Blacksburg, Virginia: They may have been living in Blacksburg, Va., but they came from all over the world. And even many of those from places like Saugus, Mass., or Roanoke, Va., were undertaking global pursuits like studying French or German or majoring in international relations.
But with one devastating act, the 32 men and women from places as far apart as Romania, Peru and Nova Scotia were united in a horrifying fate, massacred by a student who was born in another land, a 23-year-old South Korean.
Among those killed were an animal-science major from Woodville, Va., who was an avid equestrian; an engineering graduate student from Puerto Rico who loved salsa and played in a band; a red belt in tae kwan do from Vienna, Va., who wanted to breed dogs; and a graduate student from Louisville, Ky., who was an avid fan of the Virginia Tech football team.
Liviu Librescu, 76, a professor who had done groundbreaking work in aeronautical engineering, was born in Romania and survived the Holocaust, only to be killed on Yom Hashoah, the international day that commemorates Holocaust victims.
Students said Librescu had blocked the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman from entering. A daughter-in-law, Ayala Librescu, who lives in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv, told Ynet, the Web site of the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot: ”He must have realized that the murderer was approaching. He saved his students and was killed by gunshots.”
At least four other teachers were killed, including Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French teacher from Truro, Nova Scotia, and Jamie Bishop, 35, an instructor in German language and literature who studied at the University of Georgia and also spent several years in Germany. Couture-Nowak’s husband, Jerzy Nowak, teaches horticulture at Virginia Tech, and Bishop’s wife, Stephanie Hofer, teaches in the German program.
G.V. Loganathan, 51, born in Chennai in southern India, had been teaching civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech for 25 years, specializing in the analysis and design of water systems.
Nammalwar Sriranganathan, who teaches bacteriology at Virginia Tech, said Loganathan was part of a close-knit Indian community of 700 students and 70 families who got together often for Hindu prayer meetings and social gatherings.
Kevin P. Granata, 45, was considered an up-and-coming researcher in his fields, muscle and reflex response, robotics and the mechanics of walking and running.
“He was one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy,” Dr. Ishwar K. Puri, the dean of engineering, said in a statement. “The use of his research by other scholars worldwide had put him on a trajectory to become a notable star in these fields.”
Among the slain students were at least four international studies majors and at least eight engineering majors, including graduate students. At least three students were gunned down in a French class and several in a German class.
Henry Lee, 20, a freshman from Roanoke, Va., had achieved much despite significant odds. He was born in China as Henh P. Ly and his parents came to the United States when he was in elementary school, said Susan Lewyer Willis, the principal at William Fleming High School, who said he changed his name to Henry Lee when he became a citizen last year.
In high school, in addition to working at a Sears store, he was such a diligent student that he won nearly all the awards in his senior year, including the Burger King award, which entitled every classmate to a card with Lee’s picture on it that could be exchanged for a free Whopper.
As salutatorian, he was asked to give a speech but was so nervous that he had to be coaxed into it, Willis said.
“He said to them,” she recounted, ‘Imagine sitting in class not knowing the language. Now I am No. 2 in my class.’ It was such a proud moment.”
Jarrett Lane, 22, a civil engineering major, was valedictorian of his high school class in Narrows, Va., as well as a four-sport athlete who also played the trombone.
“He was an exceptional young man,” said Robert Stump, the Narrows High School principal. “Very quiet and humble, and very popular.
”He was always one of the hardest workers,” Stump continued. ”One day, right after he’d had a good basketball game, he went up to the coach, and said, ‘Coach, what do I have to work on so we can be better?’ That’s the type of person he was.”
Ross Abdallah Alameddine, 20, a sophomore from Saugus, Mass., was known as fun loving and full of humour, friends said.
Leah Robinson, 20, befriended Alameddine last semester when they discovered they were the lone nonmusic majors in a music theory class. Alameddine was a “hardcore” fan of the jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood and loved the grilled chicken sandwiches at the West End Market dining hall and the teal Pontiac Grand Am that he had won in a raffle.
“He called it the car he got for a dollar,” Robinson said.
Reema Samaha, 18, a freshman and Lebanese-American from Centreville, Va., who was killed in the French class, was an avid dancer and actor who won awards in high school for her performances in productions like Fiddler on the Roof. A family friend, Luann McNabb, said Samaha had won the high school talent show with a belly dance.
“She was so full of joy,” McNabb said through tears.
And Daniel O’Neil, 22, a graduate student in environmental engineering from Lincoln, R.I., played guitar and wrote songs with titles like Missing You and Typical Love Song.
O’Neil’s high school yearbook, according to The Providence Journal, reflected a lighthearted optimism and a fondness for things Disney. He quoted a signature phrase from the Lion King, Hakuna Matata, that was translated as “No Worries” in Swahili.
Accompanying his photograph was this quotation: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.”