Ten years after a stunning rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, family and friends of those slain returned to the school in the rolling hills of Blacksburg on Sunday for a Day of Remembrance.
A ceremonial candle was lit just after midnight for the 32 students and faculty who lost their lives in gunfire from a mentally ill student in what was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets stood guard for 32 minutes, and the names of the victims were read as Taps echoed in the background.
"So many of us will never forget where we were on April 16, 2007. 10 years later, we remember the victims, survivors & heroes," tweeted Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was governor at the time of the shooting.
Kaine participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and moment of silence later Sunday morning with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at 9:43 a.m., the time when student Seung-Hui Cho's massacre began in Norris Hall.
Kaine said he still recalls the terror of that day. But he said he has become close to many survivors and victims’ families. “We’re going with a lot of different emotions, but we wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he said.
The rampage, which also left 17 people injured, reignited a debate on gun laws and led to monumental changes in school security and campus emergency notification systems nationwide.
A student volunteer group called Hokies United placed 32 Hokie Stones on the school's Drillfield in the bleak hours after the shooting. It was a poignant display that became a permanent memorial, and the Blacksburg campus soon became a symbol of resilience and recovery.
In the days leading up to the anniversary this year, emotions swirled as current students planned the events.
"There’s a mood of remembrance and reflection on the campus right now,” said Mark Owczarski, a Virginia Tech spokesperson. “It’s on everyone’s minds.”
Owczarski said the university is expecting the largest turnout of alumni, students and community members since 2007 to return to the campus. “Ten years is an important designation and commemoration of time,” he said. “It’s a big marker of time for people to go back and reflect, and that’s really the whole focus of what we’re doing.”
Later Sunday, a commemoration was to be held on the Drillfield with the reading of the names and biographies of the 32 victims. Also on display: condolence items from other colleges and universities and some of the 90,000 remembrance gifts sent from people around the world in 2007.
Contributing: Casey Smith, USA TODAY College, the Associated Press.