- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A grieving president came to the shattered campus of Virginia Tech yesterday to reassure students, staff and faculty, reeling from the massacre that left 33 dead, that the country grieves with them, and stands ready with support.

“It is impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering,” President Bush said as he told the convocation to remember the dead and offer succor to survivors. “They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected,” said Mr. Bush. He invoked the 12th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the early Christian church at Rome: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Before leaving, Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush met with family members of victims and paused at a makeshift memorial to leave behind a few words in sympathy.

The president scrawled “God Bless” and signed his name to a giant “VT” tied to the trunk of an oak tree. The first lady, who laid a bouquet of roses at the memorial, wrote “With love, Laura Bush.”

The young man who inflicted mass death was identified by police yesterday Cho Seung-hui, 23, a senior English major who in 2003 graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly.

The massacre, in which 15 others were injured, was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, who was on trade mission in Tokyo when the shooting occurred, said at the convocation that he could do little more than watch until he returned to Virginia. Mr. Kaine said he was amazed at what he saw from afar — the university’s togetherness even on its “darkest day.”

“As you wrestle with your sadness, anger and despair, do not lose hold of that spirit of community that makes Virginia Tech a special place,” he said.

The mood inside Cassell Coliseum, the 10,000-seat basketball arena where the convocation was held, was mostly somber throughout the 90-minute ceremony. Then, Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, a poetry professor, took the microphone and shouted: “We are the Hokies. We will prevail. We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”

Soon after, thousands, many wearing orange short-sleeved Virginia Tech T-shirts with tears slipping down their cheeks, clapped and chanted over and over “Let’s go, Hokies. Let’s go, Hokies.”

Another 20,000 watched on a big screen at Lane Stadium, home of the football team.

‘I think we needed that,” Lindsey Woodburn, a 21-year-old Richmond resident, said after the ceremony. “We need to bring us all back together.”

University President Charles W. Steger said that classes would be canceled the rest of the week and that Norris Hall, where the gunman killed 30 persons before taking his own life, would be closed for the remainder of the year. Police have not directly linked Cho to two killings at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dorm, which preceded the killings across campus inside Norris Hall.

“We are continuing to work to try to comprehend the terrible tragedy that happened on campus yesterday,” Mr. Steger said at a press conference yesterday morning. “It is very difficult for me to express what has occurred on campus.”

The large “VT” sign, of cardboard and wood, is on the school’s main quad within eye shot of Norris Hall.

The quad, dubbed the drill field, is a massive green space decorated with oak and willow trees and separates most of the academic buildings, including Norris Hall, from the cafeteria and many of the dormitories.

At the foot of the makeshift memorial sat 32 white candles in honor of the shooting victims and 15 red candles for the wounded.

“We were having a very hard time, and we needed to show support for one another,” said Jose Torres, a 28-year-old electronic technician in the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. He helped build the makeshift memorial.

“It’s surreal,” he said, shaken. “Today is the day it is hurting the most, especially for me. This could have happened to anyone.”

Nearby, police tape was strung outside Norris Hall and a U.S. flag flew at half-staff.

“It’s unfortunate that this class will be associated with this event, I know the class is much more,” said Chris Holer, a 23-year-old biological engineering student who knew Ryan Clark, a resident adviser and one of the two killed inside West Ambler Johnston Hall. “I think they will still treasure the time they had here at Virginia Tech, and if anything, this will make them stronger as individuals.”

Yesterday was the first step of what Mr. Steger called for many a “long, difficult road” to recovery. “Everybody is pulling together,” said Brad Matanin, a 24-year-year biological engineering student. “The enormity of the situation has set in.”

Natasha Altamirano contributed to this article from Washington.


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