How I survived an active shooter: Lisa Hamp shares story

Michael Gennaro

North Bureau Chief


Lisa Hamp, a survivor of the Virginia Tech Massacre that occurred on April 16, 2007, visited North Campus on Sept. 27 to share her first-hand account about how she survived the shooting and how she learned to cope afterwards.

Hamp, who was a junior at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting, got to her Computer Science classroom around 9 a.m. on the morning of April 16. It was a normal class session for Hamp and her classmates until around 9:40 a.m., when Lisa and her classmates suddenly heard a popping noise across the hall. That popping noise turned out to be gunshots.

“I don’t come from a military family or a hunting family, so the sounds of gunshots were unfamiliar to me,” Hamp said.

Even though she couldn’t ascertain exactly what the popping sound was, she immediately had an idea that something was wrong.

She thought, “that sounds like gunshots, but that doesn’t belong here in class. There was this disconnect between what I’m feeling which is ‘something’s not right,’ but my mind was trying to make sense of why I’m hearing that sound where it does not belong.”

Hamp admits that she “froze up” when she heard the noise. Her classmate and the teacher’s assistant went out into the hall to investigate the noise. As soon as they exited the classroom, the gunman noticed them and fired, barely missing the head of Hamp’s friend, Teresa.

The teacher’s assistant and Teresa re-entered the classroom, where the teacher’s assistant exclaimed, “Guns! There’s a man with guns in the hallway!”

“Very early on…we have confirmation that this is a shooter. We know what’s going on,” Hamp explained.

The confirmation of a gunman in the hallway outside of their classroom set the wheels in motion for how Hamp and her classmates were going to try to survive.

“We need to do something,” Hamp thought. One of her classmates put his weight against the door while the others in the room looked at the furniture in the classroom; the classroom door did not lock, so their best option at survival was to barricade the door. They barricaded the door with a card table and a desk and organized themselves into two groups.

“There was a group of us that are closest to the door, and a group of us in the diagonal back corner towards the windows. Two people called 911 and then we sort of braced ourselves,” Hamp said.

Hamp described a terrifying ordeal over the next 11 minutes, where the gunman desperately tried to break through the barricade into their classroom multiple times.

“We’re fumbling with this barricade, and it’s not really set up yet, but the shooter is at our door trying to enter, shooting through a couple of times as well as pushing and kicking, and the door would swing open and back, open and back.”

“I remember… someone said we need to stay low. I stayed low… When the shooter started shooting through the door, he was shooting chest-high. He never thought to shoot low. Because of that the bullets went over our head.”

Lisa and her classmates thought about making a run for it when the gunman left but decided against it. That decision may have saved their lives; the shooter had chained the doors to Norris Hall shut.

It took law enforcement eight minutes to get into Norris Hall. In addition to chaining the doors, the gunman had left a message near the entrance of the building that read, “If you try to break in, a bomb will go off.” There was no bomb, however, and law enforcement did eventually reach Hamp’s class. Their barricade had held; Hamp and her classmates had not been injured. The gunman had taken his own life in an adjacent classroom just before the police arrived. Thirty-two people were killed during his 11-minute rampage.

The next 11 years were full of struggle for Hamp, who suffered from infertility and an eating disorder that she says she developed after the traumatic events of that day. Talking to a therapist and developing better habits pulled her out of her fog and have helped her cope in recent years. Today, Hamp works as an analyst in the defense industry and has two young children.

She will carry the experience of the massacre for the rest of her days, however, but that’s why she shares her story. Hamp has a safety plan for all the places she visits most often, and she believes that it’s imperative for anyone to have a safety plan just in case an emergency does happen.

“Are you actually going to be able to follow all those plans to a ‘T’ in the event of an emergency? Probably not. What those plans are going to give you is they’re going to give you a starting point and they’re also going to give you the ability to adapt as an emergency unfolds… The best you’ve got in any emergency is what you have memorized.”

photo caption: Lisa Hamp talks to BC students about surviving the Virginia Tech shooting. 

Photo Courtesy: BC Student Life North Campus