Students on the campus of Virginia Tech University are pausing Friday (April 16) to remember the lives of 32 students who were killed on the school's campus three years ago in the worst mass school shooting in U.S. history.
They will gather Friday evening to light candles and place them next to the 32 limestone blocks commemorating the victims of the massacre in a ceremony that has taken place every year since a troubled lone gunman, student Cho Seung-Hui, killed 32 students and faculty and then himself on April 16, 2007.
According to the Washington Post, this year's ceremony has taken on added significance, because of the upcoming graduation of a number of students on the Blacksburg, Virginia, campus who were freshmen at the time of the incident, an increasingly shrinking group that has taken to calling itself the "4/16 generation."
Those who watched the events unfold, or were on campus at the time, have begun to wonder what will change at the 28,000-student university once the last of the witnesses to the assault leave the grounds and move on with their lives.
"It's inevitable that it's going to fade a little bit and that it won't mean as much to the community," said student-body president Brandon Carroll, 21, who helped pack up the apartment of a friend who was killed by Cho. "If you don't have that shared bond with other classes, then it's slowly going to lose its significance." Some seniors have noticed that there is already a diminished intensity to the day of reflection, with some freshmen seeing it as a day off rather than a time to take stock.
The day of remembrance will unfold in a similar fashion to past commemorations, with events around campus highlighting the achievements of the victims and honoring their memory and the cancellation of classes. It began with the lighting of a memorial candle that will burn for 24 hours at midnight on Friday and will include a 3.2-mile run that has 6,000 registrants in honor of the victims. The day off from classes is scheduled to be phased out in 2012, on the fifth anniversary of the incident.
Among those paying tribute Friday were Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who led a ceremony at the state Capitol that included a moment of silence and the reading of the names of each student and teacher killed in the shooting. The Associated Press reported that McDonnell read a proclamation and said the state would observe Virginia Tech Remembrance Day each April 16 during his four-year term. The ceremony ended with the ringing of a bell 32 times.
Officials have not been able to determine what motivated 23-year-old Centreville, Virginia, native Cho Seung-Hui to commit the murder spree, but reports in the aftermath of the incident portrayed him as an intensely lonely young man with violent tendencies who had previous run-ins with some students and had raised concerns from professors through his violent writing.
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