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'That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under'

By David Maraniss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007; A01

The roommates crossed paths near the bathroom door at 5 in the morning. In the Monday darkness, another school week at Virginia Tech was about to begin. Karan Grewal had pulled an all-nighter to finish his accounting paper. His eyes were bleary as he saw Cho Seung Hui, in boxer shorts and T-shirt, moving around him to get into the bathroom. No words were exchanged, but that is how it always was with Cho, the silent stranger among six guys in Suite 2121 of Harper Hall. Cho, or Seung as his suitemates called him, never looked you in the eye, rarely changed expression, would just walk right on by.

Grewal returned to his room and collapsed on his bed, falling into a deep sleep. He would not stir until mid-morning, awakened by an uncommon sound on campus, the wail of sirens.

Cho left the bathroom, got dressed, pulled a stocking cap over his head, and set out from the dorm on his way to kill 32 students and teachers and then himself in the bloodiest mass murder by a lone gunman in American history.

The malevolent force that emerged from Suite 2121 that morning set in motion a day of enormous tragedy. There was one murderous villain on the Blacksburg stage with all the familiar characteristics: lonely, angry, mentally unstable, desperate, uncommunicative. But with the world watching, scores of other people were drawn into the unfolding drama, from a brave old Holocaust survivor who tried valiantly to save his students and died in the trying, to the kid in German class who became an eloquent voice of the survivors, to the quick-thinking student in computer class who placed a heavy table to block the doorway just in time, to the young man in mechanical engineering who made it through by pretending that he was dead.

April 16, 2007 -- another date of death for people to absorb, if not fully comprehend. Another unthinkable worst in this violent world. This time it was on a college campus tucked away in southwestern Virginia, but the heartache was familiar and universal. Like a string of little jewels, one upon another, came the stories of priceless lives cut short: Alameddine, Bishop, Bluhm, Clark, Cloyd, Couture-Nowak, Granata, Gwaltney, Hammaren, Herbstritt, Hill, Hilscher, Lane, La Porte, Lee, Librescu, Loganathan, Lumbantoruan, McCain, O'Neil, Ortiz, Panchal, Perez Cueva, Peterson, Pohle, Pryde, Read, Samaha, Shaalan, Sherman, Turner, White.

* * *

The first call came into campus police at 7:15 that morning. A female resident assistant on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston Hall, a short walk from where Cho lived. She said there had been a shooting. She had heard screams, then more screams, then a pop, pop, and went down the hall to discover two bodies, a male and female, near Room 4040 in what was known as the "elevator" section, an area in the middle of the dorm between the men's side and the women's side.

Police later identified the female as Emily Hilscher, a freshman from Woodville, Va. The male was one of the dorm's resident assistants, Ryan Clark, from Georgia. The officers began interviewing other students. Aside from the resident assistant, most had not heard or seen anything, even though there was a trail of bloody footprints down the hallway.

Among the first medical responders were student leaders of the Virginia Tech rescue squad. Matthew Lewis was brushing his teeth at the squad office on the northwestern perimeter of the sprawling campus when the fire alarm went off. Moments later, another alarm sounded, and both EMT ambulances were on their way. One of the victims had been taken away by the time Lewis arrived. His group took the second victim. The dorm's fourth floor was nearly empty. All the students had been taken down to a common room a floor below, where resident assistants and counselors talked with them.

Rumors were flying about shootings and death. Most of the students on those floors were freshmen, and they were visibly distraught. They were ordered to stay put; the hall was under lockdown. After a year on campus, they had finally started to think of their hall as home, said Sarah Peet, a student from Columbus, Ohio. Now all they were talking about was getting out of there, going home.

Investigators, in their initial interviews with those who knew Hilscher, learned about her boyfriend, a student at nearby Radford University. Maybe it was a domestic incident, they concluded. Most are. Some officers were dispatched to go find the boyfriend, Karl D. Thornhill, operating under the assumption that they had the problem contained.

