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Va. Tech Students Attend Memorial, and Class

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Va. Tech Students Attend Memorial, and Class


Va. Tech Students Attend Memorial, and Class

Va. Tech Students Attend Memorial, and Class

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One week after deadly shootings at Virginia Tech that killed 33 people, students and faculty returned to campus and to the classroom. The day was a mix of emotions, as the school's community sought to move forward with the remainder of the semester while still grieving those who died.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been a week since the shootings at Virginia Tech, when Seung-hui Cho killed 32 people before taking his own life. Today, students and faculty returned to the Blacksburg, Virginia campus and to the classroom.

NPR's Rachel Martin is in Blacksburg and has our report.

RACHEL MARTIN: Like most students here, Michelle Billman(ph) has been wearing orange and maroon for the past week, and today was no different. I talked with her outside the student union building as she was on her way to her first class of the day, the same class she was sitting in when the first shooting happened exactly one week ago. She says she's not sure what to expect.

Ms. MICHELLE BILLMAN (Student, Virginia Tech): But I'm sure, by now, everyone's talked so much about what's happened. I don't know - I'm kind of excited to just go back to class and start learning stuff again.

MARTIN: Billman says it'll be strange to sit in that classroom, though. Seung-hui Cho, the gunman, was in that same class: The Bible as Literature. She says he never spoke in class, and last Monday, his chair was empty like it often was. But Billman says she doesn't want to think about Cho. For her and the rest of the Virginia Tech community, today is emotional enough.

Professor RICHARD SHRYOCK (Chairman, Foreign Language Department): I've been running on autopilot and denial just to try to get through, try to get ready for today.

MARTIN: Richard Shryock is the chair of the Foreign Language Department. Two of his faculty members were killed in the attacks, one teaching German, one teaching French. Eleven were killed in that French class, and only one walked out with no physical injuries. This morning, Shryock filled in as the substitute teacher.

Prof. SHRYOCK: I contacted the survivors of the French class and said that we would - if anyone wanted to show up that, you know, we had reserved a room here and that it's away from where the shooting took place. We had one student show up.

MARTIN: Shryock and many teachers have spent the last few days comforting the spouses of faculty who lost their lives, checking up on students figuring out how to finish up their classes, all the while, dealing with their own grief. Mike Duncan is a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Professor MIKE DUNCAN (Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech): We've all become closer and more like a family as a result of this. And there has, in that respect, just been a tremendous outpouring of good and love. And of course, there have been great losses.

MARTIN: The second shooting happened in Norris Hall, where a lot of engineering classes are held, and Duncan lost several students and colleagues in the attacks, including G.V. Loganathan. Duncan went to the professor's funeral yesterday and said 600 people showed up.

Prof. DUNCAN: G.V. was the kindest, dearest, best teacher. It's just amazing how humble and yet capable a teacher he was.

MARTIN: Loganathan and the other 31 victims were honored today in a memorial on the drill field right across the street from Norris Hall. A long bell sounded once around 09:45.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

MARTIN: And it rang again for every victim. Each time the bell rang, a white balloon was released into the sky.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

MARTIN: Thousands of Virginia Tech community members gathered here in silence. Many shielded their eyes from the sun so they could keep their gaze, fixed on the balloons as they flew out of sight. Then students and faculty made their way back into classrooms. Faculty let students talk about whatever was on their minds. Others discussed lesson plans and how to best finish up remaining course work. But it was clear that what everyone here needed most today was to gather together and just be quiet.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Va. Tech Students Honor Shooting Victims as Classes Resume

Va. Tech Students Honor Shooting Victims as Classes Resume

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Mourners gather Sunday at a makeshift memorial on the Virginia Tech campus. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Victims of the Virginia Tech shootings a week ago Monday were remembered this morning at memorial sites as classes resumed at the university.

Before heading to a central gathering point on campus early this morning where impromptu memorials have sprung up during the past week, nearly 100 people gathered in front of a residence hall where two of the victims were murdered.

