Classes Resume At Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech students and faculty fill the center of campus in Blacksburg, VA., Monday, April 23, 2007. AP

Classes at Virginia Tech resumed Monday, one week after gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people before turning a gun on himself.

At 9:45 — the time of the second shooting — the university held a moment of silence, with a single bell tolling from the tower of the main administration building. A minute later, the bell tolled 32 times — once for each victim — as 32 white balloons were released, one at a time, from the field below.

Then 1,000 maroon-and-orange balloons were released.

"As the balloons drifted skyward, people stood for several minutes, in silence, watching the balloons float off into the distance," reports CBS News correspondent Jim Krasula.

Earlier, students and faculty gathered at about 7:10 a.m. near the dormitory where the first victims, Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher, were killed. They also gathered on the main campus lawn, the site of several impromptu memorials to the victims.

In front of the dorm, a small marching band from Alabama played "America the Beautiful" and carried a banner that read, "Alabama loves VT Hokies. Be strong, press on."

Hokies is a nickname for people affiliated with the university.

By the time the moment concluded, more than 100 people had gathered to remember the dead. Afterward, a group of students and campus ministers brought 33 white prayer flags — one for each of the dead, including the gunman, Cho — from the dorm to the school's War Memorial Chapel. They placed the flags in front of the campus landmark and adorned them with pastel-colored ribbons as the Beatles' song "The Long and Winding Road" played through loudspeakers.

On the main campus lawn stood a semicircle of stones — 33 chunks of locally quarried limestone to remember each person who died in the rampage.

Someone left a laminated letter at Cho's stone, along with a lit purple candle.

"Cho, you greatly underestimated our strength, courage and compassion. You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our spirits. We are stronger and prouder than ever. I have never been more proud to be a Hokie. Love, in the end, will always prevail. Erin J."

The press was kept at a distance Monday, and "there is a heavy police presence around campus this morning," reports CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. "But most students say they're not worried. This is exactly where they need to be. This morning they have returned by the thousands to reclaim their campus."

"I think we need to be here as a community. And we're not going to get better if we just run away everything that happened last week," said student Kyle Clayton, who returned to campus Sunday.

"I thought last week as time goes by that I could forget this tragic incident," graduate student Sijung Kim said. "But as time goes by I find I cannot forget."

Richard Shryock, a French Professor and chairman of Virginia Tech's Foreign Languages and Literatures department, was making himself available Monday morning for students of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed by Cho.

"I'll see if any of the students show up," Shryock said on CBS News' The Early Show.

Shryock said the university has provided counseling and other information for instructors and students. "Talking with friends and family and colleagues has been also a big help," he told co-anchor Harry Smith.

"My most important job right now is just to do everything I can to try to make sure that today goes as well as it possibly can. And I'm trying to take things one step at a time," Shryock added.

Virginia Tech is allowing students to drop classes without penalty or to accept their current grades if they want to spend the rest of the year at their parents' homes grieving last week's campus massacre.

But whatever decisions they make academically, many students say they will do their mourning on campus — and that they can't imagine staying away now.

"I want to be back this week even if I don't take my exams, just to be with people," freshman Brittany Gambardella said Sunday, moving back into a dormitory where two students were slain at the beginning of the rampage. "Then you go home, and you end the year on a good note."

Students began returning as more details about the rampage emerged. Dr. William Massello, the assistant state medical examiner in Roanoke, said Cho died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head after firing enough shots to wound his 32 victims more than 100 times.

But there was nothing unusual about Cho's autopsy, he said, and nothing that indicated any psychological problems that might explain his reason for the killings.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Student Government Association issued a statement Sunday asking the news media to respect the privacy of students and leave by the time classes resume Monday.

"Our students are ready to start moving forward, and the best way we can do that is to get the campus back to normal," Liz Hart, director of public relations for the SGA, said in an interview. Students don't want "anything external to remind us it will be a difficult road. We know that."

"Is it overstating it to say that students and faculty at Virginia Tech want to take their school back?" Smith asked Shryock.

"Oh, there's no doubt about that. There's no doubt. And we will. And we will," the foreign languages chairman replied.

Virginia Tech officials say victims' families are their top priority. They have been given a private e-mail address and direct phone number for President Charles Steger.

A Virginia Tech freshman who survived last week's campus massacre was killed in a car crash, his father said Sunday.

Jeff Soriano died from his injuries Friday in a Norfolk, Va., hospital after he was pulled from the wreckage of his burning vehicle, police said. He had been an engineer student.
  • Daniel Schorn

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