Two hours later, another 911 came in, this one from Norris Hall.

Not a Hint Of a Problem

It was supposed to be an easy week for Trey Perkins, a sophomore from Yorkville, Va. -- "no tests or anything, kind of laid-back week." He had stayed up late Sunday night at his off-campus apartment with three friends, watching a National Hockey League playoff game between the Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks. He got up at 7, plenty of time to make his 8 a.m. class in engineering dynamics at Randolph Hall. It was a lecture, going over material for a test, and the professor let them out a few minutes early. Randolph is right behind Norris Hall, where Perkins had a 9:05 in elementary German. He walked over and sat in the second-floor hallway outside Room 207.

When the previous class let out, Perkins was the first one in, greeting his instructor, Christopher James Bishop, known as Jamie to his friends, Herr Bishop to his students, a bespectacled 35-year-old with a long pony tail and perpetual smile. They enjoyed a comfortable relationship that revolved more around sports than German. Bishop, from Georgia, was an Atlanta Falcons fan, and Perkins, who had lived in New Orleans before his family moved to Virginia, rooted for the Saints. Just because the Falcons had the most famous Virginia Tech player ever, quarterback Michael Vick, didn't mean that Perkins could switch allegiances. As classmates slowly filtered into the class, Bishop and Perkins bantered about whom their two teams should pick in the NFL draft.

Next door in Room 211, Kristina Heeger had arrived from her off-campus apartment for her intermediate French class taught by Jocelyne Couture-Nowak. Heeger, a sophomore from Vienna, had spent much of the night before with a group of friends who had made a habit of gathering to watch "Planet Earth" on the Discovery Channel and then "Entourage" on HBO. Ten or 12 of them would meet at Ross Berger's place next to a frat house on Roanoke Street, then hang around and talk for a few hours after the television shows.

Monday morning, before leaving for French, Heeger had been on her computer, exchanging instant messages with Berger, up since 6 writing a paper for his Global Ethics class on what he called the totalitarianism of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Most of the messages were quick little contacts: hello, how you, good morning, how's your day, cold and crappy outside. The last IM from Berger read: Have a good day, be safe, and don't let the wind blow you away.

Up and down the hallways, things were getting underway. Haiyan Cheng was preparing to start her computer science class. She was filling in for the professor, who was away at a conference. Liviu Librescu, one of the renowned veterans of Tech's professorial academy, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, was launching into his course on solid mechanics, and next door to him, G.V. Loganathan was getting into advanced hydrology. One floor above them, Kevin P. Granata, a professor of biomechanics, was working in his office, where he had developed some the country's most advanced thinking on movement dynamics and cerebral palsy. And down on the first floor, his brother-in-law, Michael Diersing, whose wife was the identical twin sister of Granata's wife, was chatting and checking e-mail alongside Granata's doctoral assistant, Gregory Slota.

At 9:26, the first e-mail alert went out to the Virginia Tech community, faculty and students, about the earlier incident at West Ambler Johnston. The university leadership team had been meeting for nearly an hour by then, going over what they knew and what they didn't know, and how they should handle the situation. The university police chief, Wendell Flinchum, had come in with the latest news on the investigation. It still looked to them like an isolated incident. The e-mail popped up on computers across the campus. John Ellerbe, a senior history major from Woodbridge, had just gotten out of the shower and was preparing for his 10 a.m. class when he read it: "A shooting occurred at West Ambler Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating. The university community is urged to be cautious and are asked to contact Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case. . . . We will post as soon as we have more information."

Not long after that posting, the world of Virginia Tech changed forever. Life is mundane until it is not, and then the mundane can look serene.