Coinciding with the time of the first shooting, a Buddhist singing bell was rung three times to begin a moment of silence and then three more times to end it. Outside the dorm, West Ambler Johnston Hall, a few people cried as a small marching band from Alabama played "America the Beautiful." A violinist played "Amazing Grace."

Outside Norris Hall at 9:45 a.m. ET, exactly a week after 30 of the victims were murdered in the building by Seung-hui Cho before he took is own life, an 850-pound brass bell was rung 32 times. Simultaneously, 32 white balloons were released, one for each victim. Then a thousand balloons in the school colors, maroon and orange, floated up from the field.

As the ceremony ended someone on the edge of the crowd yelled, "Let's go …" The crowd, responding to the well known football cheer, shouted "Hokies!"

Classes resumed after the memorials. Students can choose whether they want to finish out the semester, which ends in two weeks, or take the grade they have earned thus far without attending the last two weeks of classes.

Virginia Tech plans to go ahead with graduation ceremonies May 11.

Administrators have encouraged students to return to school, at least to be part of the discussion about what happened. Trauma experts say that's an important part of a healthy recovery from such incidents.

Virginia Tech administrators estimate 80 percent of students showed up for class today. "We're seeing the resolute, the confused, the angry and the numb," said Edward Spencer, associate vice president of student affairs. "Very much like the individual reactions that we all have to death."

About 200 counselors wearing purple armbands circulated on campus throughout the day. Many were volunteers, some from as far away as California. Chris Flynn, head of the campus counseling center, said his office expects a heavier workload for up to two years.

"The university has granted me as much resources as I've needed," Flynn said. "It's been extraordinary because they are aware of the mental health component part of this and that part has just been enormously gratifying."

Volunteers also will be available for students who need them during the summer.

On Monday, faculty encouraged students to talk about their experiences from the past week. Some discussions lasted longer than others.

Classes that formerly met in Norris Hall, where most of the deaths occurred, were moved to other buildings. The university kept their locations secret so reporters wouldn't bother the students.

Meanwhile, administrators and professors were dealing with their own grief. Last Monday morning, French and German classes were under way in Norris Hall when the shooting started. Instructors of both courses were killed.

One professor said he had two classes today and he went for counseling twice between them.

"The faculty members have brought with them, in most cases, another faculty colleague to be with them," said Mark McNamee, vice president of academic affairs.

Vice President of Student Affairs Zenobia Lawrence Hikes said she experienced "triggers," words and experiences that reminded her of the events of last week. "This morning, for me, it was meeting in a room that I was meeting in last Monday at about the same time." She said that experience set off memories of the entire experience.

Steve Siegel, who works for Denver's district attorney's office, helped administrators at Columbine High School in Colorado after the shootings there eight years ago when two teenagers fatally shot 12 fellow students, a teacher and themselves.

As students return it's important to create a sense of safety on campus, Siegel said.

"There is no perfect environment for responding to mass tragedy. We weren't perfect in the aftermath of Columbine. We weren't perfect in the aftermath of Sept. 11. We're not going to be perfect in the aftermath of god-knows-what-comes-next," Siegel said.

But, he said, Virginia Tech's collective pride in the school helps people stay connected to each other. Last week it came in the form of cheers, even at somber ceremonies.

Even in an environment where that collective spirit is a source of strength, Siegel said, there also can be pressure to recover from the tragedy collectively. Administrators should remind students and faculty that individuals recover in different ways, he advised.

"I remember in the aftermath of Oklahoma City, the lead chaplain for the FBI said, 'If you don't talk it out, you're going to act it out,'" Siegel said.

Results could be anything from anger to substance abuse or even suicide.

Siegel isn't advising Virginia Tech administrators, but said they seem to be responding well. On Friday, graduate student instructors learned how to help returning students.

Sherry Lynch with the on-campus counseling center told the instructors that if students have trouble concentrating because they can't stop thinking about the shootings, it can be helpful to just start writing. Lynch advised them to tell students that what they're feeling is normal.