Nation Grieves With Virginia Tech

Students and parents embrace outside Norris Hall on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday, April 20, 2007 during a moment of silence for the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Shock gave way to grief as silence fell across the Virginia Tech campus at noon Friday and bells tolled in churches nationwide in memory of the 32 victims of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

At Virginia Tech, hundreds of somber students and area residents, most wearing the school's maroon and orange, stood with heads bowed at a memorial on the Drill field in front of Norris Hall, where most of the victims in Monday's massacre died. Along with the bouquets and candles was a yellow sign covered in maroon and orange handprints, bearing the words "Never forgotten."

"It's good to feel the love of people around you," said Alice Lo, an alumna and friend of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in the rampage. "With this evil, there is still goodness."

The mourners gathered in front of simple stone memorials, each adorned with a basket of tulips and an American flag. There were 33 stones — one for each victim and Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old gunman who took their lives.

"His family is suffering just as much as the other families," said Elizabeth Lineberry of Hillsville, who will be a freshman at Tech in the fall.

Devon Shields, a 26-year-old graduate student, stood just outside the ring of stones.

"I almost feel guilty for not being here when it happened," said Shields, who was student-teaching when the shots rang out Monday. "I came here because I just had to connect with it in some way."

As experts pored over Cho's videotaped rant and his twisted writings, Gov. Timothy Kaine declared Friday a statewide day of mourning for the victims, and parents urged everyone to focus on the young people cut down in the attack, not the killer.

"We want the world to know and celebrate our children's lives, and we believe that's the central element that brings hope in the midst of great tragedy," said Peter Read, who lost his 19-year-old daughter, Mary Karen Read. "These kids were the best that their generation has to offer."

Churches around the country, from California to the National Cathedral in Washington, planned vigils and prayer services.

"It's a whole family," said Jan Meehan-Tardiff of Blacksburg, a nurse who has four family members with degrees from Virginia Tech. Around Blacksburg, "you either work at Tech, serve Tech in business or go to Tech."

President Bush wore an orange and maroon tie in a show of support. The White House said he also asked top officials at the Justice, Health and Human Services and Education Departments to travel the country, talk to educators, mental health experts and others, and compile a report on how to prevent similar tragedies.

In Richmond, several thousand people jammed a park at Virginia Commonwealth University as a distant church bell tolled 32 times across VCU's silent urban campus. Beneath the park's massive oaks, people stood with their heads bowed, tears welling in their eyes.

"As a parent, you just can't imagine what their families are going through," said Diane Willard of suburban Richmond. Her own two children attend a community college.

Nearby, James Verlander, a burly Richmond firefighter, shed tears and tenderly recited a Christian responsive reading. "If this doesn't hurt you, something's wrong with you," he said.

Memorial services were also held around the nation Thursday, with many conducted on college campuses. Nearly 3,000 students gathered at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green for a vigil that included a banner that read, "Today We Are All Hokies."

Private funeral ceremonies were held Thursday for two international students killed in the massacre. Egyptian Waleed Mohammed Shaalan and Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan, a civil engineering doctoral student from Indonesia, also will have funerals in their home countries. A funeral was held Friday in Israel for professor Liviu Librescu.

As families mourned and began burying the victims, investigators worked on the evidence and looked into the warning signs in Cho's past, including two stalking complaints against him and a psychiatric hospital visit in which he was found to be a danger to himself.

Police filed a search warrant for a laptop and cell phone used by one of the first victims, Emily Hilscher, who was shot in a dormitory.

"The computer would be one way the suspect could have communicated with the victim," the warrant said, but it offered no basis for a belief that Cho might have been in contact with her.