Popping Sounds In the Hallway

The first attack came in Room 206, advanced hydrology taught by Loganathan. There were 13 graduate students in the class, all from the civil engineering department. There was no warning, no foreboding sounds down the hallway. The gunman entered wordlessly and began shooting. Students scattered to get as far away from the door as possible. One bullet hit Partahi "Mora" Lumbantoruan, an Indonesian doctoral student. His body fell on top of fellow graduate student Guillermo Colman. Then the shooter aimed his two guns around the room, picking off people one by one before leaving. Colman, protected by his classmate's prone body, was one of only four in the room to survive. The professor and so many of his disciples, most of them international students, were dead. Along with Colman, the three who survived were Nathanial Krause, Lee Hixon and Chang-Min Park. Two other members of the class lived because they didn't make it in that morning.

In Jamie Bishop's German class, they could hear the popping sounds. What was that? Some kind of joke? Construction noises? More pops. Someone suggested that Bishop should place something in front of the classroom door, just in case. The words were no sooner uttered than the door opened and a shooter stepped in. He was holding guns in both hands. Bishop was hit first, a bullet slicing into the side of his head. All the students saw it, an unbelievable horror. The gunman had a serious but calm look on his face. Almost no expression. He stood in the front and kept firing, barely moving. People scrambled out of the line of fire. Trey Perkins knocked over a couple of desks and tried to take cover. No way I can survive this, he thought. His mind raced to his mother and what she would go through when she heard he was dead. Shouts, cries, sobs, more shots, maybe 30 in all. Someone threw up. There was blood everywhere. It took about a minute and a half, and then the gunman left the room.

Perkins and two classmates, Derek O'Dell and Katelyn Carney, ran up to the door and put their feet against it to make sure he could not get back in. They would have used a heavy table, but there were none, and the desks weren't strong enough.

Soon the gunman tried to get back in. The three students pressed against the door with their arms and legs, straining with their lives at stake. Unable to budge the door, the gunman shot through it four times. Splinters flew from the thick wood. The gunman turned away, again. There were more pops, but each one a bit farther away as he moved down the hall. The scene in the classroom "was brutal," Perkins recalled. Most of the students were dead. He saw a few who were bleeding but conscious and tried to save them. He took off his gray hoodie sweat shirt and wrapped it around a male student's leg.

The French class next door was also devastated by then. Couture-Nowak, whose husband was a horticulture professor at Tech, was dead. Most of Kristina Heeger's classmates were dead. Reema Samaha, a contemporary dancer from Northern Virginia, was dead. And Ross Alameddine from Massachusetts and Daniel Perez Cueva from Peru and Caitlin Hammaren from Upstate New York. Heeger was among the few lucky ones; she and Hillary Strollo were wounded. Heeger was hit in the stomach. A bullet sliced through Strollo's abdomen and frayed her liver. Clay Violand, a 20-year-old junior from Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, also survived.

Like those in other classes, the French students had heard the banging, or pops. "That's not what I think it is?" asked Couture-Nowak.

Violand, feeling panicky, pointed at her and said, "Put that desk in front of the door, now!" She did, and then someone called 911. The desk could not hold back the push from outside. The first thing Violand saw was a gun, then the gunman. "I quickly dove under a desk," he recalled. "That was the desk I chose to die under."

He listened as the gunman began "methodically and calmly" shooting people. "It sounded rhythmic-like. He took his time between each shot and kept up the pace, moving from person to person." After every shot, Violand thought, "Okay, the next one is me." But shot after shot, and he felt nothing. He played dead.

"The room was silent except for the haunting sound of moans, some quiet crying, and someone muttering: 'It's okay. It's going to be okay. They will be here soon,' " he recalled. The gunman circled again and seemed to be unloading a second round into the wounded. Violand thought he heard the gunman reload three times. He could not hold back odd thoughts: "I wonder what a gun wound feels like. I hope it doesn't hurt. I wonder if I'll die slow or fast." He made eye contact with a girl, also still alive. They stared at each other until the gunman left.

