In Memoriam : Lives Lost at Virginia Tech

'Already Living the American Dream'

Already overcome with emotion, mourners arrive at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Woodbridge for the memorial service honoring Daniel Perez Cueva.
Already overcome with emotion, mourners arrive at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Woodbridge for the memorial service honoring Daniel Perez Cueva. (Photos By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

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By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Four days after Daniel Perez Cueva was killed last week, one of his former teachers stood at lunch, at Woodbridge's Hylton High School, and noticed that the name of the young man she'd been mourning all week was right in front of her, in letters across the back of a student's swim team T-shirt.

Without thinking, Ginette Cain reached out and brushed her fingers along Perez's name.

"I was just kind of drawn to it," she said, remembering only after it was too late that teachers are not supposed to touch students.

But the boy in the T-shirt understood. "He knew exactly what I was doing," Cain said. "He turned around and said, 'My sister swam with him.' "

Perez was memorialized last night at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Woodbridge, one of the many services and burials being held this week for the 32 students and professors shot to death eight days ago at Virginia Tech. The funeral for Reema Samaha, 18, of Chantilly was also last night.

Perez was something of a wunderkind at Hylton -- a student who spoke English as a second language yet enrolled in some of the toughest classes at school. A student who didn't disappear into the often-quiet and underinvolved ESOL crowd.

"Many times we have trouble getting ESOL students to participate in extra-curricular activities," said Cain, chair of Hylton's English for Speakers of Other Languages department.

But not Perez, who joined the tennis, cross-country and swim teams -- and swam so well that he went to regionals.

Academically, his gift seemed to be in languages, and from the beginning Cain had counseled Perez: "Go with your fastball -- your fastball being languages."

At the time of his death, the 21-year-old spoke Spanish, English, French and Italian and was applying for jobs at the French and Italian embassies. It was in French class that he was killed.

Perez moved to the United States with his mother, Betty Cueva, when he was a freshman in high school. She speaks very little English and works as a maid, Cain said. But she was a teacher in Peru, and she came to the United States with the hope that her son would earn a college degree.

"That provided his motivation," Cain said. "He was doing this for his mother."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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