'It Is Something That Affects All of Us'

Michael A. Shoels pauses in front of the shrine to the slain Virginia Tech students on the campus in Blacksburg.  Shoels lost his son, Isaiah Shoels, in the Columbine High School massacre.
Michael A. Shoels pauses in front of the shrine to the slain Virginia Tech students on the campus in Blacksburg. Shoels lost his son, Isaiah Shoels, in the Columbine High School massacre. (Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Timothy Dwyer and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 21, 2007

From corporate conference rooms to churches and college campuses, Americans draped themselves in burnt orange and maroon and became a united Hokie Nation yesterday, as a national day of mourning honored the 32 people massacred at Virginia Tech.

President Bush put on an orange-and-maroon tie to show support. Churches across the country, from California to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, rang bells and held vigils and prayer services.

At noon on a sidewalk in front of Norris Hall in Blacksburg, where the gunman from Fairfax County shot 30 of the victims Monday, a somber group of Virginia Tech students stood silently as bells across the campus tolled 32 times and a bouquet of 32 orange and maroon balloons was set free, disappearing into the clouds.

"They are winding their way to heaven, and I know they got there today," senior Katie Wilson said, sobbing as she released the balloons, on which the victims' names were printed.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who declared yesterday a day of mourning in Virginia, spoke at a noon memorial service at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where several thousand people gathered. Similar events took place in 40 other states, Kaine said.

"Sometimes in the midst of tragedies, it's easy to forget the things that matter most and become distracted by other things," Kaine said. "But we won't allow that to happen. The thing that matters most today is to remember the family and friends who lost loved ones."

Virginia Tech alumni held a beach vigil in Santa Monica, Calif., last night. In Indianapolis, white doves were released as more than 300 students from five colleges held an interfaith prayer service. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) rang a fire department bell five times. In Frederick, home of Maryland's largest carillon, a student rang a 3,400-pound bell once for each of the slain.

Across Northern Virginia, people gathered in public spaces and workplaces to pray for the victims, much of it spontaneous.

In Fairfax last night, more than 2,500 people turned out for a memorial service at Robinson Secondary School sponsored by the county school system.

"We wanted to be part of the Tech Nation tonight," said Ann Silano of Annandale, whose daughter will attend Virginia Tech next year. "The strength and unity they've displayed in the past week has been so admirable."

In Old Town Alexandria, a lunchtime crowd came together in Market Square.

"I think it's very compassionate and warming," said Nichole Danraj, 32, a massage therapist and Virginia Tech graduate wearing a maroon school shirt. "In spite of the distance and in spite of the time, this helps. It helps relieve that pain. It's a show of support."


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