Carson native endures Virginia Tech tragedy |

Carson native endures Virginia Tech tragedy

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer
Nicole Burau

On a day of mourning following the deadliest school massacre in American history, a Carson City native working on her doctorate at Virginia Tech is counseling students coping with post-traumatic stress.

Nicole Burau, 27, a student in the marriage and family therapy program, said something felt wrong that windy Monday morning she was walking on campus. The strong wind that day muted all sounds. Only when she sat down at her desk and saw the message posted on the school Web site did she understand the extent. A gunman was loose on campus. Now, she’s helping students cope with the aftermath of this tragedy.

“It’s very shocking,” she said Tuesday from her home in the Blacksburg, Va., area. “It’s very surreal. The community we live in is very safe, very carefree. It’s a very small town. It’s very shocking about what happened to us. It shocks you into thinking – where are you safe?”

Burau had a morning meeting Monday at Wallace Hall, near Ambler Johnston Hall, where the first two shootings occurred earlier that day. No one was around the usually busy parking lot. While driving to her on-campus clinic, she saw a lot of police cars. At about that time, shooting started at Norris Hall, which was across campus.

“It shows this can happen at a university, and you really don’t know what people are experiencing in their life and what makes them react,” she said. “I’m sure we’re going to be working through this for some time.”

Burau’s building was locked down at around 10 a.m. They were told to stay away from windows. She called her husband and her mother.

Colette Burau, a Carson City Realtor, picked up the call from her daughter a little after 7 a.m.

“I heard panic in her voice,” she said. “When I answered the phone I knew something was wrong. She said: ‘Mom, turn on the TV. There’s been a shooting at Virginia Tech.’ I raced to the TV and turned on Fox News. My remote phones kept going dead so I had to keep switching phones for about two hours. I did not get off that phone until I knew she was safely off campus.”

As more is unveiled about the events at the 2,600-acre campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the world mourns with the 25,000 university students.

Virginia Tech’s Web site, which had a black background and was titled “In Memoriam,” showed a picture of purple and orange-clad students gathered Tuesday to mourn the lives of 32 people gunned down by one of their own, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior English student. He killed himself as police closed in.

“We were still not aware so many shootings were going on,” Burau said. “We only knew someone was loose on campus, and one person was killed. Forty-five minutes later I got in my car and returned home. I passed about 30 ambulances going in the opposite direction. Then I knew something had happened.”

Burau said she doesn’t know yet if any of her friends were killed or injured. Complete lists have not yet been released.

“You send them to a great school, and hope they can see a better part of life and then (violence) storms them,” said Colette Burau, whose mother was local restaurateur Adele Abowd.

Burau graduated from Carson High in 1998, the daughter of former chief deputy Scott and Colette Burau. She received her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. She earned her master’s degree from Purdue University. Burau will graduate with her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in May 2008.

After the shootings, she sprang into action with other students in the counseling program.

“I was coordinating with the head of my program on how we’re going to handle services in the next couple of days,” Burau said. “We’ll start immediate grief (counseling) probably in the next two weeks. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) takes a while. I imagine we’ll be working with students here until the end of semester, and I would imagine into next semester.”

Colette Burau, who works for ReMax Realty Affiliates, said her family has received about 40 calls and e-mails from concerned family and friends.

“Thank God we have a happy ending to our story,” she said. “But if I couldn’t have reached her … I really feel for those families that couldn’t reach their children.”

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.