Forgiveness Emerges in Va. Tech Memorial
Sunday, April 22, 2007; 5:56 PM
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- On the edge of the Virginia Tech Drillfield stands a semicircle of stones _ 33 chunks of locally quarried rust-grey "Hokie" limestone.
There is one for each of Seung-Hui Cho's victims.
And there is one for Cho.
Each stone is marked with a paper "VT" adorned with the student's or professor's name, and each is bedecked with flowers. Cho's is fourth from the left, between those for victims Daniel O'Neil and Matthew Gwaltney.
His memorial has fewer blooms than some, more than others.
Looking down on the stones in a black suit Saturday, Virginia Tech professor Dong Ha marveled at the community's capacity for compassion, even in the face of such depravity.
"I'm really impressed with the maturity of Virginia Tech people," said the professor, who teaches electronics and computer engineering, and who is also faculty adviser to the Korean Student Association. With the memorial, he said, "they also treat him as a victim."
Following the April 20, 1999 rampage at Columbine High School, someone put up 15 wooden crosses on a hillside overlooking the campus, including one each for shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Not long after, angry parents tore down the killers' crosses.
In the materials he left behind, Cho referred to Harris and Klebold as "martyrs" and his "brothers."
Virginia Tech junior Brian Skipper is an engineering major who knew five of Cho's victims, including his faculty adviser, professor G.V. Longanathan. Skipper isn't angry that Cho has a stone, but he's not sure it belongs among those of his friends.
"I think I'd put something up somewhere for him, to show some compassion somewhere for him," Skipper, 21, of Yorktown, Va., said as he looked at Cho's stone. "I can show compassion, but it's hard to understand and comprehend certain things, I guess."
Along with the flowers, maroon pompoms and other mementos were notes to each of the dead. Even to Cho.
"I just want you to know I am not mad at you. I don't hate you," wrote a woman who signed her letter only as Laura. "I know what it is like to have demons and I can't even imagine how awful it was for you."
In another note, a man named Dave said he hoped something positive would come of "the damage you inflicted."
"I hope that if I ever meet anyone like you I will have the courage and strength to reach out and change his or her life for the better," Dave wrote. "I hope the anger towards you that resides in so many hearts turns to forgiveness. I hope the earthly troubles of all 33 of you are a fleeting, distant memory."
He closed the letter with the word "Pax."