SHENYANG, China – The Chinese student killed in the Boston Marathon blasts grew up in an intellectual family in a northeastern Chinese city with gritty, industrial roots, and graduated from a highly competitive high school that routinely sends students abroad.
In Boston, where 23-year-old Lu Lingzi enrolled in graduate-level study in statistics, friends and teachers remembered her as an exceptional student and an exuberant personality who delighted in spring blossoms and culinary treats.
"The word bubbly — that's kind of a corny word — but that describes her very well," said Tasso Kaper, chairman of the mathematics and statistics department at Boston University. He added that Lu was "very interested" in flowers. "Spring is a very important time of year for her."
Back home in the Chinese city of Shenyang — where residents are still bundled in heavy coats to fend off chilly temperatures and strong winds — Lu's family home is an apartment on the grounds of a Communist Party training academy where her grandfather was a professor, neighbors said.
A woman who said she was a housekeeper at the apartment said Lu's parents — who are believed to be on their way to the U.S. — had left already.
Lu went to a nearby primary school before being admitted to a highly selective experimental public facility, Northeast Yucai School, where she studied from seventh through 12th grade. About 100 of the 600 graduates annually go to study abroad in countries including Australia, Singapore, Japan, France, Britain and the United States, and the rest usually go to top universities, often in Beijing. Local media say Lu scored the second highest in her class to go to Beijing Institute of Technology.
"It is such a pity. She was an excellent student and she got a chance to study abroad but didn't finish her study," Shenyang resident Zhang Zhuang said in an interview. "It is such a sad story. Her parents must be heartbroken."
Once a center of heavy industry under China's planned economy, Shenyang decayed and formed part of the country's rust belt in the 1990s. Now booming, it has sleek skyscrapers rising from its downtown areas, with many more under construction. Several high-rises are topped with domes and steeples in a nod to the Russian influence on the northeastern region known as Manchuria.
As news of her death spread in China, followers of her Chinese-language microblog multiplied more than tenfold to over 5,000 on Thursday. Under Lu's last post — a picture of her bread-and-fruit breakfast on the day of the marathon — people posted candle emoticons and wrote "rest in peace."
"We don't know each other, but we are from the city and now studying at the same city. Looking at your beautiful face, my eyes turned red," one of them said. Another said, "I can't believe this is your last breakfast, your parents must have been devastated."
The U.S. Embassy said Ambassador Gary Locke spoke to Lu's family to offer his condolences, and that they had been issued visas to travel to the U.S.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also asked that his condolences be conveyed, state media reported.
Remembrance of Lu in China has largely taken place on the Internet. On Wednesday night, Shenyang residents held a vigil for her on a downtown pedestrian street, lighting candles to photos of a smiling Lu.
In Boston, fellow students held memorial gatherings for Lu at the math department and at a campus chapel.
Another memorial was planned at the school's arena Thursday evening.
Boston University said Lu and two friends had been watching the Boston Marathon near the finish line. One of the friends, also a BU student from China, was injured while the other was unharmed, it said.
Dr. Peter Burke, chief of trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center, said Thursday that the injured student was being treated there and was "doing better."
"She's not in a coma, so she is making progress," he said.
Lisa Allee, head of the hospital's Community Violence Response Team, said they are working with the Chinese Consulate to get the woman's family to her bedside.
"She actually has a huge support network of friends from the community, from the school, who have been here at her bedside the entire time," she said.