ALLENTOWN, Pa. – A bell pealed 33 times inside the soaring cathedral at Muhlenberg College, breaking the silence as students mourned the dead in the Virginia Tech massacre hundreds of miles away.
Bound by the commonality of the campus experience, students sought to express their support for Virginia Tech and reassure each other that they still are safe.
"There's not much we can do for them, other than with our thoughts and prayers, and I'm sure that's why people showed up," said Muhlenberg student body president Scott Gordon, one of about 175 students who attended Tuesday's vigil.
Students planned similar observances later in the week in chapels, courtyards and campus centers across the country to reach out to Blacksburg, Va., where a student gunman killed 32 people then himself Monday.
"You wouldn't think people in central Pennsylvania would be as connected to it, but we are," said Jessica Liberati, a senior at Lebanon Valley College in Annville whose cousin attends Virginia Tech but was not injured.
At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, about 300 students turned out Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil in a courtyard outside a student center.
Some of them knew students who died at Virginia Tech, said Stacey Brozio, a junior who helped organize the service on short notice. Many placed candles around a reflecting pool at the end of the 45-minute gathering.
"It was a somber mood," junior Jon Elson said. "We know it could have been us."
At Muhlenberg, President Peyton Helm posted a message on the college Web site seeking to reassure students that the campus was safe. But many students said they were chilled by the thought that what happened at Virginia Tech could have happened on any college campus.
"It makes you feel vulnerable," sophomore Stephanie Siegel said.
Student leaders hung a giant condolence card inside the student union at California State University, Bakersfield and asked members of the campus community to sign it before mailing the card to Virginia Tech.
The school planned a memorial Friday to honor the victims.
"We wanted to reach out and let the students at Virginia Tech know that even though we're almost 3,000 miles away, that they are in our thoughts and prayers," said student body president Ken Beurmann.
Colorado State University and the University of Colorado planned vigils Wednesday, and a CSU alumni-student group was preparing care packages to send to Virginia Tech for finals week.
In Omaha, Neb., more than 100 students gathered at Creighton University for a prayer service for the victims and their families, and the gunman and his family.
Freshman Nicole Dollries said she came to show respect.
"It really does shake you, no matter where you're at, just to watch the events unfold in the news," Dollries said.