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Va. Tech Students Attend Memorial, and Class

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been a week since the shootings at Virginia Tech, when Seung-hui Cho killed 32 people before taking his own life. Today, students and faculty returned to the Blacksburg, Virginia campus and to the classroom.

NPR's Rachel Martin is in Blacksburg and has our report.

RACHEL MARTIN: Like most students here, Michelle Billman(ph) has been wearing orange and maroon for the past week, and today was no different. I talked with her outside the student union building as she was on her way to her first class of the day, the same class she was sitting in when the first shooting happened exactly one week ago. She says she's not sure what to expect.

Ms. MICHELLE BILLMAN (Student, Virginia Tech): But I'm sure, by now, everyone's talked so much about what's happened. I don't know - I'm kind of excited to just go back to class and start learning stuff again.

MARTIN: Billman says it'll be strange to sit in that classroom, though. Seung-hui Cho, the gunman, was in that same class: The Bible as Literature. She says he never spoke in class, and last Monday, his chair was empty like it often was. But Billman says she doesn't want to think about Cho. For her and the rest of the Virginia Tech community, today is emotional enough.

Professor RICHARD SHRYOCK (Chairman, Foreign Language Department): I've been running on autopilot and denial just to try to get through, try to get ready for today.

MARTIN: Richard Shryock is the chair of the Foreign Language Department. Two of his faculty members were killed in the attacks, one teaching German, one teaching French. Eleven were killed in that French class, and only one walked out with no physical injuries. This morning, Shryock filled in as the substitute teacher.

Prof. SHRYOCK: I contacted the survivors of the French class and said that we would - if anyone wanted to show up that, you know, we had reserved a room here and that it's away from where the shooting took place. We had one student show up.

MARTIN: Shryock and many teachers have spent the last few days comforting the spouses of faculty who lost their lives, checking up on students figuring out how to finish up their classes, all the while, dealing with their own grief. Mike Duncan is a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Professor MIKE DUNCAN (Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech): We've all become closer and more like a family as a result of this. And there has, in that respect, just been a tremendous outpouring of good and love. And of course, there have been great losses.

MARTIN: The second shooting happened in Norris Hall, where a lot of engineering classes are held, and Duncan lost several students and colleagues in the attacks, including G.V. Loganathan. Duncan went to the professor's funeral yesterday and said 600 people showed up.

Prof. DUNCAN: G.V. was the kindest, dearest, best teacher. It's just amazing how humble and yet capable a teacher he was.

MARTIN: Loganathan and the other 31 victims were honored today in a memorial on the drill field right across the street from Norris Hall. A long bell sounded once around 09:45.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

MARTIN: And it rang again for every victim. Each time the bell rang, a white balloon was released into the sky.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

MARTIN: Thousands of Virginia Tech community members gathered here in silence. Many shielded their eyes from the sun so they could keep their gaze, fixed on the balloons as they flew out of sight. Then students and faculty made their way back into classrooms. Faculty let students talk about whatever was on their minds. Others discussed lesson plans and how to best finish up remaining course work. But it was clear that what everyone here needed most today was to gather together and just be quiet.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.