Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering RMU Students 2 Years Later

On Jan. 22, 2008, two years ago to date, an off-campus apartment of Robert Morris University was transformed from a friendly study group to a blood bath.

Students Jonathan “Gillie” Gilbert, 22, Michael “Fudd” Tatolovich, 20, and Michelle Machusko, 20, were gathered around a computer for session of studying and socialization. Within minutes, laughter was replaced by screams as H. Paul Visnansky entered the room. He opened fire on the three students.

A cell phone fell to the floor as a friend heard the last words of Tatolovich. He rushed toward the back door in a feverish attempt to save his own life, but was shot down within inches of his goal. Visnansky shot multiple rounds into Gilbert, who fell to the floor, dead. Beside Gilbert, Visnansky pressed the head of his fiancĂ©e into the floor. Machusko, was shot seven times. 

Machusko suffered severe injuries, but survived to sustain paralysis on her right side. She was the only survivor. Her injuries destroyed her dreams of graduation and ballet.

Visnansky was arrested when he jumped from the window that Tatolovich missed by moments. Visnansky landed on the ground with his weapon, a .357 Magnum, still in hand. He told police officers that he had killed three in the room.
The only recollection Visnansky gave of the incident was that “the gun powder smelled really bad." Police reported that Visnansky was laughing and grinning in the backseat of the police car.

Though some accounts reported that Tatolovich and Gilbert were strangers to Visnansky, friends have reported that the four spent time together.

Gilbert was a sophomore elementary education major at Robert Morris. He transferred from the Community College of Beaver County in 2007.
He was the only child of Lorraine Gilbert, who was planning to celebrate his 23rd birthday with him in less than two weeks.

Gilbert worked in the campus daycare center, where he and the children shared a mutual love of life. The children called him “Mr. Jonathan,” and gave him his first and final experience impacting young lives.

Gilbert had a contagious energy and natural light. His enthusiasm, humor, and childish innocence set him apart from his peers. He left a mark with the children, his friends and family, and everyone that ever came in contact with him long enough to hear his infectious laugh.

Gilbert left a permanent mark on the world with his art. He was a member of The Organization of the Arts for Awareness and Change, and acted in the Organization's production, titled, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday.”

The production was founded on the words of Stephen Covey, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” This message resonates deeply in the tragically concluding act of these innocent victims.

 Tatolovich was a friend of Gilbert's since high school and his roommate in college. His legacy was established by his family, who are rekindling the warmth of his friendly and selfless lifestyle with a memorial scholarship dedicated to his honor and memory.

The Tatolovich family, of Center Twp., is well-known throughout their hometown. The family owns funeral homes established in Center, Aliquippa and Ambridge. The Tatolovich family has been the forerunner in providing sincere empathy to local families with lost loved ones.

Tatolovich was a popular figure as a player on the Center Area High School football team and a friendly face on campus at Robert Morris.

A death sentence was initially sought in the Visnansky trial. However, because he pleaded guilty, Visnansky was charged with two consecutive life sentences for first-degree murder, plus 20 to 40 years for attempted criminal homicide.

Lorraine Gilbert said, “I feel justice would be served if he would die.”

According to Keith Johnson, a retired prosecuting attorney, the vast majority of trials are resolved with plea bargains. He said that justice is not purely served based on facts of a crime but based on the answer to the question, “Can I win this case?”

Campus shootings are an increasing travesty in our society. According to the Associated Press, there were at least 13 fatal campus shootings between June, 2000 and February, 2008. These records are not inconclusive, as it did not include the Robert Morris shootings.

Eight of the 15 confirmed shootings in this decade occurred between April 2007 and April 2008. The shooting at RMU followed the Dusquesne University shooting of September 2006, making this the second campus massacre in the Pittsburgh area in less than two years.

Many of these fatal shootings are covered by the press for days, or even weeks. However, some, like the RMU campus shooting, seem to fall below the eye line of national coverage, and the travesty is scarcely heard outside of the immediate area.

Many locals of Pittsburgh reported that they were never even told about these shootings. Some of these are students themselves.

RMU students were not informed of the tragedy until 2 p.m. the next day, in a time in which campuses across America claimed to be tightening up security measures.

There are 19 colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area, many with multiple campuses. Measures taken against campus violence save lives. The most fundamental of these measures is awareness.

Awareness of these issues demands action, and action demands that the lives of Jonathan Gilbert, Michael Tatolovich, and many others, were not lost in vain.