In Blacksburg, a Community Tries to Heal
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: Students and the families of victims of the Virginia Tech shootings gathered today on campus for a convocation service. The president and Mrs. Bush were there, as was the governor of Virginia. NPR's Rachel Martin was at the service, and she reports it was a time of reflection for the campus, which is still reeling.
RACHEL MARTIN: It's usually pretty normal for thousands of people dressed in burgundy and orange to crowd into Cassell Coliseum on the Virginia Tech campus for a basketball game or a student assembly. On this day, students, faculty and community members waited in line for hours. They were here to honor the lives of those lost and try to find some peace in it all.
University President Charles Steger was greeted by a standing ovation before addressing the audience.
Mr. CHARLES STEGER (President, Virginia Tech University): In the last day, I've expressed my horror and shock, but there are really no words that truly express the depth of sadness that we feel. In fact, words are very weak symbols of our true emotions at times such as this.
MARTIN: The governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, flew back from Tokyo to be here. There were also representatives from different faith communities, and President George W. Bush delivered the key note address.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow. This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community, and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation.
MARTIN: The president talked personally about being a father and the pain the victims' families must feel, and how this community can draw strength from each other.
Pres. BUSH: And on this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine that a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal. But such a day will come. And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them and the lives they hoped to lead. May God bless you. May God bless and keep the souls of the lost. And may His love touch all those who suffer in grief.
MARTIN: After the ceremony, a sea of students moved somberly back to the main part of Virginia Tech campus. They walked arm in arm, hand in hand. They embraced and they cried. Many didn't want to talk or couldn't talk through the emotion.
Some, like Courtney Martin and Rose Hilton, were getting ready to go home to their families. Nineteen-year-old Martin says today is even worse than yesterday.
Ms. COURTNEY MARTIN (Student, Virginia Tech): Like, I woke up crying. Yesterday was - it hadn't hit home, and today, like, I guess the names started coming out last night really late, and we were all staying up until three and four in the morning reading names and looking on Facebook and seeing the faces and, like, it was more like oh, no. It's harder today. Today, everybody's getting together and crying and hugging. It's more real today.
MARTIN: For Rose Hilton, the tragedy at Virginia Tech is deeply personal on another level. Both her father and her sister graduated from here.
Ms. ROSE HILTON (Student, Virginia Tech): I've loved this place my whole life, and I'm just - I've been really worried about the reputation. Like, I don't exactly feel safe anymore. I mean, I would never, ever leave. I'm a Hokie, forever a Hokie. And I just hope that it's not going to change anything. I don't want to be known as the Columbine school.
MARTIN: Hilton and Martin say all their close friends are accounted for. But as far as other students, the ones they say hi to casually in classes or in hallways, they're still not sure.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.