St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Like other towns, Va. hamlet mourns

Virginia Tech student Nicole White was killed, and "everybody is upset and hurt."

Published April 22, 2007


SMITHFIELD, Va. - One of the many churches in this town founded as a colonial seaport has a sign reading "Va. Tech Families We Are Praying For You."

Next door, the local volunteer rescue squad also has a sign, a more personal one that honors one of its own members: "In Memory of VT Student Nicole White."

Here and there, throughout White's hometown, are symbols of the sorrow felt even by those who didn't know the 20-year-old woman with long red hair, a big smile and a deep faith in God. She died in Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech, nearly 300 miles across the state in Blacksburg.

"Everybody is upset and hurt," said Gus Barlow, 81. "It's such a waste of life."

From Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico, small towns are coping with the sudden loss of loved ones, friends and classmates, many of them young people who seemed certain to have bright futures.

About 7,000 people live in Smithfield, a town of 10 square miles in the Hampton Roads region of eastern Virginia that has been dubbed one of the prettiest communities in the state. It's known for the curing of Smithfield ham - a salty country ham - and for being the home of meatpacking giant Smithfield Foods Inc.

Barlow wears a Virginia Tech baseball hat as he walks past the old homes, specialty shops and eateries along the historic district's Main Street. Barlow never met White, but he donned the cap for his fellow Hokie.

'Hokies are together'

"We Hokies are together - always," said Barlow, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 1950.

Non-Hokies, too, are united in showing support for White, her parents, her 18-year-old brother and the rest of the extended Virginia Tech family, including another student from Smithfield, Matt Webster, 23, who was shot in the arm and is recovering.

Instead of describing the daily specials, a chalkboard propped up on the sidewalk outside the Smithfield Gourmet Bakery and Cafe reads "Our Thoughts + Prayers Are With You - Va. Tech - Go Hokies."

Inside, Natalie Bangley, Desiree Craighead and other waitresses wear pins they made from ribbons of maroon and orange - Tech's colors - as they take orders for chicken salad sandwiches and cream of broccoli soup.

Even though the town has been growing, Bangley said it's still the kind of place where someone who didn't know White, like Bangley or Craighead, knows someone who did, like Craighead's sister, Danielle Bennett.

Safety-pinned to the outside of Bennett's tote bag is a piece of paper printed with the image of a black ribbon behind the letters "VT" and the inscription "R.I.P. Nicole White 4/16/07."

She was a lot of fun

Bennett met White through a mutual friend at Smithfield High School, when White was a junior and Bennett a freshman.

White was a lot of fun. She would gamely eat foods that students mixed together in weird combinations as they traded lunches, Bennett said, laughing. White also would amuse friends by walking down the street, singing classic rock tunes such as I Love Rock 'N' Roll, a Joan Jett hit that was older than White.

Above all, White was always looking to help others. In high school, she was an emergency medical technician with the rescue squad and a lifeguard at the YMCA. In Blacksburg, she volunteered at the animal shelter and at a battered women's shelter.

"She was everybody's favorite," Bennett said, tearing up. "She never judged anyone and she saw a friend in everybody."

Exhausted and heartbroken, the White family wasn't ready to talk about her just a few days after her death.

Senior Pastor Tim Piland said, though, that the Whites want people to know that "their daughter loved life, loved people and loved the Lord."

[Last modified April 22, 2007, 01:01:45]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters