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Mary Karen Read

Mary Karen Read, 19, was born in South Korea into an Air Force family and lived in Texas and California before settling in the northern Virginia suburb of Annandale.

She considered a handful of colleges, including nearby George Mason University, before choosing Virginia Tech. It was a popular destination among her Annandale High School classmates, according to her aunt, Karen Kuppinger. The freshman had yet to declare a major.

"I think she wanted to try to spread her wings," said Kuppinger, of Rochester, N.Y.

Kuppinger said her niece had struggled adjusting to Tech's sprawling 2,600-acre campus, but she had recently begun making friends and looking into a sorority.

Kuppinger said the family started calling Read as news reports surfaced. "After three or four hours passed and she hadn't picked up her cell phone or answered her e-mail ... we did get concerned," Kuppinger said. "We honestly thought she would pop up."

Relatives described the 19-year-old as someone who seemed to burst with life. Mary Courtney, another of Read's aunts said, "We called her our little princess."

Her father, Peter Read, encouraged participation in the April 20 Day of Mourning by saying he wants the world "to know and celebrate our children's lives."

"...we believe that's the central element that brings hope in the midst of great tragedy," he said. "These kids were the best that their generation has to offer."