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Students, town mourn 'our fallen Hokies'

Story Highlights

• Makeshift memorials spring up on shaken campus as well as online
• Students instant-message each other to wear school colors for unity
• One student recounts the horror as "worst feeling I have ever experienced"
By Ashley Fantz and Kristi Keck
CNN
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BLACKSBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- The day after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Virginia Tech students and townspeople were absorbing what happened and trying to show unity.

At the War Memorial on campus, a makeshift memorial had been erected -- a 5-foot-tall cardboard "VT" -- the school's logo. It leaned against a tree, surrounded by tributes and a book of thoughts.

"To all our fallen Hokies," it read. (Watch online memorials that have been appearing Video)

Emily Alderman, 25, reflected on the difference between Monday and Tuesday.

"We were having fun this week -- we were looking forward to our spring [football game]," she said.

On Tuesday, she said the slayings of 32 Hokies, as Tech students are called, reminded her of what her mother told her after the September 11, 2001, attacks: "The devil is real."

Few people were walking around campus Tuesday. There was also little traffic on College Avenue, the main drag through Blacksburg.

Alderman, an employee at High Peak Sportswear on College Avenue, said that students had been instant-messaging each other to wear school-related gear "as a sign of unity, protest."

By midmorning, most people were wearing burnt orange or Chicago maroon -- the school's colors.

'The worst feeling I have ever experienced'

There was an uneasy vibe about campus -- flags at half-staff stood straight out or flapped in the gusty winds and students sat here and there, softly crying.

But bright sunshine flooded newly blooming foliage.

Roya Tavakolian was buying Hokie sweatshirts.

Tavakolian said one of her friends was killed in Monday's shooting. She described her friend as "the sweetest girl, always smiling."

The 19-year-old sophomore from Potomac, Maryland, said she heard of the shootings while working at an eatery in Squires Student Center.

"We were, like, shaking," she said. "It's the worst feeling I have ever experienced."

"I'm numb," she added. (Watch a witness describe "maniacal laughter" amid screams during the attack Video)

In the hours following the shooting, Tavakolian said she got "a million" instant messages. She said she posted a note on her Facebook page to assure everyone that she was safe.

As she looked at her new sweatshirts, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Hokie for life."

Police scanner kept students informed

Both Justin Bangerter and Wade Duvall said they learned about the shootings online.

Bangerter, a sophomore from Forest, Virginia, said that as the horror unfolded Monday, a friend found a link to a police radio scanner and they listened online.

Duvall, a freshman from Arlington, Virginia, said he was walking toward class when he encountered people coming in the opposite direction, saying, "Don't even bother trying to go to class."

As they continued, they ran into people running in the opposite direction.

"There were people running across with cop escorts. They were yelling, 'Go back! Go back!' " he said.

He said that when he found out that the death toll had climbed past 20, "that was when it really hit."

"It was like a 'they're out to get us' kind of thing," he said.

As they waited on the locked-down campus, Bangerter said he and his friends got some sandwiches and hung out. He said that he wasn't really scared. "We just stayed away from the windows."


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Freshman Wade Duvall, left, of Arlington, Virginia, and sophomore Justin Bangerter of Forest, Virginia, said they learned about the shootings online.

SPECIAL REPORT

INFORMATION

• Concerned parents should call the dean of students' office at (540) 231-3787.
• Anyone with information about the shootings should call the Virginia Tech Police Department at (540) 232-8477.
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