Classes resume a week after Virgina Tech massacre

BLACKSBURG, Va.- Thousands of Virginia Tech students and faculty filled the center of campus yesterday to pay solemn tribute to the victims of last week’s massacre – listening quietly as a bell tolled for the dead on the day classes resumed at the grief-stricken school.

An antique 850-pound brass bell was installed on a limestone rostrum for the occasion, and 33 white balloons were released in memory of the 32 victims and the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho. About 1,000 balloons in Virginia Tech colors – maroon and orange – were also set free.

“I’ve been back with my friends, but I don’t know how it’s going to feel, seeing the empty seats in the classroom, noticing the people who aren’t here anymore,” said David Patton, a 19-year-old freshman who was friends with two victims. “I’m wondering where they are now, if they are in heaven, and when I’ll see them again.”

As classes resumed yesterday, counselors and university staff were dispatched throughout campus, wearing special nametags and armbands to indicate they were there to help. University officials said they have seen a range of emotions among the students.

“We are seeing the resolute, the angry, the confused, and the numb,” said Ed Spencer, the associate vice president of student affairs.

Officials said class attendance averaged about 75 percent, and between 85 percent and 90 percent of students are still living in their dorms.

“What remains to be seen is how long they will stay,” Spencer said.

They are also seeing many signs that things were returning to normal. “The same students who sit in the last row are still nodding off in class,” Mark McNamee, the Virginia Tech provost.

Yesterday, a week after the shootings, the campus was covered with memorials and tributes, including flowers, writings and candles.

The memorial bell rang at 9:45 a.m., around the time when Cho killed 30 students and faculty members in a classroom building before committing suicide. The tribute lasted 11 minutes, as the bell rang for each of the victims and Cho.

“It’s only been a week, but it seems so long ago,” said Marc Hamel, 43, a political science student. “Getting back into class is really going to help.”

As the crowd broke up, people started to chant, “Let’s Go Hokies” several times.

A moment of silence was also observed at about 7:15 a.m., near the dormitory where Cho’s first victims, Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher, were killed.

In front of the dorm, a small marching band from Alabama played “America the Beautiful” and carried a banner that read, “Alabama loves VT Hokies. Be strong, press on.”