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Bush Leads Prayers at Virginia Tech Service

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm, Michele Norris.

Virginia Tech is a university in mourning today, one day after a student killed two people in a dorm and another 30 in a classroom building before committing suicide.

SIEGEL: The shooter has been identified as Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old senior who was majoring in English. More on him in just a few minutes.

NORRIS: Since the killings, Virginia Tech students have been posting online memorials to their classmates. This evening, the school is organizing a candlelight vigil, and this afternoon thousands of people attended convocation at the Blacksburg University to remember those who died.

Mr. CHARLES STEGER (President, Virginia Tech): Words are very weak symbols of our true emotions at times such as this. It's overwhelming, almost paralyzing, yet our hearts and our minds call to us to come together to share our individual attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible, to make sense of the senseless, and to find ways for our community to heal.

NORRIS: That was Virginia Tech president Charles Steger.

SIEGEL: NPR's Adam Hochberg is in Blacksburg, Virginia and he has more on the day's events.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Virginia Tech officials called the gunman a loner, an undergraduate English major who was less than two and a half weeks away from finishing his senior year. Seung-Hui Cho is a native of South Korea who came to the United States with his parents as a child. He was a permanent legal resident of the U.S. and spent much of his youth in Centreville, Virginia.

But people at Virginia Tech who knew Cho said his behavior was sometimes troubling. Lucinda Roy was Cho's creative writing professor. She said some of his writing alarmed her, so much so that she notified not only other faculty members but also the police.

Professor LUCINDA ROY (Virginia Tech): I just felt that he was a very depressed student and seemed to be angry about some things, and so I felt that there was some things that I needed to do to try to make sure that I reached out to him and found out more, because that's what you meant to do as a teacher.

HOCHBERG: University officials wouldn't comment on a possible motive for the killings, but the FBI says a long rambling note was found in Cho's dorm room.

In it, Cho criticized what he called rich kids and debauchery on campus. Police said ballistics tests show the same weapon was used in both shooting sprees: the one in the dormitory that left two people dead and the one in a classroom building, Norris Hall, where the gunman killed 30 people before fatally shooting himself.

Virginia State Police Colonel Steve Flaherty told reporters the crime scene in Norris Hall was unlike any he ever encountered.

Mr. STEVE FLAHERTY (Virginia State Police): What went on during that incident certainly caused tremendous chaos and panic in Norris Hall. Victims were found in at least four classrooms as well as a stairwell. You all have recorded that this is the most horrific incident that's occurred on college campus in our country, and the scene certainly bore that out.

HOCHBERG: Virginia Tech president Charles Steger announced that Norris Hall will be closed for at least the rest of this semester and all classes on campus will be canceled for the rest of this week. He said that will give students and employees time to grieve and to seek help if they feel they need it to cope with the tragedy. But Steger today also began looking to the future, saying the university must start healing.

Mr. STEGER: I know that the Virginia Tech community and certainly the world at large continues to struggle with these horrible events. But I want to assure you that we're doing everything possible to move forward.

(Soundbite of music)

HOCHBERG: As part of the process of moving ahead, a convocation was held on campus this afternoon, partly a memorial service for the dead, partly an opportunity for counselors to help students and others deal with grief.

President Bush, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Laura, noted that yesterday began like any other day, before, in the president's words, it developed into the worst stay in the lives of Virginia Tech students.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone and they leave behind grieving families and grieving classmates and a grieving nation.

HOCHBERG: The president spoke to hundreds of people at the somber ceremony in the university's basketball stadium. Many wore the school colors of orange and maroon, which quickly have become a symbol here not only of support for Virginia Tech but also of sympathy for yesterday's victims.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Adam Hochberg
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Adam Hochberg reports on a broad range of issues in the Southeast. Since he joined NPR in 1995, Hochberg has traveled the region extensively, reporting on its changing economy, demographics, culture and politics. He also currently focuses on transportation. Hochberg covered the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed candidates in three Presidential elections and reported on more than a dozen hurricanes.