BLACKSBURG, Va. – Silence fell across the Virginia Tech campus at noon Friday and bells tolled in churches nationwide in memory of the 32 victims of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
At Virginia Tech, hundreds of somber students and area residents, most wearing the school's maroon and orange, stood with heads bowed at a memorial on the Drillfield in front of Norris Hall, where most of the victims in Monday's massacre died. Along with the bouquets and candles was a yellow sign covered in maroon and orange handprints, bearing the words "Never forgotten."
"It's good to feel the love of people around you," said Alice Lo, an alumna and friend of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in the rampage. "With this evil, there is still goodness."
The mourners gathered in front of simple stone memorials, each adorned with a basket of tulips and an American flag. There were 33 stones — one for each victim and Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old gunman who took their lives.
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"His family is suffering just as much as the other families," said Elizabeth Lineberry of Hillsville, who will be a freshman at Tech in the fall.
As experts pored over Cho's videotaped rant and his twisted writings, Gov. Timothy Kaine declared Friday a statewide day of mourning for the victims, and parents urged everyone to focus on the young people cut down in the attack, not the killer.
"We want the world to know and celebrate our children's lives, and we believe that's the central element that brings hope in the midst of great tragedy," said Peter Read, who lost his 19-year-old daughter, Mary Karen Read. "These kids were the best that their generation has to offer."
Churches around the country, from California to the National Cathedral in Washington, planned vigils and prayer services.
"It's a whole family," said Jan Meehan-Tardiff of Blacksburg, a nurse who has four family members with degrees from Virginia Tech. Around Blacksburg, "you either work at Tech, serve Tech in business or go to Tech."
President Bush wore an orange and maroon tie in a show of support. The White House said he also asked top officials at the Justice, Health and Human Services and Education Departments to travel the country, talk to educators, mental health experts and others, and compile a report on how to prevent similar tragedies.
In Richmond, several thousand people jammed a park at Virginia Commonwealth University as a distant church bell tolled 32 times across VCU's silent urban campus. Beneath the park's massive oaks, people stood with their heads bowed, tears welling in their eyes.
"As a parent, you just can't imagine what their families are going through," said Diane Willard of suburban Richmond. Her own two children attend a community college.
Nearby, James Verlander, a burly Richmond firefighter, shed tears and tenderly recited a Christian responsive reading. "If this doesn't hurt you, something's wrong with you," he said.
As families mourned and began burying the victims, investigators worked on the evidence and looked into the warning signs in Cho's past, including two stalking complaints against him and a psychiatric hospital visit in which he was found to be a danger to himself.
Police filed a search warrant for a laptop and cell phone used by one of the first victims, Emily Hilscher, who was shot in a dormitory.
"The computer would be one way the suspect could have communicated with the victim," the warrant said, but it offered no basis for a belief that Cho might have been in contact with her.
Investigators are "making some really great progress" into determining how and why the shootings happened, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Friday. She said they hope to have something to tell the public next week.
"The why and the how are the crux of the investigation," Geller said. "The why may never be determined because the person responsible is deceased."
Authorities want to know why Cho selected Hilscher and Ryan Clark as his first victims. "We're trying to establish those links, if there are any," Geller said.
The governor also appointed an independent panel that includes former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to look into how authorities handled the tragedy.
Ridge said the group would look into the time lapse between the first attack and the second, how students were notified of the dangers, and whether privacy laws and the need to communicate for safety conflicted, among other things.
"This was out-and-out murder," Ridge said. "This was a horribly, horribly deranged young man."
Cho's videos, which were mailed to NBC the morning of the killings, revealed a man angry at the world but offered little explanation of why, other than rambling tirades against rich kids, snobs and people who had wronged him.
As experts analyzed the disturbing materials, it became increasingly clear that Cho was almost a classic case of a school shooter: a painfully awkward, picked-on young man who lashed out with methodical fury at a world he believed was out to get him.
"In virtually every regard, Cho is prototypical of mass killers that I've studied in the past 25 years," said Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, co-author of 16 books on crime. "That doesn't mean, however, that one could have predicted his rampage."
Among other things, the South Korean immigrant was sent to a psychiatric hospital and pronounced an imminent danger to himself. He was accused of stalking two women and photographing female students in class with his cell phone. And his violence-filled writings were so disturbing he was removed from one class, and professors begged him to get counseling.
Classmates in Virginia, where Cho grew up, said he was teased and picked on, apparently because of shyness and his strange, mumbly way of speaking.
Among the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre were two other Westfield High graduates, Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson. Both young women graduated from the high school last year, but police said it is not clear whether Cho singled them out.