Va. Tech in Mourning, This Time for Couple Slain Off Campus

By Mark Viera and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 29, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 28 -- In what has become a sadly familiar ritual, about 100 students huddled together Friday on the Drillfield at the heart of the Virginia Tech campus, weeping and singing hymns as they mourned two slain classmates.

Heidi Childs, 18, and David Metzler, 19, bright and promising students who were active in Campus Crusade for Christ, were found fatally shot Thursday morning in a national park about 15 miles from campus. Police said Friday that they had no suspects.

The deaths of the young couple, during the first week of classes, shook a community that has endured a string of tragedies. In April 2007, it became the site of the worst mass killing by an individual in U.S. history when a troubled student fatally shot 32 people and himself. In January, a student was decapitated in a campus cafe, and a classmate was charged.

"It's more disbelief," said Olivia Kasik, 19, a sophomore from Woodbridge. "It happened again. You can't really wrap your head around it."

At Burruss Hall, the administration building, flags were lowered to half-staff. A wreath bore the names of Childs and Metzler. Some professors took time before class to talk about the shootings.

In a letter to the campus community, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger urged students to seek support and solace from one another or counselors.

"Once again, this community is visited by senseless violence and tragedy upon aspiring young minds from our campus," Steger wrote. "I know that many of you likely have complex feelings about now. How can this happen in this area, at this time, to this community?"

Montgomery County sheriff's officials said a passerby at Caldwell Fields, a popular hangout for Virginia Tech students in Jefferson National Forest, found the couple dead in the parking area about 8 a.m. Thursday. Metzler was in his car; Childs was outside the car.

Lt. Brian Wright of the sheriff's office said the two sophomores apparently went alone to the remote camping and picnicking area. They were last heard from Wednesday night. No guns were found, he said.

Wright said investigators have not found links to any other crimes and are asking anyone who had been in contact with the couple to call police.

"You have two real good kids just trying to have a nice evening, and they were killed for apparently no reason," Wright said.

Childs, of Forest, Va., was the daughter of Virginia State Police Sgt. Donald Childs and was studying biochemistry. Metzler, of Lynchburg, studied industrial and systems engineering.

Kent Gregory, youth pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Lynchburg, said the teenagers, who were deeply faithful and read the Bible daily, met through the church when they were in middle school. He said Childs had been home-schooled and Metzler went to a public school.

Both were close with their families, Gregory said. He said Childs was one of eight children and Metzler had three older sisters.

Gregory said the teenagers, who played guitar in church praise groups, began dating about two years ago. On a 2007 missionary trip to New Mexico, they helped run a vacation Bible school.

"They just loved the little kids," Gregory said. "They got down and played with them."

On campus Friday, many students who had just moved in went about starting the school year. Students expressed sadness, but some said the slayings had not received much notice because they occurred off campus and class had just begun. But for many, the killings hit hard.

Larry Hincker, a university spokesman, said a meeting was held on how to assist students, faculty and staff, many of whom are still reeling from the 2007 rampage.

The university released phone numbers for counseling and other services. "I urge you to care for each other and seek help and support whenever necessary," Steger wrote.

"It's a huge moment again," said Brian Covington, 21, a senior from Herndon. "It seems like something happens every single semester here. I don't want to say we're numbed to it or used to it."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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