- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Virginia Tech freshman Erin Nicole Peterson’s own words provided solace yesterday for the hundreds of friends and family members who attended her funeral.

Wrestling with her emotions in November over her great-grandmother’s death, Miss Peterson wrote down her feelings: “That day I had to let her go and believe that she was going to a place where she would not feel any pain.”

Her words were read to the congregation yesterday by her great-aunt Jean Hogan.

Miss Peterson, one of 32 persons slain last week in a campus massacre, wrote that when her great-grandmother died “it was almost as if … she left some of her strength with me.”

Miss Peterson, 18, also was remembered yesterday as vivacious, beautiful and kind.

The Rev. Eugene Johnson, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville, where the service was held, reminded those who attended of the young woman’s faith in a spirited eulogy punctuated by calls of “hallelujah.”

“I firmly believe that she is victorious,” Mr. Johnson said. “Evil may have come into her presence, but evil did not win. I would hope that you understand in her death there is a recognition that she is not dead … now she has eternal life through Jesus Christ.”

Miss Peterson graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly in 2006 — three years after the graduation of her killer, 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung-hui Cho.

Miss Peterson wore number 45 for three years on the high school’s varsity basketball team. She was captain of the team her senior year. Westfield basketball team members attended her service in their jerseys.

Mourners filled the church while hundreds more sat under a large tent to watch the service on a large screen.

A gospel choir sang several rousing songs throughout the service, moving audience members to clap and sing along.

Westfield High School Principal Tim Thomas, Fairfax County Supervisor Michael R. Frey, and Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd spoke briefly during the service.

Mr. Johnson said his job was made easier by Miss Peterson’s love for God.

“The difficulty comes when you don’t know what to say,” he said. “It is easy when someone’s life said it all.”

Pallbearers loaded the large wooden coffin, topped with white roses and lilies, into a hearse for the drive to Rock Hill Cemetery in Round Hill, Va., where Miss Peterson was buried.

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Hundreds of people yesterday also attended a funeral Mass for Virginia Tech freshman Mary Karen Read, another Northern Virginia resident killed in the April 16 massacre.

The service for Miss Read, 19, from Annandale, was held at St. Mary’s of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

Miss Read was killed while in a morning French class at Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall. She attended Annandale High School and played clarinet in the school band. She wanted to be an elementary school teacher.

At Virginia Tech, Miss Read joined Campus Crusade for Christ and a Bible study group.

“Mary was like an angel on Earth,” Sierra Peralta, 17, a junior at Annandale High School, said the day after the shootings. “She stood for good. She stood for God. She made everyone want to be good.”

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Hundreds of students, teachers and relatives also gathered yesterday to remember Virginia Tech French teacher Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, whose coffin was draped in an Acadian flag as pallbearers carried it through a garden on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

“All four corners of the world have come together to weep for madame and for us here today, for Virginia Tech and our community,” student John Welch said as his teacher’s husband and three daughters looked on.

“But as they weep for us, we should weep for them because they were not touched by the grace of Madame Couture-Nowak as we were.”

Mr. Welch said he tries to forget the day of the killings and imagine Mrs. Couture-Nowak in heaven, explaining what a Hokie is.

“I know that when I get across that big Drill Field in the sky for that one last class with madame, everyone will know by then what a Hokie is and that she was the embodiment of everything we cherish here,” he said.

Mrs. Couture-Nowak left Nova Scotia to teach at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2001. Her husband, Jerzy Nowak, is chairman of the Horticultural Department, and many faculty members brought flowers cut from their gardens to yesterday’s ceremony.

One by one for nearly an hour, friends and family painted a portrait of the woman called “JoJo” by her mother and sister — an effervescent dynamo of energy who treasured humor, laughter and love.

Gazing at the people who loved and admired Mrs. Couture-Nowak, her husband said goodbye softly.

“If there is a heaven,” he said, “this is your heaven.”

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

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