Not a single life should have been lost in this week's mass murder at Virginia Tech.
For Columbia County and Lakeside High School, the loss of one particular life leaves a much bigger void than the rest.
Just a month away from graduation with a 4.0 average and three majors, 2002 Lakeside grad Ryan "Stack" Clark, 22, lost his life for doing his job.
Authorities say Clark, a resident assistant in a Virginia Tech dorm, was investigating a disturbance between the shooter, 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui and a girl. An autopsy Thursday shows Clark was shot once in the head from close range and died instantly.
Sports pages casually call athletes "heroes" for their exploits, to the point that watering-down the term has caused a backlash: Many of us are sticklers for applying the word only to people such as police officers, firefighters or soldiers.
What those people have in common is that their job involves self-sacrifice, sometimes of their own lives.
Ryan Clark was a resident assistant, which means much of his work was spent with such mundane things as asking other students to turn down their stereos. But that position also would have made him a peer counselor, and in Monday's shooting, a protector.
Clark died in what by all accounts was an effort to protect a young woman. He walked into a situation that cost him his life.
Ryan Clark died a hero. The painful truth for our community is that he shouldn't have died at all.
Please: Though it's been said elsewhere, it bears repeating. Keep his family in your prayers, along with the families of all the other Virginia Tech victims - and yes, that includes the grieving family of the warped young man responsible for all 33 deaths.
And Clark's family, which includes his twin brother, Bryan, also a 2002 LHS grad, could use your help, too. Donations to Ryan Clark's Memorial Fund are accepted at any Georgia Bank and Trust branch.
May a good young man, gone far too soon, rest in peace.
Bill shot down
The Virginia Tech shooting has, of course, been analyzed every way possible, from those blaming firearms to those wondering why more guns weren't there to deter the murderer.
One side-effect of the shooting was to help eliminate the passage of an ill-advised bill in the Georgia Legislature that would have prohibited employers from preventing their employees from bringing weapons in their vehicles onto company parking lots.
The debate was between private property rights of the employers vs. the gun rights of the employees, and the National Rifle Association pushed the bill to such obnoxious, threatening excess that some of their strongest supporters got squeamish.
The Virginia Tech shooting says a lot more about mental health than it does guns. But in its aftermath, just about anyone would be squeamish about pushing gun legislation.
In a week of horrendous losses, one that just about went unnoticed was the death of Bobby Plymale.
Of course, just about no one outside his family knew Dick Shannon by his real name. And few of them had ever seen Plymale until his photo ran with his obituary.
If not for that picture, most fans would think of him as larger than life. That's the effect of the famed DJ's time on air during the golden age of WBBQ, and later with oldies station WGOR.
He once joked to me that a few too many doughnuts led to his heart trouble. His loss leaves too many broken hearts.
Enjoy your permanent weekend, pal.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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