital room in Roanoke. Gil said, “Can I have a tissue…there’s blood inside my nose.” We got him one, and as he cleaned the dried blood from inside his nose he said…”It’s not my blood…it’s from the guy who was on top of me….his blood was everywhere…on my face, in my eyes, my nose, my mouth…it was all over.” He said that the reason he was not killed must have been “all that blood” that covered him. “He must have thought that I was already dead”. It was the blood of the Indonesian student who had been seated beside Gil when it all started.

Almost 12 hours to the minute before Gil asked for the tissue that night, the carnage began. It was Monday morning, April 16th, about 9:20 am, when Gil, the Professor, and 13 other graduate students were interrupted, (the class began at 9am) by someone who opened the wooden classroom (about 20’ by 30’ in size) door and took up a “shooters” stance at the front of the room and began firing his semi-automatic 9mm pistol directly at students on the front row. He moved from his left to his right. Gil sat on the last chair in the front row, on the shooter’s right.

Gil dove for the floor, at the side wall of the room, by a radiator. (This building was built in the 1950’s) He felt the student next to him dive for cover in the same way landing on top of him. Not fully covering Gil, but “scissored” across his body. The shooter emptied the first 15 round clip and ejected it, and inserted another one. He moved about the room shooting. Gil felt a bullet strike the guy on top of him…then he felt some searing pain in his neck. He later speculated that the bullet went through the body of the person on top of him, before it entered his mastoid bone just behind and below his left ear.

Then the shooter left the room, and they heard shots being fired nearby. Lots of gunshots. Gil motioned a student nearby to get his phone out of his book bag and call 911. The guy retrieved Gil’s phone and dialed and told the police what was happening. It is about 9:25 or so.

Gil told us that, “I don’t recall having fear…I only recall praying and thinking about my wife and my son, and that I didn’t want to die here”.

Gil and a couple of others strategized, that the best thing to do was to remain in the positions they were in and “play dead” because the shooter was right outside the door and might very well return…so, that’s what they did. Gil was underneath the bleeding student from Indonesia. No talking, nothing was heard from him.

Just when they thought the terror might have ended…the shooter comes back in the room! Where are the police, Gil thought…why aren’t they here protecting us? The South Korean student, (23 years old) came back firing at people strewn about the room. 10 shots, or more. Gil recounted that at one point, the shooter was standing right beside where he was lying underneath the Indonesian and felt 3 or 4 more bullets impacting into the body above him. “Thump, thump, thump”…but none seemed to hit Gil…

Then the shooter left and shot some more outside (actually across the hall in another classroom) Then SILENCE. Finally, no more shooting.

They remained in position for a time and gradually, when the police came, they got up…but only two of the 14 people got up. Only two of them, Gil and his friend named Nathan could walk out. The others were either deceased already or badly wounded. At this writing, 11am on the 17th, Gil still doesn’t have a definitive listing of who might have survived. The Professor was killed.

The shooter shot himself before the police could engage him.

It’s about 9:50 am, by this time, and the police lead Gil and the other student down and out of the building and into a black Explorer. They were taken to “triage” there on campus along with 20 to 30 other students.

Nell-Marie called me at about 10:15 and gave me the unbelievable news. I was watching the report on TV when she called. She was calling to tell us that Gil was ok and not involved, right? Of course…but no, that’s not what Nell-Marie said. “Gil’s alright”, she said, but, “he was right in the middle of it…it was in his classroom.” She had spoken to Gil only minutes before. “But, he’s ok!”

I hung up and dialed Gil’s cell phone. He answered, “Hi, Billy”, seeing my caller ID light up. He sounded quite normal. I was relieved. There was noise in the background, but I could hear him clearly…he said that, “I don’t think I was shot, but a bullet grazed my arm and my neck”. I’m ok. (actually, the bullet grazed his back and entered the base of his skull, we were to find out…the bullet was still lodged against his mastoid bone in there as we spoke.) So I knew at the outset that he was in the classroom where shooting happened, but nothing else…no more details, until later…then our connection went bad…I redialed and began talking again…Gil said something…”It was…he….shot…” and then he couldn’t speak…he was unable to get out anything but sobs..I pictured him there with the phone in his hand, trying to imagine what he must have been feeling….”I’ll be there in two hours!” I said…”I’ll find Nell-Marie and I’ll see you by one o’clock.” He said, “Ok”, and we hung up.