The small group of 10 in Haiyan Cheng's computer class heard the loud banging outside. She thought it was construction noise at first, but it distracted her. No, they were pops. Then silence, then more pops. Cheng and a female student went to the door and peered out. They saw a man emerge from a room across the hall. He was holding a gun, but it was pointed down. They quickly shut the door. More popping sounds, getting louder, closer. The class was in a panic. One student, Zach Petkowicz, was near the lectern "cowering behind it," he would later say, when he realized that the door was vulnerable. There was a heavy rectangular table in the class, and he and two other students pushed it against the door. No sooner had they fixed it in place than someone pushed hard from the outside. It was the gunman. He forced it open about six inches, but no farther. Petkowicz and his classmates pushed back, not letting up. The gunman fired two shots through the door. One hit the lectern and sent wood scraps and metal flying. Neither hit any of the students. They could hear a clip dropping, the distinct, awful sound of reloading. And, again, the gunman moved on.

There was more carnage in the hallway. Kevin Granata had heard the commotion in his third-floor office and ran downstairs. He was a military veteran, very protective of his students. He was gunned down trying to confront the shooter. His brother-in-law Michael Diersing, down on the first floor, heard the awful sounds and realized that the building was under attack. Diersing stepped out into the hallway with Greg Slota and noticed that the first-floor entry doors had been chained and padlocked. No way out. They shuddered to think that sometime earlier, as they were chatting or working or drinking coffee, the murderer must have walked right past their room on his way to chain the doors. Their room had a lock on it. Several students came rushing toward them, and they let them in and then locked up.

Room 204, Professor Librescu's class, seems to have been the gunman's last stop on the second floor. The teacher and his dozen students had heard too much, though they had not seen anything yet. They had heard a girl's piercing scream in the hallway. They had heard the pops and more pops. By the time the gunman reached the room, many of the students were on the window ledge. There was grass below, not concrete, and even some shrubs. The old professor was at the door, which would not lock, pushing against it, when the gunman pushed from the other side. Some of the students jumped, others prepared to jump until Librescu could hold the door no longer and the gunman forced his way inside.

Matt Webster, a 23-year-old engineering student from Smithfield, Va., was one of four students inside when the gunman appeared. "He was decked out like he was going to war," Webster recalled. "Black vest, extra ammunition clips, everything." Again, his look was blank, just a stare, no expression, as he started shooting. The first shot hit Librescu in the head, killing him. Webster ducked to the floor and tucked himself into a ball. He shut his eyes and listened as the gunman walked to the back of the classroom. Two other students were huddled by the wall. He shot a girl, and she cried out. Now the shooter was three feet away, pointing his gun right at Webster.

"I felt something hit my head, but I was still conscious," Webster recalled. The bullet had grazed his hairline, then ricocheted through his upper right arm. He played dead. "I lay there and let him think he had done his job. I wasn't moving at all, hoping he wouldn't come back." The gunman left the room as suddenly as he had come in.

When Webster opened his eyes, he saw blood everywhere. Some of it was his, though he didn't realize it until he saw blood pouring out the sleeve of his sweat shirt. The girl nearby was unable to speak, only moaning. Blood seeped from her mouth.

Jumping Students And Shocked Police

At 9:45, the Virginia Tech police received the first 911 call from inside Norris Hall. Then more calls started coming in to police and EMTs throughout the region, with reports of mass casualties. The first officers from the university and city police forces arrived in minutes to find a large crowd of students on the Drillfield, a vast expanse across from Norris. They ordered the students to leave the area, immediately.

Tucker Armstrong, a freshman from Stephens City, Va., had been walking by Norris when he heard the shots and saw several students jumping out the second-floor windows. They were landing in bushes and struggling to get up. He saw the police arrive, fully armed, yelling at everyone to get inside. Matthew Murray, a freshman from Herndon, was watching as he huddled nearby in a second-floor doorway at McBride Hall. "People were running out of Norris and screaming. Streams of people were running out constantly. It was controlled, but you could tell everyone was panicked and very upset." An older man came out grabbing his bloody head. Then the jumpers. At least three people leaping out of second-story windows. One missed the grass and "hit the pavement especially hard. He landed kind of crunched up over toward his face, and he didn't get up at all."

