Loss Creates a Terrible Contrast in Lives So Similar

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

The husbands of Linda A. Granata and Lois A. Diersing, identical twin sisters, went to work at Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus Monday morning.

One came home that night.

The other, who is now being called a hero, did not.

The men started their day in the same place: the first-floor offices that house the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory, where they studied how the human frame responds to muscle fatigue and neurological disorders.

One of the husbands, Kevin P. Granata, 46, a professor of biomechanics engaged in developing engineering mechanisms to help children cope with cerebral palsy, chatted a bit with the other researchers there before going upstairs to his third-floor office to meet with a graduate student he was advising.

Kevin Granata's brother-in-law, Michael J. Diersing, a 54-year-old laboratory administrator, stayed behind on the first floor, said researcher Gregory Slota, 30, who was there as well. Diersing, Slota and one other student were alone in the office when they heard a "pop, pop, pop" that at first sounded like construction noise. It was the beginning of what would eventually become the worst shooting rampage in U.S. history and an event that would forever alter this family. When it was over, 33 people lay dead.

When the shooting started, four students rushed to safety in the office, including one who had been shot by the attacker, Slota said. The group looked out into the hallway and saw that the exit had been chained shut. Members of the group, now numbering seven, debated what to do, and decided to lock themselves inside. They bound the wound of the young man who had been shot, using a T-shirt as a tourniquet. Barricaded inside, they stayed there until the attacker killed himself and police told them that the danger had passed.

Lois Diersing and Linda Granata heard of the attacks from news reports and called to make sure their husbands were okay. Slota was able to tell Lois that Michael was fine and that he would call her soon. Linda began calling for Kevin, and others began calling him, too, but his phone rang unanswered. Once the sisters, 48, learned that Lois's husband was safe, they frantically tried to find Linda's husband.

The police took Diersing, Slota and the others away for questioning. Nobody knew where Kevin was. Virginia Tech officials gave them no information, all through the long day ahead.

"They didn't tell us anything," Lois recalled Tuesday in a brief, emotional telephone call. Slota drove Linda around campus Monday looking for her husband. They spotted his car in the parking lot but couldn't find him. Slota drove Linda home to wait for more information.

Finally Lois and Linda went to the campus about 5 p.m. Monday and walked to Norris Hall, where a police officer on the scene told them that Kevin had been killed, Lois said.

"It would have been nice" if they would have been informed some other way, Lois said. But Ishwar K. Puri, head of their husbands' department at the university, met with them, and his warmth "very much made up" for the university's failure to communicate with them, Lois said.

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