Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service President Bush addressed a convocation of students, faculty and families at Virginia Tech today, as thousands of people gathered to mourn the killings of 32 people by a gunman Monday. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, killed himself just as police were arriving on the scene.
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Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service

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Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service

Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service

Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service

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President Bush addressed a convocation of students, faculty and families at Virginia Tech today, as thousands of people gathered to mourn the killings of 32 people by a gunman Monday. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, killed himself just as police were arriving on the scene.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm, Michele Norris.

Virginia Tech is a university in mourning today, one day after a student killed two people in a dorm and another 30 in a classroom building before committing suicide.

SIEGEL: The shooter has been identified as Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old senior who was majoring in English. More on him in just a few minutes.

NORRIS: Since the killings, Virginia Tech students have been posting online memorials to their classmates. This evening, the school is organizing a candlelight vigil, and this afternoon thousands of people attended convocation at the Blacksburg University to remember those who died.

Mr. CHARLES STEGER (President, Virginia Tech): Words are very weak symbols of our true emotions at times such as this. It's overwhelming, almost paralyzing, yet our hearts and our minds call to us to come together to share our individual attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible, to make sense of the senseless, and to find ways for our community to heal.

NORRIS: That was Virginia Tech president Charles Steger.

SIEGEL: NPR's Adam Hochberg is in Blacksburg, Virginia and he has more on the day's events.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Virginia Tech officials called the gunman a loner, an undergraduate English major who was less than two and a half weeks away from finishing his senior year. Seung-Hui Cho is a native of South Korea who came to the United States with his parents as a child. He was a permanent legal resident of the U.S. and spent much of his youth in Centreville, Virginia.

But people at Virginia Tech who knew Cho said his behavior was sometimes troubling. Lucinda Roy was Cho's creative writing professor. She said some of his writing alarmed her, so much so that she notified not only other faculty members but also the police.

Professor LUCINDA ROY (Virginia Tech): I just felt that he was a very depressed student and seemed to be angry about some things, and so I felt that there was some things that I needed to do to try to make sure that I reached out to him and found out more, because that's what you meant to do as a teacher.

HOCHBERG: University officials wouldn't comment on a possible motive for the killings, but the FBI says a long rambling note was found in Cho's dorm room.

In it, Cho criticized what he called rich kids and debauchery on campus. Police said ballistics tests show the same weapon was used in both shooting sprees: the one in the dormitory that left two people dead and the one in a classroom building, Norris Hall, where the gunman killed 30 people before fatally shooting himself.

Virginia State Police Colonel Steve Flaherty told reporters the crime scene in Norris Hall was unlike any he ever encountered.

Mr. STEVE FLAHERTY (Virginia State Police): What went on during that incident certainly caused tremendous chaos and panic in Norris Hall. Victims were found in at least four classrooms as well as a stairwell. You all have recorded that this is the most horrific incident that's occurred on college campus in our country, and the scene certainly bore that out.

HOCHBERG: Virginia Tech president Charles Steger announced that Norris Hall will be closed for at least the rest of this semester and all classes on campus will be canceled for the rest of this week. He said that will give students and employees time to grieve and to seek help if they feel they need it to cope with the tragedy. But Steger today also began looking to the future, saying the university must start healing.

Mr. STEGER: I know that the Virginia Tech community and certainly the world at large continues to struggle with these horrible events. But I want to assure you that we're doing everything possible to move forward.

(Soundbite of music)

HOCHBERG: As part of the process of moving ahead, a convocation was held on campus this afternoon, partly a memorial service for the dead, partly an opportunity for counselors to help students and others deal with grief.

President Bush, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Laura, noted that yesterday began like any other day, before, in the president's words, it developed into the worst stay in the lives of Virginia Tech students.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone and they leave behind grieving families and grieving classmates and a grieving nation.

HOCHBERG: The president spoke to hundreds of people at the somber ceremony in the university's basketball stadium. Many wore the school colors of orange and maroon, which quickly have become a symbol here not only of support for Virginia Tech but also of sympathy for yesterday's victims.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Bush Finds 'Power' in Prayers for Virginia Tech

Bush Finds 'Power' in Prayers for Virginia Tech

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Representing America's anguish, President Bush told Virginia Tech students and teachers at a somber convocation Tuesday that the nation is praying for them and "there's a power in these prayers."

"Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow," he said in six-minute remarks at a convocation on the campus where 33 people, including the suspected gunman, died in two separate shootings the day before. "This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation."

Before flying to the school in southwestern Virginia, Bush also ordered flags flown at half staff and issued a written proclamation in honor of those killed and wounded.

Speaking to a somber basketball arena, packed with students and others, many wearing orange short-sleeved Virginia Tech T-shirts, the president quoted a recent student blogging about the killings to encourage those who grieve to reach out for help.

"To all of you who are OK, I'm happy for that," Bush said, quoting the Internet posting. "For those of you who are in pain or who have lost someone close to you, I'm sure you can call on any one of us and have help anytime you need it."

He urged those angered by the killings not to be overcome by evil.

"People who have never met you are praying for you," Bush said. "They're praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured. There's a power in these prayers, a real power. In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God."

Before the service, Bush received a briefing on the shootings and their investigation from Virginia Tech President Charles Steger.

Bush spoke on a day of raw emotion. He spoke to students who he said had just lived through the worst day of their lives.

"On this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal, but such a day will come," Bush said. "And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them, and the lives that they hoped to lead."

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has sent 12 agents to Virginia Tech and the FBI has contributed some 15 agents as well for the investigation. The federal help, including input from the U.S. Attorney's office in the Western District of Virginia, is being coordinated at a command center set up on the campus.

In addition to helping with the crime scene, the Department of Justice is making counselors available to victims and their families through a special office and the Education Department is offering assistance as well.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino deflected any questions about Bush's view of needed changes to gun control policy, saying the time for that discussion is not now.

"We understand that there's going to be and there has been an ongoing national discussion, conversation and debate about gun control policy. Of course we are going to be participants in that conversation," she said. "Today, however, is a day that is time to focus on the families, the school, the community."

Perino added: "Everyone's been shaken to the core by this event and so I think what we need to do is focus on support of the victims and their families and then also allow the facts of the case to unfold before we talk any more about policies."

In times of tragedy, Americans turn to the president to be the nation's consoler and comforter.

Bush rallied the nation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One of the most enduring images of his presidency is Bush standing atop a pile of rubble in New York with a bullhorn in his hand. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Bush made repeated trips to the region but wound up criticized for the government's sluggish response to the storm.

President Clinton went to Oklahoma City in 1995 after the bombing of the federal building there, and his on-the-scene empathy was later viewed as the key factor in reviving his presidency and helping him win re-election.

Bush first spoke about the shootings on Monday afternoon, expressing shock and sadness about the killings from the White House. He lamented that schools should be places of "safety, sanctuary and learning" — similar to remarks he has made in the past after school shootings.