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Va. Tech students mark second anniversary

Thousands of people gathered for a somber event to remember the accomplishments of the 27 students and five faculty members killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
APTOPIX Virginia Tech Anniversary
An unidentified family member places a flower on a memorial marker during ceremonies Thursday at Virginia Tech marking the second anniversary of the April 16, 2007, shootings at the campus in Blacksburg, Va.Steve Helber / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wounded by a gunman who sprayed bullets through their German class at Virginia Tech, Katelyn Carney and Derek O'Dell worked together to bar the door so he couldn't return.

With memories of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history still fresh in their minds, they and many of the other students hurt that day returned to campus Thursday to mark the second anniversary of the slayings.

Carney, who graduated in December, ran a 3.2-mile race to honor the 32 people killed April 16, 2007, by student Seung Hui-Cho, who also took his own life.

"This is where it matters," she said as she and a friend prepared to run.

O'Dell, who walked the course, called the experience bittersweet.

"We're celebrating their lives, but remembering, too," he said. "It's difficult, but I think it's important."

Engineering student Fred Cook jumped out a second-story window in Norris Hall as his professor, Liviu Librescu, was gunned down while he barred Cho from entering his classroom. He hurt his ankle, but took up running when he recovered and participated in Thursday's race.

"Not a day goes by that we don't think about it," Cook said. "This increased sense of awareness by everyone certainly makes it more acute for us."

'Let's Go, Hokies'
Most of the 12 injured students still on campus joined about 4,300 people who raced around the main section of campus on the bright, sunny morning. The event began with the release of balloons — 32 white, followed by hundreds in the school colors of maroon and orange — and chants of "Let's Go, Hokies."

The mood was upbeat as students crowded around a table to sign a message banner before the race.

Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was injured, was impressed that nearly all of the runners were students, some of whom weren't on campus two years ago.

"They came out and showed their respect," she said.

More than 2,000 people gathered later for a more somber event to remember the accomplishments of the 27 students and five faculty members killed.

"While the tragedy of April 16, 2007, touched us all, we know that 32 families continue to confront the deepest of all losses — the loss of a loved one, the loss of a life well-lived, and the loss of a bright and promising future," university President Charles Steger told the crowd.

Five of the injured students read passages during the ceremony. One, Colin Goddard, read an old Celtic prayer that said in part: "Be gentle as you walk with grief."

"This is extremely, extremely sad," said Holly Sherman, whose daughter Leslie Sherman was killed.

But she said it was helpful to see other family members again.

"We're sharing some feelings," she said. "There are benefits to having a day like this."

'3.2 for 32'
About 100 relatives of victims and injured students returned for the memorial ceremonies — a few more than last year, according to Debbie Day, head of the school's Office of Recovery and Support. Many still find it too painful to return, said Joseph Samaha, whose daughter Reema Samaha died.

Classes were canceled, but the response to the "3.2 for 32" race was so great that the school also delayed opening offices until midmorning to avoid traffic jams.

Events also included an open house in a new peace center that occupies a refurbished classroom wing where most of the victims died. The final event was a candlelight vigil at dusk.

Geraldine Adams, Leslie Sherman's grandmother, came from Kennewick, Wash., and found the experience healing.

"I'm so in awe of Virginia Tech," she said. "I saw all these people with pain on their faces. It fills you with humility."

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