Virginia Tech Halloween Costume Sparks Outrage

Penn State students dress up as Va. Tech shooting victims, sparking threats.

January 8, 2009, 1:18 AM

Dec. 10, 2007 — -- In a contest for worst Halloween costume, these might be a shoo-in — two students at Pennsylvania State University dressed as victims of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre in April.

Pictures of the two students attending a Halloween party, both wearing Virginia Tech clothing with fake bullet wounds and blood on their chests and faces, surfaced on the popular networking site Facebook last week.

The photos sparked outrage on both campuses. And reportedly even death threats.

But today, one of the students, who reportedly wore one of the controversial outfits, said he will not apologize. "Never ever ever," Nathan Jones told The Daily Collegian, the student paper at Penn State.

Jones, a senior biochemistry major, told the paper that he never thought the images would cause an uproar. "A lot of people do crazy, insensitive things," he said. "I knew what I was doing was sad. I did it for that reason. It was never meant to get out."

One of the pictures, which some media outlets deemed too graphic to publish, shows a young woman with her arms outstretched and her eyes closed, a bloody stain on the middle of her shirt and her left cheek. Another picture shows a young man smiling broadly, red streaks running down his face.

"I had to do a double take to see if I was really seeing what I was seeing," sophomore Tori Athey told ABC News in an e-mail from the Virginia Tech campus. "I couldn't believe someone would do such a thing in such a short time after a disaster of this magnitude."

She added, "The entire Virginia Tech community is still trying to deal and grieve with the events of April 16, and this just adds to the pain we are all still dealing with."

Twenty-seven students and five faculty members were killed when student Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus.

Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for Penn State, told ABC News the campus community was horrified by the controversial pictures.

"We're appalled that these individuals displayed this level of insensitivity and lack of common decency," Powers told ABC News. "Most Penn Staters are as offended as anyone from Virginia Tech would be."

However, Powers said that Penn State, after talking with one of the students involved, had no plans to discipline the students, citing freedom of speech protections in the Constitution.

At the time of the shooting, Penn State students went out of their way to support the student body at Virginia Tech. Not long after the killings, a large group of Penn State students wore maroon and orange shirts, Virginia Tech's signature colors, to spell out the institution's initials at a football game.

Students at Virginia Tech said the initial affront of the costumes was worsened when one of the students, apparently Jones, defended wearing the costumes in an interview with a Virginia television station last week.

In the interview, which the station WSLS posted on its Web site, the unnamed student said, "It's not that it was funny, it's that we are notorious and infamous in the state college and very popular, so we have to do things that push the envelope just for shock value."

The Daily Collegian reported today that Jones confirmed that he was the student who gave the TV interview, during which he also said of the uproar, "That's the problem with college students. They all live in an ivory tower of privilege."

Reactions among the student body at Virginia Tech this weekend seemed to range from anger and vengefulness to calls for a more measured response.

Jones told the Daily Collegian today that the controversy has sparked threats. The names of three people have been turned over to authorities for threats.

Jones also told the paper: "I would not show my face on the Virginia Tech campus now. They might actually murder me. Apparently, violence is the answer."

On the posting board for a Virginia Tech Facebook group called People Against This Costume, which by Sunday afternoon listed nearly 3,500 members, one student wrote, "Only a callous and insensitive individual would believe it's 'all in good fun' to mock the deaths of innocent people. He can have his infamy, along with the hatred and resentment of thousands that see him for what he is -- an attention whore."

Another student called on her peers to rise above it all.

"Let's not worry about them," she wrote. "We're stronger than this, they've got YEARS of growing up to do and one day they'll realize the insensitivity of their actions."

She continued proudly, "We are better than immaturity, we are better than ignorance, WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH!!!"

Ken Stanton, the administrator of the Virginia Tech Facebook group and a graduate student at the university, told ABC News that while distasteful, the Halloween costumes don't represent a larger rift between students at the two schools.

"If anything, Penn State is our close ally," said Stanton, who lost a friend in the spring shootings. "Especially after April. They were there for us so much."