Virginia Beach councilman pushes forward after experiencing 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting

Aaron Rouse: 'To have something like this happen again... it pains my heart'

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – As people heard the news on Friday of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, it reminded many in southwest Virginia of the horror the Virginia Tech community experienced after the 2007 mass shooting on campus.

Virginia Beach City Councilman Aaron Rouse has now had to deal with both tragedies.

“To have something like this happen again, here in Virginia Beach, it pains my heart,” Rouse told 10 News. 

When a gunman shot and killed 32 people in Blacksburg in 2007, Rouse was a Virginia Tech student. He was finishing up his time on the football team before he would later play in the NFL. 

“No one should ever have to go through what not only myself, but the other Hokies have been through in 2007,” he said.

Now, as an elected official, he thought of the 2007 tragedy immediately after learning there was an active shooter in his hometown.

“When I was a kid in college I felt helpless. I didn’t quite know what to do,” Rouse said. “In this moment, as a councilman, I want to know, how do we go forward to bring our city together?”

He said he can add perspective for the people of Virginia Beach.

“I understand the pathway we must travel, and we must travel it together. We can’t do it alone,” he said.

That process started right away, Saturday morning at a vigil. Rouse spoke to a crowd of dozens, showing that now he’s in a position to help lead.

“We will come together like never before,” Rouse said over the microphone.

He believes everyone can be a leader.

“It’s the simplest things. It starts with welcoming your neighbors, a simple handshake, ‘Hi. How are you doing?’ Recognizing our humanity first so we can sit down and have those tough conversations that we need and will have,” Rouse said.

He said he’s proud of the Virginia Beach residents who have prayed, contributed to memorials and helped their neighbors grieve.

“We need to be there for those families who need us the most and that’s something that we’ve learned at Virginia Tech, is that we found strength in each other. And that’s something that we have to do in Virginia Beach,” he said.

Rouse and other city leaders said they will continue to attend remembrance events throughout the city, trying to spread messages of strength and hope.