Emotions Raw as Virginia Tech Students Return

As Virginia Tech students returned to class Monday, professors gave them the opportunity to discuss their feelings about last week's shootings. Their thoughts give administrators a better idea of what it will take to help the school recover from the attacks.

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More than 200 counselors, each wearing a purple armband, will be back today on the Virginia Tech campus, many of them volunteers. Some have come from across the country to help students and teachers recover from the nation's worst mass shooting. University administrators estimate 80 percent of students showed up yesterday for the resumption of classes.

And NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Blacksburg.

JEFF BRADY: Joe Merola teaches chemistry and says counseling is often part of the job when you're a professor. But yesterday, that was a very difficult duty to perform.

Professor JOE MEROLA (Chemistry, Virginia Tech): I'd lost the pathway through a class. I could not - I burst into tears and had to turn it over to the counselors to finish.

BRADY: Merola says he has a special bond with that class because they were on lockdown together for two hours when the shootings happened. He says he tried to recompose himself before the next class.

Prof. MEROLA: I took advantage of half an hour between the two classes I went to to have a 30-minute session with two counselors. But basically, I'm trying to hold together until commencement. My wife and I had an agreement that we will hold it all together until then, and then we will allow ourselves to collapse.

BRADY: Trauma recovery experts say people heal at different speeds, and that was clear on campus Monday. Lay Nam Chang is dean of the College of Science. He spoke at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Mr. LAY NAM CHANG (Dean, College of Science, Virginia Tech): In some instances, the discussions didn't take that long and the instructors decided at that particular juncture to then just start the class as a normal instructional session.

BRADY: Students who were in Norris Hall last week, where most of the murders took place, also returned to class Monday. They were moved to other buildings. The university wouldn't say where for fear reporters would bother them.

The head of the campus counseling service, Chris Flynn, says he expects a heavier workload well beyond the week and half of classes left this semester. He says some students will require help for up to one or maybe even two years. Flynn says the university has authorized him to hire more counselors to meet the need.

Dr. CHRIS FLYNN (Director, Virginia Tech Counseling Center): I think that people that might have the most difficulty are those that feel socially isolated. So we're being very sensitive to the needs of our international community who may be far from home.

BRADY: Counselors also will be available to students over the summer break. Before classes began Monday there were two memorial services. The first was just after 7:00 AM outside the residence hall where two of the victims died.

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BRADY: Musicians from Alabama traveled north to play for mourners. Later, on a field in the center of the campus, 32 white balloons were released, one for each person who was murdered.

Chayased Kay(ph)is a freshman at Virginia Tech. He predicts the events of last week will loom over the rest of his college career.

Mr. CHAYASED KAY (Student, Virginia Tech): I mean, the next few weeks are going to be not easy. You just have to try to get back to the way things used to be. But at least in the next two weeks, and I know the rest of my three years is, you know, you're never going to forget what happened.

BRADY: One Virginia Tech administrator said all it takes is a trigger - a time of day, a word, or a place - and Monday, April 16th starts to play all over again like a tape in a mind. Common desire expressed around campus is to get back to normal. It's more likely that there will be new normal at Virginia Tech. Still, the university has decided not to let this tragedy get in the way of something seniors have worked four years to achieve. Graduation ceremonies will take place as planned on May 11th.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

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