Virginia Tech Students Return to Campus
Monday, April 23, 2007; 2:21 AM
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech is allowing students to drop classes without penalty or to accept their current grades if they want to spend the rest of the year at their parents' homes grieving last week's campus massacre.
But whatever decisions they make academically, many students say they will do their mourning on campus _ and that they can't imagine staying away now.
"I want to be back this week even if I don't take my exams, just to be with people," freshman Brittany Gambardella said Sunday, moving back into a dormitory where two students were slain at the beginning of the rampage. "Then you go home, and you end the year on a good note."
Classes were to resume Monday, one week after gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people before turning a gun on himself.
Students and faculty were expected to gather at 7:15 a.m. Monday near the dormitory where the first victims, Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher, were killed.
At 9:45 _ the time of the second shooting _ the university planned a moment of silence, with a single bell tolling from the tower of the main administration building. A minute later, the bell will toll 32 times _ once for each victim _ as 32 white balloons are released from the field below.
University officials were not sure how many students planned to be back Monday.
"I want to go back to class just to be with the other students. If you just left without going back to classes, you would just go home and keep thinking about it," said Ryanne Floyd, who returned to campus after spending most of last week with her family and avoiding news coverage of the tragedy. "At least here, being with other students, we can get some kind of closure."
Students began returning as more details about the rampage emerged. Dr. William Massello, the assistant state medical examiner in Roanoke, said Cho died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head after firing enough shots to wound his 32 victims more than 100 times.
But there was nothing unusual about Cho's autopsy, he said, and nothing that indicated any psychological problems that might explain his reason for the killings.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Student Government Association issued a statement Sunday asking the news media to respect the privacy of students and leave by the time classes resume Monday.
"Our students are ready to start moving forward, and the best way we can do that is to get the campus back to normal," Liz Hart, director of public relations for the SGA, said in an interview. Students don't want "anything external to remind us it will be a difficult road. We know that."
Virginia Tech officials say victims' families are their top priority. They have been given a private e-mail address and direct phone number for President Charles Steger.
The campus is covered with memorials and tributes to the students, including flowers, writings and candles. There are constant reminders of counseling options, and state police will provide security at least through Monday.
"I still feel safe. I always have," said Claire Guzinski, a resident of West Ambler Johnston Hall, where Clark and Hilscher were slain. "I just think, stuff happens. It's still in the middle of nowhere, a rural area. What are the chances of it happening twice?"
The only thing she feels nervous about, she says, is what to say to classmates who lost close friends.
"What do you say?"
Associated Press Writers Vicki Smith and Matt Appuzo contributed to this report.