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No decision yet on fate of Va. Tech rampage site

Like the people of New York, Oklahoma City and Littleton, Colo., the Virginia Tech community faces a difficult decision on what it will do with the scene of a tragedy. So far, the school hasn't decided whether to reopen Norris Hall, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 people and himself.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Like the people of New York, Oklahoma City and Littleton, Colo., the Virginia Tech community faces a difficult decision on what it will do with the scene of a tragedy.

The classrooms and hallways of the school’s Norris Hall were littered with the bodies of 25 students and five professors on April 16, plus the body of gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

Student Brian Skipper wonders how anyone can ever be expected to learn in Norris Hall again.

“I won’t go back in that building,” says the 21-year-old junior from Yorktown, who lost five friends in Norris, including his faculty adviser, G.V. Longanathan. “I couldn’t see people returning in there and just going back to normal.”

Two other students were slain in a campus dormitory.

The university has made no plans beyond cleaning and repairing the flat-roofed, oblong stone structure, which has remained under police guard since the killing spree.

A permanent memorial?
However, faculty, students and alumni have already weighed in with suggestions for Norris’ future, one of more than 100 buildings on Virginia Tech’s 2,600-acre campus. Built in the early 1960s, it houses the department of engineering science and mechanics.

Ideas for the building’s future range from returning it to use as classrooms to making it a memorial or even knocking it down.

There are examples around the nation of how others have dealt with sites of overnight infamy.

Every evening, the University of Texas at Austin illuminates the clock tower where sniper Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th floor and killed 16 and wounded 31 on Aug. 1, 1966.

Before the attack, the 307-foot tower had been a symbol of the school for three decades. Its observation deck reopened a year after Whitman’s attack, but it was closed again in 1974 after four people jumped to their deaths. Tours are now available by reservation only.

Most of the killings in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., occurred in the library. Officials built an atrium on the site and placed a new library that includes a memorial to the 12 students and one teacher killed by two student shooters.

Other sites have been razed or redeveloped
The bombed-out Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was razed after Timothy McVeigh set off explosives that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995. The 3-acre site was turned over to a museum and memorial.

In Dallas, the first five floors of the Texas School Book Depository hold government offices, but there is a museum on the sixth floor — where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

At ground zero in lower Manhattan, New York City is building new office towers and a memorial to the 2,749 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers.

At Virginia Tech, Norris Hall is still surrounded by chain-link fencing topped by yellow police tape, distinguishing it from the other buildings made from the same locally quarried rusty gray “Hokie” limestone. Several second-floor windows are open, their glass shattered by Cho’s bullets and by students who jumped to escape the gunfire.

The decision on Norris Hall’s fate is ultimately up to Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, said university spokesman Mark Owczarski.

Calls for school to honor professor
An online petition has received more than 20,000 signatures in support of renaming Norris for engineering professor Liviu Librescu, who enabled students to jump to safety by blocking his classroom door with his body until Cho shot him. Librescu, 76, was a Holocaust survivor who had taught at the school for 20 years.

“I felt that something needed to be done to commemorate this brave man,” Justin Kozuch, a web designer in Toronto who started the petition, said in an e-mail.

The building now is named for Earle Bertram Norris, who was engineering dean from 1928 to 1952.

Russell Harris, a sophomore engineering major, said in a letter to the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, that the building should become a memorial.

“To demolish it would let our fears win and give evil more power,” he wrote.