Returning Virginia Tech students balance melancholy with hope as fall classes approach

BLACKSBURG Va.

Sophomore Dat Hoang was eager to return to Virginia Tech, but moving back Wednesday also brought back memories of the friend he lost in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“It reminds me of tragedy,” he said. “It reminds me of good times we had.”

Hoang and his friend, Henry J. Lee, lived in West Ambler Johnston dormitory, where gunman Seung-Hui Cho began his April 16 shooting spree. On Wednesday, Hoang was moving in without his friend into Harper Hall, the dormitory where Cho lived.

“I don’t want to think too much about it,” said Hoang, of Fairfax. “It doesn’t matter where he lived.”

The mood among most students and parents hauling belongings into dormitories was cheerful four months after Cho’s spree left 32 people and the gunman dead.

“It feels about like move-in day last year,” said Matt Croushorn, a sophomore who was helping others move into their rooms in West Ambler Johnston. More students are expected to move in over the next several days.

Croushorn, too, lived in that dormitory last year. In the aftermath, he said, the students have grown closer.

“It was a terrible thing,” said Croushorn, of Blacksburg, but “it has provided such unity and focus on campus.”

More students than usual are expected at an annual picnic on Sunday afternoon, before classes start Monday, said university spokesman Mark Owczarski. The event usually is on the main lawn of the 2,600-acre campus but has been moved to Lane Stadium.

Other upbeat events to launch the semester include pep rallies and a free concert Sept. 6 by the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Phil Vassar and Nas.

Training for dormitory resident advisers didn’t change this year other than to prepare them for questions about the shootings, said Damola Omotosho of Laurel, Md., who will be an RA for the second year in West Ambler Johnston.

Omotosho was friends with Ryan Clark, an RA killed in the dormitory. He said he was having a hard time being back on campus until a friend brought up Clark.

“Someone told me, ‘Think about Ryan,’ he said. “Ryan wouldn’t want us to sit here and sulk. Ryan would be helping people.”

Both Omotosho and Hoang said they were looking forward to the first official event of the semester: a service Sunday on the main lawn to dedicate individual stone memorials engraved with the names of Cho’s victims.

The stones will be in the spot where a student group placed unmarked stones right after the shootings that became a focal point for expressions of grief.

Audrey Alderman of Thomasville, Ga., moved her son Alan onto campus for his freshman year and said she had no qualms about leaving him at Tech.

“You have to believe there’s more good in people than bad,” she said.

It helped that Alan had assured her he felt safe. “He came home from school that day and it was on TV,” she said, pausing as her voice cracked. “He said ‘Mom, it doesn’t matter. This could have happened anywhere.'”

– Associated Press



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