"As we share our sorrow, we collectively pay tribute to these young, gifted minds who came to Virginia Tech searching for knowledge and understanding," Dr. Zenobia Hikes, vice president of student affairs, told the crowd.
As Katie Couric reports, the mourners came searching, too, trying to make sense out of something completely senseless.
"We've come to express our sympathy. In this time of anguish I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you," President George W. Bush, who made the trip to Blacksburg, said.
The mourners were at least comforted by the knowledge that in their grief, their community had grown to include the entire country. "It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Now they're gone and they leave behind grieving families and grieving classmates and a grieving nation," the president said.
During the service, a man collapsed behind the president. "He and his wife had lost their only child. I heard rustling, I turned around, he went gray, just as a result of the emotion. Fortunately he was better later," Mr. Bush explains.
"You just met with the families, how was that?" Couric asks the president.
"I cried when they wanted to cry, I hugged when they wanted to hug. People are in shock," Mr. Bush says.
"Two families lost their only child … so devastating, hard for us to even imagine," his wife, First Lady Laura Bush adds.
"As you know, discussions about gun control follow. Is it too easy for unstable people to purchase guns?" Couric asks the president.
for an interactive gallery of the victims.
"There will be a debate after this, haven't had time to reflect," Mr. Bush replies. "In [the] immediate aftermath people go from shock to anger to doubt, this country needs to help, then time for politics and debates."
On a day with so few answers, home town poet and professor Nikki Giovanni seemed to find at least one, striking an odd, though somehow appropriate chord of defiance that lightened the community's sorrow, if only for a moment.
"Through our blood and tears, through all sadness, we are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail, we are Virginia Tech," she said.