Virginia Tech tragedy
Honoring a full spectrum of victims
By LANE DEGREGORY
Published April 18, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va. - They gathered at dusk, thousands of students and faculty filling the drill field. They punched holes in paper Pepsi cups and threaded candles through. Even gusty winds couldn't extinguish their flames.
Tuesday afternoon was the president's time. In the evening, the governor spoke. But the dark was for Virginia Tech's students. And the 32 who are gone.
"We had to come out tonight. It's an honorable end for the victims, and a celebration of the Hokie spirit," said Logan Thompson, a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student from Stephen City, Va. "A lot of people went home already. But we wanted to stick around for this service. Look at it all."
The crowd gathered in front of the school's war memorial. The classroom building where most of the shootings took place was in the background, shrouded by yellow police tape. "This is the first time most of us have seen that building since it happened," Thompson said.
By 8:15 p.m., the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd was so thick even State Police were having trouble weaving through. Nearly everyone wore orange and maroon - Hokie colors - and pinned ribbons on their sweatshirts. They brought daisies and tulips, American flags and cards.
They came to remember. And to mourn. A band leader. A belly dancer. A Holocaust survivor, a devout Christian and an atheist. Honors students. Graduate students. Freshman, seniors and faculty. The victims were their hall mates, their classmates, their professors and their friends.
"These past two days have been trying for all of us," said Adeel Khan, the school's student body president. "With the entire country watching the details of this horrific event, we've come here tonight to heal. And to commemorate the members of this community we've lost."
They were supposed to wait to light the candles. But by the time Khan was done speaking, the whole field was illuminated. Students held cell phones beside their flames, to capture the sight.
From opposite ends of the field, two trumpets played taps, answering each other across the dark. The field of thousands stood silent for one minute ... five ... eight ... The only sounds were sniffles and muffled sobs.
Profiles of some of the victims:
Freshman, computer engineering
Henry Lee's Facebook page says he hates "anyone who says LOL out loud." He signed a petition to stop fire drills. He belonged to Facebook groups called, "I wish I were your derivative so I could like tangent to your curves!" and "Calculus and Alcohol Don't Mix: Don't Drink and Derive!"
Lee, from Roanoke, Va., played racquetball and Frisbee and liked hiking with friends and watching Family Guy. Never read a book "unless it's assigned."
Jarrett Lane, 22
Senior, civil engineering
The day before he was killed in class, Jarrett Lane, of Narrows, Va., had accepted an offer to become a graduate student in the University of Florida's Civil and Coastal Engineering Department. He was to start classes in Gainesville this fall.
Lane's Facebook page says his interests included, in this order: God, adventure, fellowship, competition, sports, success. "I'm a Christian," he wrote. "I get along with a lot of people, but I have only a few close friends."
Ryan Clark, 22
Senior, biology, English, psychology
Clark was called "Stack" by his friends, many of whom he met as a resident assistant at West Ambler Johnson Hall, where the first two shootings took place.
Clark was from Martinez, Ga., just outside Augusta. He was a fifth-year student working toward degrees in biology and English, and a member of the Marching Virginians band.
"I don't think I ever saw him mad in the five years I knew him," friend Gregory Walton, 25, said after learning from an ambulance driver that Clark was among the dead.
Clark is survived by parents, Stan and Letitie Clark, his twin brother, Bryan, and his sister, Nadia.
Leslie Sherman, 20
Sophomore, history and international studies
Sherman was one of about 50 students who lived in Main Campbell, an honors residence hall. Lara Jones lived there, too, and considered Leslie "a dear friend."
"She was just another of those really well-liked people. No one ever had a bad word to say about her," Jones said. "She was so friendly, positive."
Sherman loved running, history, foreign languages and making friends laugh.
Caitlin Hammaren, 19
Sophomore, international studies and French
"She was just one of the most outstanding young individuals that I've had the privilege of working with in my 31 years as an educator," said John Latini, principal of Minisink Valley High School in Westtown, N.Y., where she graduated in 2005. "Caitlin was a leader among our students."
Reema Samaha, 18
Samaha's Facebook page shows a woman with long dark hair and khol-lined eyes posing in formal dresses, dipping on the dance floor, performing in a play. It says she loved "belly dancing, shoes, my dog, eating, you know?" Her favorite bands were Incubus, Deathcab for Cutie and Radiohead.
The last thing she wanted people to know about her: "I still have a blankie."
Emily Hilscher, 19
Freshman, animal and poultry sciences, equine science
Hilscher was known around her hometown of Woodville, Va., as an animal lover. She lived on the same dorm floor as victim Ryan Clark.
Minal Panchal, 26
Master's student in building sciences
Panchal's friends and family were not sure she had been killed until Tuesday afternoon.
Friend Vishu Divela, 25, said Panchal's older sister, who lives in Washington, D.C., and her mother, who lives in New York, traveled to Blacksburg late Monday to search for her at hospitals in the area. The police told them Tuesday afternoon that she was one of the victims.
