NEW YORK - The emergencies Jim Weaver typically encounters aren't accompanied by frantic sirens.
So, when a parade of chilling howls interrupted an April 16 meeting in his office, the Virginia Tech athletic director instinctively knew this was something that wouldn't be resolved with a reassuring call to a coach or a memo to administrators.
"You knew it was something serious," Weaver said yesterday after the National Football Foundation revealed its College Football Hall of Fame Class for 2007. "You just felt it in your bones."
Just how serious became clear when he switched on the office television. Then he, like much of America, watched stunned and spellbound, learning in horrible little increments about the carnage on the other side of the bucolic Blacksburg campus. A deranged young man had shot and killed 32 students and teachers, and wounded dozens more, before taking his own life.
Weaver, a 1967 Penn State graduate and an assistant football coach at both Penn State and Villanova, attended yesterday's Hall of Fame ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria. He was there because the nationally televised event afforded him an opportunity to issue a public thank-you for the outpouring of aid and sympathy following the carnage those sirens proclaimed.
"There were so many expressions of condolences and care and sympathy and love," he said, "the extent of which has probably never been seen before."
In State College, Pa., at Weaver's alma mater, 10,000 students recently donned Virginia Tech's maroon and orange colors at Penn State's Blue-White spring football game. At Kentucky, Ohio State and elsewhere, football teams wore Hokies logos during their spring football games. In baseball, the Washington Nationals as well as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wore Virginia Tech caps for a night.
More personally, a down-and-out victim of Hurricane Katrina sent the school $10. A soldier in Iraq, with no connections to Tech, wrote Weaver a consoling e-mail. A Virginia child mailed him the contents of his piggy bank.
"It just continues to blow you away," Weaver said. "You don't anticipate that so many people from so many walks of life would react as they have."
The thank-yous have come recently. For Weaver, the hours, days and weeks that followed the tragedy were a mournful miasma, filled with grief, tons of painful details and, above all, questions.
How should the athletic department react now and in the future? What should be said? What should be left unspoken? What events should be postponed? Canceled?
"There's no textbook written on how you deal with something like this," he said. "You just do the best you can."
For him, fortunately, all the time-consuming, reality-numbing responsibilities helped him put aside the grief. Athletes had to be accounted for. Parents had to be soothed. Events had to be rescheduled. The Hokies' basketball arena had to be refitted to accommodate a memorial convocation attended by President Bush.
Football coach Frank Beamer canceled the Hokies' spring game. Baseball and softball games were scratched. The telephone rang constantly with suggestions about how best to remember the victims. A lot of them asked that the number 32 - the number of victims - be retired from Virginia Tech athletics.
"Well, one of the other sides to that is that it doesn't recognize the 28 to 30 people who were wounded," Weaver said. "All that has to be thought out and reflected on and acted upon by a memorialization committee appointed by our president. When that happens, we will react accordingly."
By the time Weaver finally got a chance to look out his office window, about 36 hours afterward, the out-of-the-way campus had been transformed. Weaver counted the TV satellite trucks. There were 140.
More recently, whenever he thinks he might be turning an emotional corner, Weaver is reminded of the senseless events that forever transformed the school he has served as athletic director since 1997.
"Nine days later, I drove by a cemetery. I could see they were getting ready for a funeral," Weaver recalled. "A canopy was up. Chairs were set out. I said to one of our associate ADs, 'I wonder if that's a funeral for one of our faculty [five of whom were killed].' But it was for one of the students from the corps of cadets who lived in New Jersey. Because of his love for the university, his parents decided to bury him there.
"You just never seem to get away from it. Day in day out, you hear something new. You learn something else. And it pulls on your heart."
School is out now. But soon, Weaver knows, Virginia Tech will have to deal with more mundane realities like recruiting. He wonders how many young athletes and their parents were scared off by the events of April 16.
"That first weekend, a young woman came in with her mother on an unscheduled [recruiting] visit," he said. "She committed the next Tuesday. Could we have a few people and a few decisions that might be changed? Sure.
"But the way our students were seen [in countless TV interviews], so articulate and caring and bright, I really think there is newfound understanding of the Hokie spirit out there."
With that, Weaver, unconsciously it seemed, fingered the large "VT" pin on his lapel. He tugged at his maroon-and-orange tie.
"Will things ever be the same?" he asked, hesitating in his response. "Yes, I think they will. I think they will be even better."