Jamal Albarghouti, a Palestinian graduate student in construction management from the West Bank, was nearby. He had been on his way to talk to an adviser about leadership skills when he heard the noise at Norris and instinctively ran toward it. With his silver Nokia N70 smart phone, he captured flitting video of the scene: shots firing, police scampering, wind blowing, terror. It only hinted at the horrific violence, but for the rest of that day and night, it would serve television as the primary video footage of what happened at Norris.

After storming the building, breaking the locks, the police ran up to the second floor and carefully entered each classroom, one by one. At some point, Cho Seung Hui apparently placed one of his guns at his temple and pulled the trigger. The scene was something these experienced officers had never witnessed. As they entered each room, they asked the students to hold out their hands, show that they had no weapons, and then led those who could walk down the stairs and outside. But there were so many bodies. Blood everywhere, pieces of flesh. The shooter himself, with a gun lying nearby, was almost unrecognizable, a face destroyed. And the innocent victims did not just have bullet wounds, the police would recount later, but were riddled with bullets, gushing blood. The scene was so emotionally overwhelming that many officers could not hold back tears even as they went about their business.

Matthew Lewis, the student EMT president, heard the distress call when he was at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he had taken the second victim of the West Ambler Johnston shooting. By the time he made it back to campus, a staging area for medical treatment and evacuations had been set up on Stanger Street, a block from Norris Hall. Emergency personnel were treating students with minor injuries, the jumpers and others who had been scuffed during the panic, but not shot. People were trickling out from Norris, but it was no longer chaos.

Treating Wounds, Consoling Loved Ones

The first wave of wounded patients was carried into Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg shortly after 10 a.m. -- bloodied, mangled, some on the verge of death. Davis B. Stoeckle, a general surgeon, was on call that morning and worked the emergency room from beginning to end with a colleague, Holly Wheeling. They had been told to brace for the extraordinary numbers of victims and levels of trauma that they would face. They established a triage to focus first on the most gravely wounded.

One after another, the students came in.

Gunshot to the leg.

Bullet hole in the stomach.

Gunshot through the liver, part of a kidney and colon.

As accustomed as he was to dealing with morbidity, Stoeckle felt himself thinking the scene was unreal. He had never encountered such a volume of patients, more gunshot victims in a few hours than the hospital had treated in nearly five years. As they worked, Stoeckle and Wheeling heard stories of bravery from the wounded: students pushing others into closets to protect them from the barrage of bullets and helping one another with makeshift tourniquets and bandages. In one case, Stoeckle concluded that a student's quick medical action might have saved his own life. Bleeding significantly from his right leg, this student found an electrical cord in a classroom and wrapped it tightly around his wound, which kept him from bleeding to death until the rescue squad arrived and placed a tourniquet above the bleeding artery.

While the doctors began taking the wounded into surgery, the hospital filled with friends and relatives of students who were believed to be there. Some were, some were elsewhere, some, as it turned out, were already dead. The waiting parties were taken to a large, empty room in the back of the building, just drywall and concrete and folding chairs. They sat around in circles, talking, waiting for news. Food and water were brought in. There were no televisions there, so the only updates they could get were from new groups coming in.

Ross Berger arrived at noon and was there all day with more than 20 friends and relatives of Kristina Heeger, who had been shot in the French class. By mid-afternoon there were nearly 200 people, he estimated, all doing the same thing. "We had people running out crying, running in crying. A group of people who got there an hour after I did sat around for two hours, and finally someone came in and read off the names of patients there, and their name was not on it, so they got up and asked, 'Where is he?' and were told, 'We have no idea.' " The news for Kristina was better: she was there, and she was stable, recovering from wounds to her lower abdomen.

