A Daughter's Untimely Requiem

Joe Samaha hugs his surviving daughter, Randa, 21, at a Chantilly memorial service for Reema Samaha, below, 18, who was slain in the Virginia Tech shootings. At left, her brother, Omar, 23, dabs his eyes. The funeral for Reema, a freshman urban planning major, is tomorrow.
Joe Samaha hugs his surviving daughter, Randa, 21, at a Chantilly memorial service for Reema Samaha, below, 18, who was slain in the Virginia Tech shootings. At left, her brother, Omar, 23, dabs his eyes. The funeral for Reema, a freshman urban planning major, is tomorrow. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2007

The parents, Joe and Mona Samaha, were due at the funeral home later in the morning to view their daughter Reema -- to see her body for the first time since the madness at Virginia Tech. They sat in their living room early yesterday, flowers and sympathy cards around them, and looked ahead to those private moments, their daughter clothed for burial in a white satin dress her mother picked out.

"I really want to touch her hair," Mona said. She leaned closer to her husband on the sofa, her legs crossed, and stared at her lap. She spoke just above a whisper. "I want to touch her fingers. She has such little fingers. From the first day it happened, I wanted to do that. And her hair. I might take a little piece of her hair."

Joe breathed deep and said, "I want to hold her, and I want to kiss her."

She is 18 forever, Reema Samaha, a freshman, this smiling beauty in a portrait photo on the living-room table in a brick colonial in Centreville -- brown eyes and black hair and a lifetime in front of her until six days ago, when the shooting started in Norris Hall. Thirty-two dead in the massacre, students mostly, plus the gunman. And now comes the aftermath, the grief and farewells.

Now come the funerals and memorials. At least five this weekend. It was Minal Panchal's turn yesterday. More than 100 mourners filled a chapel at Donaldson Funeral Home in Odenton to say goodbye to the 26-year-old architecture student, also slain in Norris.

"It is now time to send our sweet Minu to a better place," a family spokesman said as the memorial service came to an end. Panchal lay in a wooden coffin with colorful flowers draped over her chest. On her face, a peaceful smile.

Reema Samaha's funeral is tomorrow. She wanted to be an urban planner. She wanted to design green spaces for cities. Instead, in the white satin dress, she'll go from the Murphy Funeral Home in Falls Church to Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean for a service, then back to Falls Church, to National Memorial Park.

Then, in anguish shared by loved ones of all the victims of April 16, her parents will return home from the cemetery, to that photo in the living room and the unending pain that Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho left in his wake.

This is what Cho, 23, wrought: "Just very sad in knowing that I'm not going to be able to see her anymore," said Mona Samaha, 49, a Lebanese-born elementary school teacher in Herndon. "To really listen to her. Her asking me my advice. As independent as she was, she always came back to me for the last decision making. I'm not going to be able to play with her hair. Give her water if she's thirsty outside in the sun."

Joe Samaha, 51, a real estate broker of Lebanese descent, said he and his wife wanted to talk about their slain daughter "so people will understand who Reema was. Her ambitions, her goals. What she meant to us." She loved to entertain, loved contemporary dance. "As a performer," her father said, "she wanted to be on stage. And I want the world to be her stage now. I want the world to see her. As a last wish."

So as the clock ticked, as the couple waited for that appointment at the funeral home and then a memorial service for Reema in the afternoon -- as the doorbell chimed, as visitors kept arriving, as the telephone kept bleating and hushed relatives moved about the house, tending to this, tending to that -- Joe and Mona Samaha sat close on the sofa.

And here came their memories.


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