Nell-Marie learned that they had taken Gil to the Lewis Gale Hospital in Roanoke, by ambulance, along with two others, from the triage area on campus. It was too windy for helicopters to fly.

I arrived about 1:30, and found Nell-Marie in the emergency room waiting room. She had not yet seen Gil.

Momentarily, someone came out to identify us, and Nell-Marie got connected. They took her back to Gil. 20 minutes later, a nurse came out to say that Gil was being X-rayed at that time because there was a bullet still in his head! What? But she assured us that it was not in a dangerous place neurologically and that they might even leave it in there…of course, they took Gil into surgery about 2:30 and removed the bullet..a 9mm slug, in tact and placed a drain in the wound. So by 5:30, Gil was in recovery and wide awake. By 5:40 pm, he was wheeled into room 526, where we got to see him for the first time. He looked ashen, washed out, serious and tired, but remarkably good. He was alert and fully aware of everything.

Then he talked and talked, freely giving us every detail. That’s where we learned that he was “saved by the blood” of the Indonesian student.

I suggested to Gil that if I were the Dad in Indonesia and found out that my beloved son was killed in this way…I would have so many unanswered questions…I would feel so helpless. I would be comforted to know, perhaps, that you (Gil) survived because of my son’s blood…that my son’s death in some way “saved” or shielded you from that fate. Gil agreed. And, perhaps he will get the chance to give his story to the parents from Indonesia.

Gil, a Uruguayan immigrant, will be moving back to Harrisonburg this summer, along with his wife and 10-month-old son.

15 Responses to “Gil’s story”

  1. writergirl says:

    Wow…just wow.

  2. finnegan says:

    Looking at the list of victims, there is only one casualty from Indonesia: Partahi Lumbantoruan

    There’s an AP article published today that was partly about him.

    “…third-year doctoral student Partahi Lumbantoruan, who showed so much promise for the future. The family had sold property and a car to finance his civil engineering studies.”

    So sad.

  3. Atish says:

    I have a feeling he person Gil is referring to is Mora a PhD candidate from Geotechnical Engineering and a close friend of all of ours who spent the last year and a half in the same classes and shared some really great times together at VT. We will all miss Mora and we will all remember him as a guy who none of us ever heard or saw upset for any reason. He was always smiling and loved this country and what dreams it could realize for him. A lot of us from the Geotechnical Engineering department are meeting this friday, April 20, 2007 to offer our respect and remember our friend. Please feel free to join us.

  4. karen fornoff says:

    A horrific account of this tragedy that will be remembered for years to come! Gil is truly blessed. Thanks for sharing.

  5. finnegan says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Atish. Do you have any additional info on Mora? A link to a newspaper article, perhaps?

  6. Frank Witt says:

    Atish, please know that athough we will not be able to be there with your group in person, we will be holding all of you in our thoughts and prayers.

    I got an email from a friend of mine in PA and he said that even though he is 260 miles north of here, the communities up north are praying for everyone involved/effected.

    This is truly a sad example of human behavior.

  7. Nathan Blackwell says:

    You left off the first part of the document. If you want to see the full story go to:
    http://www.whsv.com/home/headlines/7091201.html
    But thanks for posting Gul’s Story.

  8. finnegan says:

    Hi, Nathan. Long time, no see.

    I noted at the top (italics) that it was edited — only because I was told that was ok to do. The whole thing is also posted on Gil’s blog.

  9. Mary J Richardson says:

    All things happen,for a reason,not saying I wanted this to happen,just that i will be praying for you,and the others and very happy you made it out,thank god very day,that you made it out for your child,THANK GOD

  10. Shelley says:

    This tragedy will hopefully remind us how precious life is and how precious each individual is and both should always be respected and cherished with deep appreciation and love

  11. marcelo silvera says:

    im uruguayan and i leaving in viginia state for 9 month and i just want to say gil keep going on gracias

  12. Dyta says:

    I believe that mora’s parents will or maybe had found out about this story. This story already posted by Indonesian local news detik.com. If you want to know more about Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan or “Mora” you can check on this cnn website: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2007/virginiatech.shootings/victims/profiles/partahi.mamora.html

  13. David says:

    I miss you Gil, if you can, please call.

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