Brian McCloskey started out the night with four good friends, guys he'd met at Virginia Tech. The 18-year-old from Montgomery County had just begun college but was already known as one of the most friendly, easygoing freshmen around Thomas Hall dorm in Blacksburg.

The five friends had found out about a party from, a popular college Web site that serves as something of a campus bulletin board. They didn't know the people hosting the party, which was for someone's birthday, but it didn't matter: The get-together was at an apartment complex just off campus packed with students, and when they boarded the Blacksburg bus just before midnight Nov. 4 to head out, it was a regular, grand Friday night.

Less than two hours later, five had turned into four. It was time to leave the party, and McCloskey was missing.

"If we go out like that together, we go home together," Fred Finch, 19, a friend of McCloskey's, said yesterday as he pieced together the events of that night. A half-hour after the friends left the townhouse at Christine Court, McCloskey appeared. Someone walking less than 100 feet from the party spotted him, bleeding, with massive injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, on the ground between a parking lot and a jogging trail.

Six days later, the teenager with bright blue eyes and a baby face who a year ago was playing football at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring was dead.

Blacksburg police are investigating McCloskey's mysterious death but so far without any witnesses, evidence of a scuffle or motive, said Lt. Bruce Bradbery, a police spokesman.

Blacksburg, a university town of about 40,000 people, has not had a homicide in 31/2 years, and McCloskey's death is the police department's top priority, Bradbery said. He was cautious in describing what police think, saying they have ruled out suicide but are otherwise open to anything, including that McCloskey might have been struck by a hit-and-run driver.

"Police always know a little more than what they're willing to say," Bradbery said, adding that he believes police will have a clear sense of what happened within a few weeks.

As police examine the evidence, McCloskey's friends are trying to make sense of how a time in their lives that is usually about beginnings wound up about an end -- a bloody, solitary one at that.

"We came to grips with it a little bit, but I still can't believe he's gone. We all thought he was going to come back," said Danny Higgins, 19, a freshman from Leesburg who was with McCloskey on Nov. 4 and was planning to live with him next year.

The friends held out hope that McCloskey would eventually leave his room at the trauma center at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. "We all decided that we're always going to stick together, after this."

Higgins said McCloskey was a university studies major, which means he had not declared a major. McCloskey's family could not be reached yesterday.

Jennifer Hough, whose son Matt played football at Sherwood with McCloskey and is a senior there now, said the boys who know him can't make sense of what happened.

"They think they're going to just live and live," she said. "It's just devastating."

Officials conducted an autopsy Friday, and Bradbery said the results, which are scheduled to be returned this week, probably would rule out at least some theories.

In the meantime, McCloskey's friends at school are getting counseling if they want it and walking in groups of at least two.

"We were all really confused at first, and now we're definitely scared," said Finch, a sophomore from Monroe, Conn. "They didn't catch who did this, and it could still happen again."

Virginia Tech freshman Brian McCloskey died six days after attending an off-campus party.