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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Campus mourns as grief sets in
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Blacksburg

A memorial on the grounds of Virginia Tech
Calm has descended on campus, but the memorials are growing
There is a sense that the grieving has begun in earnest on the Virginia Tech campus and in Blacksburg.

The only signs of activity are around the memorial boards set up on the edge of the drill field, where thousands gathered for a solemn candlelit vigil on Tuesday evening.

Now the field is almost empty, crossed only by a handful of students and Blacksburg residents making their way to add new tributes to the many already there.

Most seem reluctant to leave the site where those who died in Monday's shooting are being honoured. They stand with their heads bowed as they read, or hug each other for comfort.

"You are in our thoughts and prayers," people have written. "Gone but never forgotten" and "I never knew you but we are all family here", other notes say.

Seemingly outnumbered by the media, many students seem more withdrawn and shocked than after the communal outpourings of emotion on Tuesday.

Two young men sit quietly reading verses from the Bible to each other, their way of coping with the tragic deaths of 32 of their fellows.

Eerily quiet

Elsewhere on campus, walkways that would normally be bustling with staff and students making their way from class to class are deserted.

With lectures cancelled until next week, many have made their way home to spend time with family and friends.

Kyle Gochenour
This is my home. This school's my home. I always wanted to go here and I don't want to leave
Kyle Gochenour
Virginia Tech student
Emma Betz, a high school student from Blacksburg, says the sense of desertion is almost eerie.

"It's the wrong season," she says. "We're used to it being so quiet in the summer, but not now."

The town is still in shock, she says, with most people struggling to believe what has happened on campus.

The university population, at 26,000, is larger than that of the town - and everyone in Blacksburg has links of some kind to the students and staff.

Not everyone has left the campus, however.

Twenty-one-year-old undergraduate student Kyle Gochenour says: "It's hard to deal with - I've lost six or seven people and more names are coming in. I've lost a professor as well.

"But this is my home. This school's my home. I always wanted to go here and I don't want to leave."

'No backlash'

Everywhere, people speak of the community's resilience and desire to get things back to normal.

Reports that Korean students fear some kind of backlash as a result of gunman Cho Seung-hui's actions appear to be largely unfounded, in Blacksburg at least.

Drill field
The drill field seems deserted now, after a candle-lit vigil on Tuesday
Jeremy Rasor, youth minister at the Blacksburg Baptist Church, where some 200 to 300 Koreans worship, says he has heard of no such concerns among the congregation.

"We will support them here and if there is some kind of connection with the guy in question [Cho Seung-hui], we will help them with their feelings," he says.

Jason, a Korean PhD student who has been at Virginia Tech for five years, also rejects any idea of a reaction against his countrymen.

"I'm really sad but this has nothing to do with my nationality. It's just a tragedy for all humankind," he says.

"Legally he is a Korean but he grew up in the US, he grew up in the American culture."

Gie Kim, president of the Korean American Coalition, a national organisation, says: "There has been no confirmed story of any backlash. We are not hearing that nationwide.

"I think there may be some hysteria among the students. There is some talk about the possibility that it happens and we are trying to address that right now.

"But we don't want to put the cart before the horse, we don't want to talk about something happening and in a way create that possibility."

Tributes on campus
Tributes to those who died are scrawled on boards around campus
Mala Kumar, president of the student International Relations Organisation at Virginia Tech, says the Asian community in Virginia is so large that she doubts an isolated incident could affect people's attitudes.

For many, the resumption of university classes next week could be the biggest test to come, as the horror of the week's events finally sinks in.

"It still doesn't feel real and I don't know when it will ever feel real," says Kyle.

"I don't know if it's when I go back to class and they are not sitting next to me, or when I go back home and see everyone, and I'm not in Blacksburg.

"You're raised to be strong but at times like this, it's hard."

Virginia Tech students' views on the gunman's video

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