Digital Life

Online Communities Focus on Student Shooting

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Following the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, students, well-wishers and those just looking for a place to vent are turning to the Internet.


The events at Virginia Tech have promoted an outpouring of support and condolence from around the nation. As the tragedy involved college students, the most visible form of grieving is online on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. NPR's Robert Smith reports on the Internet memorials that are springing up.

ROBERT SMITH: A student's MySpace page is supposed to be for flirting, jokes, drunken pictures and humorous videos. But when a young person is killed, it becomes a disturbing obituary, capturing a slice of their carefree life before it was taken away. Matt La Porte was a freshman at Virginia Tech. On his MySpace page, you can hear the metal music he favored and see that for all the tough talk, he loved the Disney movie "Finding Nemo."

So it is with many of the Virginia Tech students killed. You can see on their pages that friends were checking in to see if they were okay yesterday, and today they're leaving condolences. Twenty-three-year-old Blair Badenhop has been compiling a list of these memorial sites for She says the tragedy didn't strike her until she saw their pages.

Ms. BLAIR BADENHOP ( To see them hanging out with all of their friends and having a good time in college and living their life, and it just feels so personal, I guess. You know, it feels like it could have been one of your friends or on your campus, or it could've been you, you know. You just, you never know.

SMITH: Perhaps the biggest response has been on the college networking site, Facebook. Hundreds of pages have popped up with makeshift memorials to the victims, places where students - no matter how far away or removed from the tragedy - could write their thoughts. Michael Rahimi(ph) is a sophomore at George Washington University who set up one of the sites.

Mr. MICHAEL RAHIMI (Sophomore, George Washington University): There's some groups that are starting up to, you know, accept donations. There's others, you know, setting up foundations for the families. There's other ones, you know, that are making T-shirts and bracelets. There's, you know, links to YouTube videos, memorial funds, and, you know, a lot of kids are just coming up with different ideas and organizing days and memorials at their colleges.

SMITH: Rahimi says he has no connection to Virginia Tech other than a desire to show the students there that they're not alone. That's the reason these sites were invented in the first place, and now they're showing their power in the first real tragedy of the MySpace era. Blair Badenhop says that the thousands of messages of condolences show another side of this generation.

Ms. BADENHOP: College students kind of get a bad rap for not really, you know, looking outside their little college world, and you know. But this kind of shows that they really do care about their peers and that they aren't so self-involved.

SMITH: The Facebook and MySpace sites will continue to act as a living memorial to the students killed at Virginia Tech, with thousands of new comments going up every hour. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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