Virginia Tech faces day of mourning a year after mass shooting

Updated: April 16, 2008, 4:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- A sea of people wearing orange and maroon flowed onto Virginia Tech's main campus lawn Wednesday and listened as the names of the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history were read.

They gathered Wednesday on the same field where a white candle lit at the stroke of midnight began a day of mourning for the 32 people killed on campus a year earlier. University president Charles Steger also spoke to the crowd.

Gov. Timothy Kaine ordered state flags flown at half-staff, and a moment of silence at noon ET, followed by the tolling of bells.

Some small, reflective gatherings were to take place during the day, with a candlelight vigil scheduled for the evening.

In the last year, the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund was created to cover grief counseling, memorials and other costs for the victims and their families after Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in two campus buildings before committing suicide.

Over time, the more casual pace of college life has resumed on the sprawling Blacksburg campus of 27,000. And, three days after the one-year anniversary, is the welcoming pull of Virginia Tech's spring football game. Canceled last year, the game will be played Saturday at Lane Stadium before an expected capacity crowd.

Still, students and faculty are more vigilant than they were a year ago, said Ed Spencer, associate vice president of student affairs; the school has seen increased reports of suspicious behavior.

And the approach of the anniversary has brought back horrid memories for many.

"If I think about it for more than a couple of minutes, it'll start drawing up feelings again," said 19-year-old Erin Sheehan, a sophomore who was in a German class in Norris Hall where Cho killed the instructor and four students.

Many on campus weren't sure how to react to the anniversary plans for a morning ceremony, an evening candlelight vigil and small, reflective gatherings during the day.

"Just in interacting with people, you can tell," said Heidi Miller, 20, a sophomore from Harrisonburg who was shot three times and was one of six survivors in a French class. "It's like a big question mark. Should we be in mourning all day, or should we try to do something normal?"

Some families of victims said they couldn't bear to attend the official events. Other commemorations around campus are designed to be low-key. A dance presentation is in memory of Reema Samaha, while honors students Austin Cloyd and Maxine Turner are to be remembered with a tree planting.

A small bouquet of white carnations lay Tuesday morning outside Norris Hall, where Cho and 30 others died. Students met in a small group in one room near the locked classrooms where most of the people were slain.

The building is closed Wednesday. Ishwar Puri, who heads the engineering department based there and was in the building last April 16, said between the official events he plans to spend the day in his office.

"For me it's a day of reflection," he said.

The building was closed for two months after the shootings, and is no longer used for general classes. Puri said some faculty and staff are still uncomfortable in its laboratories and offices.

"People came back through a sense of loyalty," he said, and "a sense of duty to students. Even in doing so they may have had some qualms or some queasiness."

Spencer noted that other schools have been unable to shed their link to tragedies, such as Kent State, where National Guardsmen shot students in 1970.

"I think in many ways it will never be quite the same," said Spencer, who has been at Virginia Tech for 25 years. "There's a new normalcy."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.