Divela, who graduated from Virginia Tech in January, described Panchal as "really funny, bubbly."
She listed architecture, buildings and nature as her passions on her Web site and said she liked to read, sketch, watch movies and talk to friends "any place any time."
Ross Abdallah Alameddine, 20
Sophomore, English major
Friends created a memorial page on Facebook.com that described Alameddine, of Saugus, Mass., as "an intelligent, funny, easy going guy."
Alameddine's mother, Lynnette, said she was outraged by how victims' relatives were notified of the shooting. "It happened in the morning and I did not hear (about her son's death) until a quarter to 11 at night. That was outrageous. Two kids died, and then they shoot a whole bunch of them, including my son."
Daniel Perez Cueva, 21
Perez Cueva was killed in a French class, said his mother, Betty Cueva.
Perez Cueva was a student of international relations, according to the Virginia Tech Web site.
Mary Karen Read, 19
Read was born in South Korea into an Air Force family and lived in Texas and California before settling in the northern Virginia suburb of Annandale.
Karen Kuppinger said her niece had struggled to adjust to Tech's sprawling 2,600-acre campus. But she had recently begun making friends and looking into a sorority.
At Annandale High School, Mary was an advanced placement student in the international baccalaureate program and excelled in photography. She was in the homecoming court.
Her family started calling Read as news reports surfaced.
By dark, Mary's father, Peter Read, was driving more than 200 miles to Virginia Tech. That's when his cell phone rang.
He expected it to be Mary saying she was fine. Instead, it was his wife, Cathy, telling him Mary was dead.
Matt J. La Porte, 20
Dumont, N.J., freshman, university studies
La Porte attended Virginia Tech on an ROTC scholarship. He loved art and music and planned to join the Air Force after college, hoping to become an officer.
Juan Ramon Ortiz, 26
Bayamon, Puerto Rico, graduate student in civil engineering
Ortiz was teaching a class as part of his graduate program.
The family's neighbors in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon remembered him as a quiet, dedicated son who decorated his parents' one-story concrete house each Christmas and played in a salsa band with his father.
"He was an extraordinary son, what any father would have wanted," said Ortiz's father, also named Juan Ramon Ortiz.
Daniel O'Neil, 22
Engineering graduate student
O'Neil, a teaching assistant, played guitar and wrote songs, which he posted on a Web site, www.residenthippy.com.
Friend Steve Craveiro described him as smart, responsible and a hard worker, someone who never got into trouble. "He loved his family. He was pretty much destined to be extremely successful."
O'Neil graduated in 2002 from Lincoln High School in Rhode Island and graduated from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
Jeremy Herbstritt, 27
Herbstritt's high school classmates voted him "most talkative."
He had two undergraduate degrees from Penn State, one in biochemistry and molecular biology and one in civil engineering.
"He liked to work on machinery, take a lot of stuff apart and fixed it," said the victim's grandfather, Thomas Herbstritt, 77, of St. Marys. "He was a studious kid."
Christopher James Bishop, 35
Foreign languages and literatures (German)
Bishop taught German at Virginia Tech and helped oversee an exchange program with a German university.
He was a Fulbright scholar at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.
According to his Web site, Bishop spent four years living in Germany, where he "spent most of his time learning the language, teaching English, drinking large quantities of wheat beer, and wooing a certain fraulein."
The "fraulein" was Bishop's wife, Stephanie Hofer, who also teaches in Virginia Tech's German program.
G.V. Loganathan, 51
Civil and environmental engineering
Loganathan was born in the southern Indian city of Chennai and had been a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech since 1982.
Loganathan won several awards for excellence in teaching, had served on the faculty senate and was an adviser to about 75 undergraduate students.
Kevin Granata, 45
Engineering science and mechanics
The head of the school's engineering science and mechanics department called Granata one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy.
Granata leaves a wife, Linda, and three children aged 11 to 14, his brother said.
Jeff Harrington, deputy business editor at the St. Petersburg Times, was a classmate of Granata's at a Catholic high school in west Toledo:
"He could transform in an instant from studious to boisterous. And when he did, his laugh would fill the room.
"He was surprisingly strong and not averse to jumping into situations to help out. If this had been 9/11, I could see him taking the Todd "Let's Roll" Beamer approach of storming the cockpit. So I half-wondered if he had tried to charge the Virginia Tech gunman as he opened fire."
Couture-Nowak was instrumental in the creation of the first French school in a town in Nova Scotia. She lived there in the 1990s with her husband, Jerzy Nowak, the head of the horticulture department at Virginia Tech.
Sources: Associated Press, New York Times, Times staff writers Meg Laughlin, Bill Adair, Wes Allison, Madhusmita Bora and Anita Kumar and news researchers Carolyn Edds and Caryn Baird.
[Last modified April 18, 2007, 02:42:13]
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