The Inn at Virginia Tech was another assembly place for the concerned. Guards at the front door tried to limit admission to friends and families. As the day wore on, names of the dead and wounded trickled out. Parents cried out and clung to each other in grief. In the context of the horror, it was often a relief to hear that a loved one was at the hospital. It could have been worse. At 5:45 p.m., a woman in a long gray coat burst from an inner room, pushing her way past a grief counselor. "My baby!" she said, sobbing, cupping her face in her hands as she collapsed into the arms of a friend.

Here, as elsewhere, one of the rivers of conversation was about whether the university handled the day properly or should have shut down the entire campus after the first shootings at West Ambler Johnston. "I think they should have closed the whole thing. It's not worth it," said Hoda Bizri of Princeton, W.Va., who was visiting her daughter, Siwar, a graduate student. The Bizris, like many others, were waiting for word about a friend who had been inside Norris and could not be reached.

Nearby, Kristen Wickham was looking for news about her friend Caitlin Hammaren, a fellow New Yorker. Everyone was trying to reach Caitlin, with no luck. She should have called by now, Wickham thought, not knowing that her friend was among the dead. Hammaren's parents were trying to reach Blacksburg and couldn't get a plane, so they were making the long drive from Upstate New York. Parents were making similar pilgrimages by car and plane from every corner of the country.

One of the early flights from the West Coast brought Nikki Giovanni, the renowned poet and Virginia Tech professor. At the end of her red-eye flight, she had heard about the shootings and the early reports that generally described the gunman. "When I heard the suspect was an Asian student, I had no doubt in my mind who did it," she said later. Cho had been in one of her classes, and his writing was so violent, so focused on death, that he had scared other students to the point where Giovanni had felt compelled to remove him from the class, sending him to a colleague for tutoring.

Back to Harper And a Killer's Room

It was not until 9:06 that night -- when Virginia State Police investigators knocked on the door at Suite 2121 in Harper Hall -- that Karan Grewal realized that the roommate he had last seen in boxers and T-shirt 16 hours earlier was the cause of all the horror. The investigators interviewed Grewal and the four other roommates. No, they had not seen guns around the suite, but Cho was a strange guy. Wouldn't talk. Played the same songs over and over on his laptop. Didn't like to turn the light off in his room. Had a bike that he rode around campus late at night. Would not go out with them, except one rare time when they got him drinking at a party and he said he had an imaginary girlfriend who called him Spanky. Never saw him with a girl, though, or any friends whatsoever. Before spring break, he had seemed to get obsessed with a few women. Had been stalking them on his computer, and sometimes in person. The cops were called twice. Once he was sent to counseling and said he might as well kill himself. He started shaving his head down to a fuzz cut. Wore contact lenses. Used something for his acne. Was working out at the campus gym. Had been getting up really early recently.

The investigators scoured Cho's room for evidence. The room looked like any college kid's, strewed with papers, food wrappers, cereal boxes. This is what they took away, according to a search warrant filed later by Virginia State Police special agent M.D. Austin:

Chain from top left closet shelf.

Folding knife and combination padlock.

Compaq computer Serial # CND33100IL on desk.

Assorted documents, notepads, writings from desk.

Combination lock.

Tool box.

Nine books, two notebooks, envelopes from top shelf.

Assorted books and pads from lower shelf.

Compact discs from desk.

Items from desktop drawer, mail, three notebooks, check credit card.

Items from second drawer -- Kodak digital camera, keys, Citibank statement.

Two cases of compact discs from dresser top.

Six sheets of green graph paper.

Other officers walked the halls of Harper with a photograph of Cho, asking students if they knew him. They were all rattled. Most did not recognize him; a few said they thought they had walked by him now and then. How lucky they were, thought Tom Duscheid, a management student from Pittsburgh. This is the residence hall where Cho lived, not Ambler Johnston, What if he had rampaged through here with his guns?

