Students, Town Reeling After VT Shootings

Virginia Tech students pray during a mass at St. Mary's Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. i i

Virginia Tech students pray during a mass at St. Mary's Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images
Virginia Tech students pray during a mass at St. Mary's Church in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Virginia Tech students pray during a mass at St. Mary's Church in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Jessica Hill takes part in a vigil for the victims of the mass killing at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

Watch a Slideshow on the Shootings and their Aftermath
itoggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images

Blacksburg Virginia is a small college town and Virginia Tech is the heart of the community. Monday's shootings left people there is shock as they pieced together the tragic events that left 33 people dead, and more than a dozen others seriously wounded.

The town was eerily quiet in the wake of the shootings. Most shops on Main Street were closed. Police cars with flashing red lights blocked off the campus. The unseasonably frigid air was filled with a howling wind and distant sirens.

A hotel just outside the campus was turned into a gathering place for students and victims' families — people looking for information about friends and loved ones.

Zachary Borgerding, a junior at Virginia Tech, came to find out about his housemate who had classes in Norris Hall, the site of the second shooting.

"We're a little concerned because he hasn't been in the apartment all day," Borgerding said. "He's an engineering student, and we just wanted to come and make sure that nothing happened to him."

Students lingered outside the hotel on cell phones. Some just hung around looking shell shocked.

Jared Joyce, a freshman from Richmond, Va., lives in the dorm next to West Ambler Johnston Dorm, the building where a gunman shot and killed two people Monday morning around 7 a.m., then fled. About two-and-a-half hours later, another shooting took place across campus. This time a gunman went on a rampage. He chained the main entrance to Norris Hall, a classroom building. He then shot and killed 30 people, then himself. Joyce says he could hear warnings from campus loudspeakers.

"All the cop cars were coming down, they had the emergency system on where they were telling us, 'don't stand by the windows, lock your doors, stay in your room,'" Joyce said.

Police officials here say it's still unclear whether the two shootings were related, or if there was only one gunman.

Virginia Tech has seen violence already this school year. Last fall an escaped prison inmate killed a security guard outside the campus, and the school has had several bomb threats in recent weeks. When 19-year-old Mike Kording woke this morning to sirens, he thought it was a false alarm.

"But then I went to leave and I saw students running, and I saw police run by with guns," Kording said. "And people started calling on their cell phones, and they said that there was a shooting and that he had made his way to this side of campus."

Kording and his fraternity brothers started a phone tree to find out if everyone was OK.

"One of them was in Norris when it happened. And he said his class barricaded the door and he tried to get in, the gunman, but he was OK, thank god," Kording said.

But so many others were not OK, and prayer services took place around the town to remember them and their families.

A few blocks from campus, at Saint Mary's Catholic church, people gathered for a special prayer service led by parishioner Laurie McDaniel.

"May Jesus, the divine physician, heal the wounds of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and distress; and may peace soon come upon this place again," McDaniel said to the people at Saint Mary's.

Students wearing burgundy Virginia Tech sweatshirts wept and hugged each other after the service. Parishioner Mike Martin says the entire community of Blacksburg is grieving.

"In one sense because we are all a part of Virginia Tech, we all have lost. All of us have lost," Martin said.

While the campus remains closed, a convocation was scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday. The White House said President Bush and his wife would attend.

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