BLACKSBURG, Va. – As pastor of Blacksburg Baptist Church, Tommy McDearis was called on to tell more than 20 families a loved one had fallen victim to Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho.
On Sunday, he urged his congregation and the university to put the pain of the rampage behind them by returning to classes Monday.
"If we give up in the face of this situation, if we quit doing all of the things that really matter in life because this darkness has visited us, then we are going to surrender to the darkness," McDearis said.
McDearis delivered his sermon Sunday as students who had left school following the massacre returned to campus. He told the story of a professor devastated by the deaths of several of his students at Norris Hall, where Cho killed 30 students and faculty members before turning the gun on himself.
The professor said he didn't know if he could come back. But failing to doing so, he said, would be a betrayal of the memories, hopes and dreams of the victims.
"There is no way that any of them would ever look at us and want us to give up," McDearis said. "We owe them more than to just throw in the towel."
In getting ready for the resumption of classes, the university's student government asked hundreds of reporters to leave campus by Monday morning.
Student government spokeswoman Liz Hart said the campus appreciates the reporting on the Virginia Tech story, but students are ready to move forward.
"The best way to know how to do that is get the campus back to normal," she said. "That includes being able to go back to class, to get back into our normal routine as much as a possible without being held back by anything external, reminding us that it will be a difficult road. We already know it."
Yellow crime-scene tape still surrounded the perimeter of Norris Hall, which will be closed for the rest of the semester. Some people snapped photos of the building; others gazed at it solemnly, with bowed heads.
Elsewhere on campus, students toted laundry and suitcases as they headed for their dorms. On the Drillfield at the center of campus, sophomore Ashleigh Shifflett sat with her sister Regan, a 2005 graduate.
Shifflett left campus Tuesday for her home in Maryland and returned to campus Saturday.
"When we ... could see the campus, we both started crying," Shifflett said. "I was happy to see my family, but I felt like I needed to be here, and when I came back here, it was like I'm home."
The investigation into Cho continues, with computer forensics appearing to play a key role. The gunman, a sullen loner who appeared to have few if any friends, bought ammunition magazines on eBay designed for one of two handguns used to kill 32 people and himself.
The eBay account and other Internet activities provide insight into how Cho may have plotted for the rampage, including the purchase of several empty ammo magazines about three weeks before the attack.
Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman, said the purchase of the magazines from a Web vendor based in Idaho was legal and that the company has cooperated with authorities. Attempts to reach the Idaho dealer were unsuccessful.
"Within 24 hours, after Cho's identity was made public, we had reached out to law enforcement to offer our assistance in any investigation," Durzy said.
Authorities are also examining the personal computers found in Cho's dorm room and seeking his cell-phone records.
Cho, 23, also used the eBay account to sell items ranging from Hokies football tickets to horror-themed books, some of which were assigned in one of his classes.
A search warrant affidavit filed Friday stated that investigators wanted to search Cho's e-mail accounts, including the address Blazers5505@hotmail.com. Durzy confirmed Cho used the same blazers5505 handle on eBay.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said investigators are "aware of the eBay activity that mirrors" the Hotmail account.
One question investigators hope to answer is whether Cho had any e-mail contact with Emily Hilscher, one of the first two victims. Investigators plan to search her Virginia Tech e-mail account.
Experts say that when the subject of an investigation is a loner like Cho, his computers and cell phone can be a rich source of information. Authorities say Cho had a history of sending menacing text messages and other communications — written and electronic.
On March 22, Cho bought at least two 10-round magazines for the Walther P22. A day later, he made a purchase from a vendor named "oneclickshooting," which sells gun accessories and other items. It appears that he bought three Walther P22 clips in that purchase, but the seller could not be reached for comment.
Cho sold tickets to Virginia Tech sporting events, including last year's Peach Bowl. He sold a Texas Instruments graphics calculator that contained several games, most of them with mild themes.
"The calculator was used for less than one semester then I dropped the class," Cho wrote on the site.
He also sold many books about violence, death and mayhem. Several of those books were used in his English classes, meaning Cho simply could have been selling used books at the end of the semester.
Cho sold the books on the eBay-affiliated site half.com. They include "Men, Women, and Chainsaws" by Carol J. Clover, a book that explores gender in the modern horror film. Others include "The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre"; and "The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense" by Joyce Carol Oates — a book in which the publisher writes: "In these and other gripping and disturbing tales, women are confronted by the evil around them and surprised by the evil they find within themselves."
Books by those three authors were taught in his Contemporary Horror class.
His eBay rating was superb — 98.5 percent. That means he received one negative rating from people he dealt with on eBay, compared with 65 positive.
"great ebayer. very flexible. AAAAAA+++++" the buyer said of his Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl tickets, which went for $182.50.
Andy Koch, Cho's roommate from 2005-06, said he never saw Cho receive or send a package, although he didn't have much interaction with the shooter. Students can sign up for a free lottery on a game-by-game basis, and the tickets are free.
"We took him to one football game," he said. "We told him to sign up for the lottery, and he went and he left like in the third quarter, and that was it. He never went again. He never went to another game."
Experts say things like eBay transactions can be hugely valuable in trying to figure out the motivation behind crimes.
An examination of a computer is "very revealing, particularly for a person like this," said Mark Rasch of FTI Consulting, a computer and electronic investigation firm. "What we find ... particularly with people who are very uncommunicative in person, is that they may be much more communicative and free to express themselves with the anonymity that computers and the Internet give you."
Cho's computer could hold a record of just about anything he has done, even of activities or communications he may have tried to erase. But Rasch said that likely will not be a problem, noting the way the gunman created a record of his thinking in videos, photos and documents.
"This guy wanted to leave a trail. He wasn't trying to conceal what he did," Rasch said.