Virginia Tech Tragedy

A Day of Mourning

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Virginia Tech held a moment of silence Friday to remember victims of Monday’s shooting rampage. At left was Michael Shoels, whose son was killed at Columbine High School in 1999

April 20, 2007

A Day of Mourning

Grieving and sadness over the nation’s deadliest shooting rampage reached far beyond Blacksburg, Va., today, as mourners from Colorado to Israel remembered the 32 victims killed on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Some began their tributes at dawn, while others plan to congregate in schools, churches and public squares well into the night.

In Virginia, where an official day of mourning was declared by the governor, thousands of people have come together in vigils across the state today. The tributes took different forms — a cacophony of car horns in Richmond, a moment of silence on the Virginia Tech campus, and clothing in the school’s colors, maroon and orange, just about everywhere.

That today also happened to be the eighth anniversary of another mass killing, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., added another grim element to a day already heavy with grief. In Littleton, mourners gathered to reflect on their own tragedy, but turned their thoughts to Blacksburg as well. Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, called for a moment of silence, and said that the people of his state stand in "solemn silence on the anniversary of that dreadful day with the people of Virginia."

President Bush donned a maroon and orange tie today as a tribute. The White House said today that the president has ordered the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Education to prepare a report for him on ways to prevent future instances of violence like the massacre in Virginia.

"We can never fully understand what would cause a student to take the lives of 32 innocent people," Mr. Bush will say in his weekly radio address tomorrow, according to a transcript released today by the White House. "What we do know is that this was a deeply troubled young man — and there were many warning signs. Our society continues to wrestle with the question of how to handle individuals whose mental health problems can make them a danger to themselves and to others."

On the drill field of the Virginia Tech campus today, just a few dozen yards away from Norris Hall, the building where most of the victims were gunned down, the steady parade of mourners slowed.

On Wednesday night, the field held 10,000 people for a candlelight vigil. But at noon today, a much smaller crowd there observed a moment of silence, their heads bowed.

Minutes later, some students released 32 maroon and orange balloons, each with a victim’s name, one at a time in front of Norris Hall as a crowd of about 400 clad in orange and maroon looked on.

"Mike, we love you," said Katie Willson, of Williamsburg, Va. as she let go of a balloon for Michael S. Pohley Jr. of Flemington, N.J. Mr. Pohley was a fifth-year senior biology major who was shot dead in a German class.

In the background, four state troopers stood in front of Norris Hall, which is still cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape.

Halfway around the globe at a cemetery just outside Tel Aviv, Israel, Liviu Librescu, the professor and Holocaust survivor who was killed at Virginia Tech as he reportedly tried to prevent his students from being shot, was buried today.

At the funeral in Ra’anana, which was crowded with reporters and crews from Israeli and international news media, friends and relatives of Mr. Librescu spoke with awe about his lifetime of teaching. His wife, Marlena, and his two sons, Joe and Arie, took turns speaking at the funeral in Hebrew, English and Romanian.

"They ask me today about your past, and I don’t know what to say, but that I am proud of you," Joe Librescu said, addressing his father. "You taught me right from wrong, and sometimes I didn’t listen. But now my ears are open."

Jennifer Medina contributed reporting from Tel Aviv, Israel, and Ian Urbina contributed reporting from Blacksburg, Va.

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