There were still so many unanswered questions. Why did Cho go to West Ambler Johnston? Why did he choose Norris Hall for his rampage? Whom was he looking for? What did he do between the two incidents? How did he move around the campus unnoticed? Police questions, questions of detail. They went to work on some of the little stuff, tracing Cho's movements. They found out that on Feb. 9 he had stepped into a pawnshop directly across the street from the Tech campus, right on Main Street, JND Pawn Brokers, to make the first purchase of the guns he would use later. It was a Walther .22-caliber pistol, relatively inexpensive, commonly used for target shooting. From then until days before the shooting, he traveled to nearby stores to buy ammunition. Some at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, some at Dick's Sporting Goods over in Christianburg. On March 16, exactly a month before his killing rampage, he went to Roanoke Firearms, a full-service gun dealership with more than 350 guns on display. He showed his driver's license, a checkbook with a matching address and an immigration card. A surveillance camera captured him making the $571 purchase of a Glock 19 and a box of 50 cartridges.

Days later, a larger clue would come from NBC News and Cho himself. At 9:01 Monday morning, before going to Norris Hall, Cho sent an Express Mail package to NBC in New York that included photographs, video and a note including these chilling words: "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today."

Little Sleep For the Living

When Ross Berger got home from the hospital Monday night, assured that his friend Kristina Heeger would survive, there was no more storage space for messages on his cellphone, and his computer was flooded with e-mails. Everyone was talking. Names were coming in. He knew four of the dead students. He turned on the television for the first time. Fox News was showing the shaky video footage taken by Jamal Albarghouti outside Norris Hall. A running count of gunshots was displayed alongside the shaky pictures. "And like that was the first thing I saw, and I went into my bathroom and puked," Berger said.

But he came back and watched some more, inevitably, and the more he saw and heard, the more unsettled he became. So many conflicting feelings were banging around in his head. The country seemed to be harping on the police and the university administration and how they had handled, or mishandled, the unfolding tragedy. Berger and all his classmates, except one, were innocent, yet he felt as though they, too, were being tainted by the obsessive focus and the natural human desire to fix blame. The guy to blame was dead, he thought. People didn't understand that 99.9 percent of the time this was a wonderful little place to be, that nothing really goes on. The cops here, what did they know about mass murder? They were used to dealing with some drunk kid, not a psycho. How can you stop something like that? Everyone felt horrible, Berger and all his friends were still bawling, but they also still felt a deep pride in Virginia Tech. He thought about it all night, the killings, the conflict, and never found sleep.

Few who had endured the day could sleep that night. At his off-campus apartment on Patrick Henry Drive, Trey Perkins stayed up in the comfortable embrace of his parents. Don and Sheree Perkins had begun the four-hour car trip from Yorkville that afternoon as soon as Sheree could slip free from an elementary school field trip she had been leading.

Trey had been one of the primary student voices all day, talking coolly and calmly about the horror that visited his German class. He had seen the worst that man can do to man, and now he was in a daze. It actually helped him to talk, to respond to questions, to go over the details in rote fashion, because when he spoke aloud they seemed somewhat removed. When he was alone and silent, something deeper washed over him that made him shudder. It was a simple image that looped again and again in his mind's eye. The first moment, the classroom door opening, the gunman coming in.

About the Narrative

This narrative is based on scores of interviews with shooting victims, witnesses and other participants in the events at Virginia Tech on Monday. All thoughts expressed by people in the narrative are taken directly from the interviews.

Reporting from Blacksburg were staff writers Michelle Boorstein, Chris L. Jenkins, Susan Levine, Jerry Markon, Nick Miroff, David Montgomery, Candace Rondeaux, Ian Shapira, Michael D. Shear and Sandhya Somashekhar. Reporting from Washington were staff writers Keith L. Alexander, Sari Horwitz, Carol D. Leonnig, Michael E. Ruane, Katherine Shaver, Jose Antonio Vargas and William Wan. Staff researchers Alice Crites, Meg Smith and Julie Tate also contributed to this narrative.

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