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Engineering student OK, to relief of Gresham dad

Ray McCracken's son had class at Norris Hall, but on Wednesdays

Gresham's Ray McCracken, 43, recalls the moment on Monday, April 16, when he found out that a gunman had opened fire at Virginia Tech, the same college his son attends in Blacksburg, Va.

'Everything dropped to the bottom of my stomach,' McCracken said of hearing the news. 'You get this feeling of total impending doom. And you think, 'Oh my gosh, I hope everybody's OK,' 'cuz what else can you think? You say a little prayer and you hope for the best.'

His son, Micah, 22, is an engineering major who attends classes at Norris Hall, where a man later identified as 23-year-old student Cho Seung-Hui, went from class to class, massacring at least 30 people and injuring 15 others before killing himself.

Police now believe the same man is responsible for shooting and killing two people in a campus dormitory about two hours before the massacre. The bloodbath, which claimed the lives of at least 33, counting the shooter, is being called the deadliest shooting spree in modern U.S. history.

But on Monday morning, McCracken didn't know all those details.

He just knew a man opened fire on his son's school, on a building his son goes to class in.

It was the second time within a week that Gresham parents faced the fear of losing a child to a gun-wielding student. Last week, on Tuesday, April 10, Chad Escobedo, a 15-year-old freshman at Springwater Trail High School in Gresham, allegedly fired two rounds from a hunting rifle at his school because he was angry with his mother for not letting him live with his biological father and because a teacher angered him by calling home to report academic trouble.

Nobody was hit, but 10 students sustained injuries from shards of glass, with two of those students requiring surgery.

•••

'The first thing I did was call him, but the phones aren't working,' McCracken said, slipping into present tense while reliving his experience. 'It took me about three or four tries, and all I got was his voicemail.'

He left a message of concern and hope for his safety.

Then he waited.

And waited.

McCracken vacillated between praying for the phone to ring, hoping it was his son, and praying for it not to ring, that he be spared a call from a stranger telling him his son was dead.

The 'Mr.-McCracken, we're-sorry-to-inform-you' call.

'As a parent, you don't know what is going on,' McCracken said, describing the unbelievable feeling of helplessness that overcame him. 'And when you're 3,000 miles away, there's nothing you can do. I just keep telling myself my son is a smart, smart kid. He knows what to do and how to handle himself.

And God, I hope he is in the right place at the right time, and he's OK. What else can you do?'

Half an hour later, the phone rang.

It was Micah. He was shaken but fine.

'And I just about broke down and started crying because I was so relieved to hear from him,' McCracken said, his voice catching just a bit.

Micah does have class in one of the Norris Hall classrooms that the gunman targeted.

But that class is on Wednesday.

'So luckily, he wasn't in the building, and I'm grateful for that,' his father said.

•••

Micah was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, and graduated from high school in Clayton, a town a lot like Blacksburg, Va. - small, quaint and rural, McCracken said.

When Ray McCracken, who was born and raised in Portland, moved to Gresham in 1996, his three children - including a daughter, now 20, and his youngest son, now 19 - spent their summers with him.

Micah, now in his fourth year of college, spends his summer breaks working for his father's landscaping company/nursery, Designscape Northwest in Troutdale.

On Monday, Micah had heard about two people being shot in a dorm, but the dorms were on the opposite side of campus from where he was.

When the massacre began two hours later, Micah was outside and heard the gunshots. Officers from a Special Weapons And Tactics team swooped in ordering him and other students into their dorms. The campus closed down and students were instructed to stay away from their windows.

With everyone trapped in their dorms, Micah and his peers didn't know who was dead or who'd made it out alive.

'When he told me that they were doing a headcount and trying to figure out who was missing, I just thought, 'Man, that's got to be terrible.' … That's a tough thing for a 22-year-old kid to do.'

What do you tell a child who just experienced something like that? McCracken asked.

'Just hang in there buddy,' he told his son. He encouraged Micah to talk about it when he's ready, not to sweep the experience under the rug.

Although Micah seemed strong on the phone, 'I think down inside it's going to take a while before it's going to sink in,' McCracken said. 'At such a young age, it's tough. I'm just, I'm feeling for him.'

McCracken doesn't know whether his son has discovered he's lost any friends or teachers. But considering Micah is in his fourth year of engineering studies, it's inevitable, he said.

'I'm sure that when I get a chance to put my arms around him and give him a hug and tell him that I love him that we'll talk,' McCracken said. 'I just hope he can get through this and it doesn't scar him.'

Now this self-proclaimed paranoid father worries about his youngest son, who is attending a private college in Ohio.

'You just don't know when bad things are going to happen,' McCracken said.

'It's just really sad. And I feel for the families.'

Micah spent Tuesday with his fellow students on what the university declared a day of mourning.

'He's told me that we need to mourn for the families that have been hurt and that have had their loved ones taken away,' McCracken said.

'And he's just grateful, like I am, that he isn't one of them.'