Matthew J. La Porte

Matthew J. La Porte

Hometown: Dumont, N.J.

Age: 20

Class: Freshman

Major: Political Science

Profile: The news of the death of Matthew La Porte, 20, stunned his neighbors in Dumont, N.J. Electricity and phones had been out during the day after a nor'easter swept through the quiet town 20 miles northwest of Manhattan. The La Porte family did not know the fate of Matthew until late Monday, said the family's priest and neighbors.

That's when the family -- mother Barbara, father Joseph and younger sister Priscilla, a high school senior -- got the call.

"What is there to say? What can I tell you?" Joseph La Porte said in a phone interview yesterday morning. "All I could tell you is he was in the corps of cadets at Virginia Tech, in his second year. He had an Air Force scholarship. I can't tell you any more," he said as he began to weep. "Every time I talk, I just break down."

The family's immediate concern, said their priest, the Rev. James Bouffard of Sacred Heart Parish, was to inform Matthew's elderly grandparents as gently as possible, and they set off in the car on the grim mission.

Neighbors soon got the news themselves. "I'm stunned," said Marie Grieco, 56, who lives next door, as she set to work cooking up penne for a pasta salad.

La Porte was quiet but funny, friends and neighbors said. He attended church with his family on Sundays whenever he was in town. He was long and lanky and often wore a buzz cut from his military training.

In eighth grade, La Porte had chosen Carson Long Military Institute in Pennsylvania to provide the discipline that would boost his grades and help him get into a good college, said Dane Rogich, 20, who grew up a few blocks away.

At Virginia Tech, word was that La Porte had died a hero.

Jim Tenney, 19, played trumpet in the regimental band, Band Company; La Porte played tenor drum. He said cadets were told of La Porte's death Monday night by another cadet. In the end, the cadet said, La Porte was killed while trying to help those around him.

Bouffard said: "What some people call instinct is simply acting on what you know to be right." Then he quoted John 15:13: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

-- Robin Shulman, The Washington Post

© 2007 The Washington Post Company