- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech students did their best yesterday to resume their normal lives by returning to campus the week after a classmate killed 32 persons inside two buildings. Under a cloudless sky, students strolled to and from classes, basked in the sun over textbooks and lunches and tossed Frisbees on the central lawn known as the Drillfield.

However, school officials said some students continue to express a range of emotions.

“We are seeing the resolute, the angry, the confused, and the numb,” said Ed Spencer, the associate vice president of student affairs.

Officials said class attendance was about 75 percent and that 85 to 90 percent of students are still living in their dorms.

Trees around campus were adorned with orange and maroon ribbon and flags flew at half-staff. But amid the tributes were signs posted outside dormitories and academic buildings politely asking reporters to respect students’ grieving. Television satellite trucks hovered in a nearby, off-campus parking lot.

At one end of the Drillfield stood a semicircle of 33 stones — one for each of the dead, including gunman Seung-hui Cho, who fatally shot himself right after the April 16 massacre.

Students and faculty clustered around the makeshift memorial decorated with candles, photographs, cards and U.S. flags.

“Je me souviens,” or “I remember” in English, read a card at the memorial for French instructor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak.

A nearby poster included a quote from the 19th century Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel: “Life is short and we have not too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark way with us. So be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”

At the stone for Cho, born in South Korea, were well wishes for his family, of Centreville.

“To the family of Cho Seung-hui, We know that you are hurting, too. May God’s peace descend upon you.”

Counselors and university staff were dispatched throughout the campus, wearing special name tags and armbands to indicate they were there to help.

Administrators have given their roughly 26,000 students until May 2 to decide upon three options to finish the semester: Continue until the last day of classes next week, take a grade based on their work up to this point or withdraw without penalty.

Justice Goracke, a junior, said he definitely plans to complete his final year at Virginia Tech.

“Some of my friends said they’re insulted to even have been asked that question,” said Mr. Goracke, 21, as he sat atop the university’s War Memorial Chapel overlooking the Drillfield.

Mr. Goracke, a political science major, said he’s waiting to see what his professors say before deciding how to complete the semester.

He stayed on campus last week and through the weekend instead of returning home to Loudoun County.

“I thought it would be the best thing to do as far as healing,” he said. “We’re trying to end it on a positive note. I feel very fortunate that I still have a year left.”

Senior Brian Snyder, a civil engineering major, said he decided to take the grades he has but plans to attend classes to learn the material.

Mr. Snyder, 22, also wants to spend his last weeks as a college student in Blacksburg among friends, whom he said have been the greatest help in dealing with the tragedy.

“It feels like home,” said Mr. Snyder, a Newport News resident.

For many students, being around others on campus during the massacre helps them grieve, said the Rev. Brian Bashista, director of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Vocations, who came to Blacksburg last week to help with counseling and other needs.

“Some decided to go home and some decided to stay — to receive support from someone who went through what they went through,” said Father Bashista, a 1987 alumnus of Virginia Tech.

Part of his and other clergy’s role has been to minister to first responders, including police and emergency medical technicians. However, their role also has included helping the chaplains and other professionals who have been counseling grieving students and faculty.

“Who’s supporting those who are supporting?” he said in an interview at a Starbucks near campus.

Father Bashista also said he has not talked to students or faculty who have decided not to return to the university next year.

“The world has gotten a taste of the spirit of Virginia Tech and people want a piece of that,” he said.

Administrators also said the rampage has dissuaded few prospective students from wanting to attend Virginia Tech. So far, only five of 12,848 offers of admissions have been declined.

They also reported signs that life is already returning to normal.

“The same students who sit in the last row are still nodding off in class,” said Mark McNamee, a Virginia Tech provost.

Students began returning as police continued their investigation. Virginia State Police investigators still have not connected Cho to his victims but were reviewing data, including Cho’s computer files, looking for such a connection.

Police have pulled from the university server all e-mails to and from Cho, and e-mails to and from Emily Hilscher, the first victim, according to court documents filed yesterday. Police also recovered other e-mail logs and personal cell phone records of Cho, whose bizarre behavior, including two unwelcome contacts with female students in 2005, were investigated by campus police. Cho was ordered to a mental-health facility after the second incident.

Several of the campus ministries observed a moment of silence yesterday at 7:15 a.m., around the time the first two victims were killed in West Ambler Johnston Hall. About 2 hours later, Cho, 23, fatally shot 30 other students, faculty and staff inside the Norris Hall classroom building.

Students and campus ministers brought 33 white prayer flags from the dorm to War Memorial Chapel and decorated them with pastel-colored ribbons. The ceremony was performed to the Beatles’ song “The Long and Winding Road.”

At about 9:45 a.m., near the time Cho started shooting in Norris Hall, thousands gathered on the Drillfield to observe a moment of silence marked by a single bell toll. The antique 850-pound brass bell, installed on a limestone rostrum for the occasion, then rang 32 more times for each victim as 33 white balloons were released into the air.

As a symbol of Hokie unity, 1,000 orange and maroon balloons also were released into the air.

The somber tolling soon was replaced by chants of “Let’s go Hokies” and, later, laughter amid the sea of orange and maroon.

n This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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