Students Share Virginia Tech Grief Online

Condolences for the family of victims and the Virginia Tech community have been pouring in since the tragedy Monday. Students around the country have been going online to express their grief and support for the victims.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand updating our main story today. The gunman in yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech has been identified. He is Seung-hui Cho. He was an English major.

His motives for the shootings were not clear, but the chair of the university's English department describes his writings as troubled, and he was referred to the school's counseling program.

The Chicago Tribune reported on its Web site that Cho left a note in his dorm room with a rambling list of grievances against, quote, "rich kids, debauchery, and deceitful charlatans on campus."

That campus is still in mourning and the grieving continues across the country and online on the Web.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this report.

Mr. JEFF CONRAD (Student, University of Delaware): I'm Jeff Conrad. I go to the University of Delaware. I'm an English major just like the shooter, apparently. And I'm in the Class of 2009.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Jeff Conrad goes to college a couple of hundred miles away from Virginia Tech. Yet he felt moved to post his condolences on livejournal.com. It's one of several virtual communities that exist online.

Mr. CONRAD: Actually, I don't know anyone at Virginia Tech. But you know, I just feel like users of livejournal are such strangers on the one hand. But on the other hand, it's less a family of strangers than it's, you know, a group of strangers who can sometimes feel like family.

BATES: Online condolences are a way, says Conrad, of taking action when you feel paralyzed about what's happened.

Mr. CONRAD: When a tragedy like this happens, everyone feels like they have to do something, and in this instance there really is almost nothing you can do. There's really no money to donate. I don't think they need blood. You feel like you have to do something. So even something as small as this where you're sort of intimately connecting with someone and making them feel better - and you can see the in the feedback that they felt this way.

BATES: Marilyn Benoit is a practicing psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. and the past president of the American College of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Benoit says Internet condolences are as natural to today's college students as signing an actual book at a funeral home would've been for their parents and grandparents.

Dr. MARILYN BENOIT (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry): In this virtual world that this generation lives in, that's part of their real world, you know. We think of it as being so distant. But that's part of their existence, of their everyday existence.

BATES: Dr. Benoit says that in the past, post-traumatic stress was usually strongest at the epicenter of a tragedy. But she suspects the virtual age has brought a different level of intensity for those not directly connected to a major disaster or tragedy.

Dr. BENOIT: In this virtual world, I suspect that there might be more fallout for people not so proximal to the former. And that's something we have to wait and see. I can't really predict. It's something to speculate about.

BATES: Those connections certainly feel real to the people who are making them. Jeff Conrad says he got lots of grateful responses when he posted his sympathetic note.

Mr. CONRAD: The most meaningful comment that I received was from a woman who was apparently an undergrad alum of my school, the University of Delaware and currently attends Virginia Tech, and she said that she really appreciated that kind of condolences from her alma mater. And that really meant something to me - again that connection.

BATES: Conrad says it maybe hard for people who didn't grow up with the Internet to understand how these connections can feel so meaningful. But he and his peers are very clear about why they value them.

Mr. CONRAD: Maybe the older generation can't understand that, but to us it's just - it's a very concrete sense of community. So you feel like there's, you know, these hundreds of people watching out for you, even if they've never met you. That really means something.

BATES: Apparently they mean something to a lot of people, if the thousands of sympathetic posts that have sprung up online are any indication.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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