Editorial: Editorial: Mourn victims first

As these words are written on Monday, just hours after the bloodshed ended, the name of Virginia Tech already has been added to a heartbreaking roll call. It is the latest entry in the list of schools and universities where some crazed gunman has unleashed a deadly rampage.

The death toll at the Virginia campus stands at 33 (including the gunman) and counting. It eclipses Columbine, the Colorado high school where a teacher and 12 students were gunned down in 1999 by two classmates, and the University of Texas where in 1966, a lone gunman killed 16, the previous most lethal campus shooting spree before this event. It is, in fact, the worst mass shooting incident in the nation's history.

The details of this latest tragedy remain sketchy. What we know now is that 32 students were killed by a gunman wielding two handguns. The gunman is dead, too, although it is not clear whether he died by his own hand. That detail, along with his identity, his history and motives will be picked apart over the coming weeks.

What we do know is that the victims were innocents, random targets. Most of them were college students, young and bright with promising futures – people in the right place place on a blustery spring day in Blacksburg, Va., but at the tragically wrong time.

For much of Monday, the nation was mesmerized by the breathless nonstop news casts with endless replays of the same video: police rushing toward the scene of the carnage guns drawn, too late to save the already dead victims.

The now familiar national ritual of shock and loss has begun. The president has sent his condolences. The governor of Virginia has arrived. The flowers, the yellow ribbons, the stuffed animals, the candles are on poignant display.

The recriminations have begun and are sure to intensify. Advocates of gun control will talk about laws that are too permissive. Defenders of the Second Amendment will wonder aloud if the tragic toll could have been reduced if just one of the early victims had been armed.

All that will come in the days and weeks ahead as Americans dissect this tragedy. For now, the nation has a simpler and more pressing agenda. It is a time for mourning.