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Virginia Tech marks day of mourning

A sea of people wearing orange and maroon flowed onto the main lawn at Virginia Tech on Wednesday, some clutching single roses, to remember the victims of worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Image: Mourners place flowers on the memorial stones.
Mourners place flowers on memorial stones Wednesday at Virginia Tech before a ceremony honoring the victims of the April 16, 2007, shootings on the campus in Blacksburg, Va.Rob Carr / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A sea of people clad in maroon and orange, some with heads tearfully bowed, others with arms interlocked, paid tribute Wednesday to the victims who died a year ago in the nation's worst mass shooting in modern history.

The accomplishments of each of the 32 people echoed across the drill field, a litany of what they had done and planned to do before a student gunman killed them in classrooms and a dormitory.

Austin Cloyd had an iron will. Caitlin Hammaren loved playing the violin. Emily Hilscher was a skilled horsewoman. Ryan Clark was a collector of friends. Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva dreamed of bringing people together and making the world peaceful.

"The world was cheated — cheated out of the accomplishments that were sure to come from these extraordinary lives," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine told the crowd.

Remembering the victims
People held back tears as a moment of silence was observed for those killed by Seung-Hui Cho, who took his own life as police closed in. But as music started playing, many sobbed and wept openly, overcome again by the magnitude of loss.

One grieving young woman fell to the ground and EMTs hurried to tend to her, eventually helping her off the field as she blinked back tears.

After the ceremony, bells in the nearby administration building tolled 32 times as mourners approached the semicircle of memorial stones, each engraved with the name of a victim.

The mourners gathered on the same field where a white candle lit at midnight began a day of grieving for the victims. Its flame was to be used to light candles for a vigil at dusk.

Some 20 people gathered in front of Norris Hall shortly after 9:30 a.m., the time one year ago that Cho killed 30 people in the building.

'I find comfort in it'
Shane Hutton, a senior from Bristol, said he had wanted to go into Norris but it was closed. Hutton, who had studied under instructor Jamie Bishop, one of the victims, said he has visited the wing of locked classrooms a half-dozen times in the past year.

"I find comfort in it," he said. "I just go in and think about the victims and the families."

Some in this close-knit campus of 27,000 were just hoping to make it through what they knew would be a difficult day.

"It's just so emotional for everybody," said Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily survived being shot. "The kids — you're just so worried about them and think, `Are they reliving those moments?'"

Smaller, reflective gatherings were to take place during the day. One group of students planned to lie down in protest of Virginia's gun laws.

Some family members of victims entered War Memorial Chapel early Wednesday for a private service. Other family members of those killed said they couldn't bear to attend the official events and planned to grieve privately.