Waleed Shaalan

Waleed Shaalan

Hometown: Zagazig, Egypt

Age: 32

Major: Hydrology

Profile: When G.V. Loganathan's advanced hydrology class assembled Monday morning in Norris Hall, Waleed M. Shaalan, of course, was seated near the front.

He was that kind of student -- "a workaholic," a faculty member said.

Shaalan, 32, an Egyptian-trained civil engineer, came to Blacksburg in August from the small city of Zagazig in the Nile Delta, leaving his wife and their baby son at home. He was intent on earning a doctorate in hydrology, then returning to teach at his alma mater, Zagazig University, said the faculty member, Hesham Rakh.

"He was very, very studious," said the Egyptian-born Rakh, who teaches in Virginia Tech's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He befriended Shaalan at a mosque near the campus not long after Shaalan arrived.

"He would be at the department at 7 in the morning, and he would work until 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes," said Rakh, who lives near the apartment that Shaalan rented, a few miles from campus. "He would actually walk home at 2 in the morning, because the last bus, I think, is around 11 p.m."

So there he was, seated front and center in Loganathan's classroom, when Cho Seung Hui strode in with his guns.

"He was in the front row," said Mohamed Elghazawy, deputy consul at the Egyptian Embassy, who traveled to Blacksburg on Tuesday and was briefed by authorities about Shaalan's death. "When the guy shoots first the professor, then he goes to the students in the first row and shoots them. And this young man, he was among the first to die."

Nine students were slain in the classroom. Loganathan, too.

Rakh said Shaalan, who had just begun the academically grueling, three- to four-year process of earning a doctorate in his field, had little time for hobbies. But the professor did run into him Sunday, savoring Middle Eastern food at Tech's annual International Street Fair.

"This was the last time I saw him, the day before he died," Rakh said. "I shook hands with him, we said hello. And he was smiling, laughing. He was very happy."

He had reason to be. He had purchased an airline ticket to Cairo for May 14. From there, he was to travel north to Zagazig, to reunite with his wife of three years, Amira, and their young son, Khaled. He planned to bring them to Blacksburg, to be with him while he completed his studies.

"He was very much looking forward to it," Rakh said. "Because he missed them so much. He would always talk about them. His son is about a year and a half now, so his son was maybe 8 or 10 months old when he last saw him."

Rakh sighed. "So, you know, he was working just nonstop in the department to finish as much of his studies as he could before they arrived."

Elghazawy said Shaalan worked for Egypt's National Water Research Center after graduating from Zagazig University, then was awarded a scholarship by Tech to pursue a doctorate. This week, it fell to the embassy in Washington to deliver the horrible news to Shaalan's relatives at home.

"His family -- his dad and mom -- was in a very bad situation," Elghazawy said.

He said: "We talked to his brother and uncle in Cairo, because we can't speak to his dad and mom, because of their bad situation. They had a hard time thinking of this. For some time, they could not believe their son is dead."

--Paul Duggan, The Washington Post

© 2007 The Washington Post Company