Amid the bucolic hills of Blacksburg, the campus of Virginia Tech University teems with life. However, 16 years ago, it was a different story.
Reema Samaha, an 18-year-old freshman at the time, became one of 32 people killed by a shooter in a massacre on campus in 2007.
"Reema was just a fantastic young lady," said her father, Joseph Samaha, director of victim advocacy and outreach for the nonprofit VTV Family Outreach Foundation. "[She was] someone that would befriend someone in a second and lots and lots of love, which she still pours out today."
For the state of Virginia, other mass shootings would follow, including at a city municipal building in Virginia Beach in 2019 and at a Walmart in Chesapeake in 2022.
On the heels of all this, Samaha and other mass shooting survivors in the state banded together to push state lawmakers to create a permanent fund to help victims of mass shootings.
"Unfortunately, if we can't resolve these issues as a nation, we better be prepared to take care of them," Samaha said.
Their efforts paid off.
A few months ago, a bill became state law, which created the $10 million Virginia Mass Violence Care Fund. It's a first-in-the-nation, permanently endowed state fund for victims of mass shootings.
"Those $10 million will be invested by the state and the gain from that investment will be available to those families and survivors," Samaha said. "There are folks in Virginia, other than the Virginia Tech families, that now need to be taken care of for their long-term care needs. It's just not a 48-hour news cycle."
"Every time we hear about one of these, our hearts just break. It's overwhelming and it feels like it's nonstop," said Zachary Blair, president of Victims First, a national nonprofit that helps victims of mass shootings around the country.
He said the new permanent fund in Virginia shouldn't be an outlier.
"It's a great idea," Blair said. "We would like to see it replicated everywhere across the country."
"With regard to the fund, I think the important thing to know is that it's a good thing to do, but it's not nearly enough," said Thomas Abt, director of the University of Maryland's Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction.
Abt said that "common sense regulations" on the ability to get a gun are needed as well.
"Of course, we need to take care of the victims of gun violence, but to ensure that we don't have more victims. We need proactive measures," Abt said. "Because, of course, we don't want the wrong people to have guns."
That is what happened in the latest mass shooting, in the town of Lewiston, Maine.
Now, Joseph Samaha and the VTV Family Outreach Foundation are reaching out to lawmakers there to see if a similar permanent fund could be set up in that state, too.
"We've learned a lot on that journey," Samaha said. "We have somewhat of a crystal ball, you know, now, and understand what survivors and family members will go through in the future and what their needs are in the future. So, we need to be prepared for that."
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