BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech's hopes for a year free of tragedy were dashed by a carbon monoxide leak at an off-campus apartment complex that critically sickened two students and sent 17 other people to hospitals.
The leak was discovered late Sunday morning after a neighbor complained of fumes, just as Virginia Tech was preparing to dedicate a memorial to the 27 students and five faculty members killed April 16 by Seung-Hui Cho. Fall semester classes begin Monday.
The two students critically sickened were at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. Their three roommates, all 19-year-old sophomores, were in stable condition at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
Fourteen people were treated at hospitals and released Sunday.
The leak appeared to be from a faulty valve in a gas water heater in the apartment the five women shared, Blacksburg Police Capt. Bruce Bradbery said.
Bradbery said he was at the dedication ceremony on the main lawn of the 2,600-acre campus when he got a call about the injuries.
"Enough's enough," he said.
Tech enrolled a record freshman class of 5,200 for the fall, but university spokesman Mark Owczarski said officials won't know for a couple of weeks exactly how many of the 26,000 students returned this fall. Of those who withdrew before classes started, he said, only two reported they were doing so because of the shootings.
"There doesn't appear anything out of the ordinary," he said. "It's normal numbers."
One change is that no classes will be held in Norris Hall, where most of the killings took place. It is being used exclusively for engineering laboratories and offices.
The building was closed entirely for nearly two months, delaying research for students in the engineering science and mechanics department. Graduation was delayed a semester for two students, department chairman Ishwar Puri said Sunday.
"Coming back to Norris Hall is not as simple as we expected," he said. "The challenge, really, is the emotional state of the group as a whole."
Two students so far have said they didn't want to return for laboratory work, and Puri said some support staff may leave.
However, most faculty, staff and students are moving forward, he said.
Replacements have been hired for the French and German instructors killed in Norris. But officials in the College of Engineering said searches must be conducted to fill the positions of its three tenured professors who were slain, and other faculty members are teaching their classes.
"The spirit and resilience of the Virginia Tech community have amazed the world," university president Charles Steger told more than 10,000 who gathered for the memorial dedication. "As the academic year begins, we must maintain that optimism."
The 32 stones engraved with the names of those killed replaced smaller stones that a student group placed in a semicircle in front of the administration building right after the killings. All are of locally mined gray limestone that also is used in many of the university's collegiate gothic buildings.
The 300-pound stones were laid in the same spot as the original stones, which were given to about 100 family members who attended the ceremony. After a bell rang 32 times at the end of the ceremony, relatives of the slain moved forward to visit the memorial.
In the original semicircle, a 33rd stone was added anonymously for Cho. University officials had said it would be offered to Cho's family, but it vanished before that could occur.