They held candlelight vigils in honor of the dead. They dressed in orange-and-maroon Hokie garb and made special trips to mid-week church services. They sprayed the entrance of Virginias Techs Alexandria campus with flowers, cards and notes of endearment. Thirty-two women dressed in black lay down in front of City Hall to protest the easy availability of handguns.
In the days since the April 16 tragedy at Virginia Tech, thousands of Alexandria residents paid homage to the 33 lives lost in their own way, in a variety of empathetic and compassionate acts.
On Wednesday evening, Old Towns Market Square became illuminated by a sea of white candles during a solemn vigil sponsored by metro area Virginia Tech alumni. More than 1,200 mourners attended, with more than a few weeping openly and wrapping each other in long embraces.
Our community was violated Monday, said Dr. Jim Bohland, a Virginia Tech professor and director of National Capital Operations for the Blacksburg-based university. That pain will be with us for a long time.
While Patricia Flowers Jacobina, the wife of one of Techs faculty members, performed a soaring rendition of Amazing Grace, city officials, state lawmakers and other friends of the university lit 32 enormous candles at the dais, while the crowd held their own candles aloft, in a show of solidarity. Local alumni concluded the vigil by leading well-wishers in an upbeat chant, Lets Go Hokies!
Let us go forward remembering those who lost their lives Monday and strengthen our resolve to remember those who will never return to our campus or to any campus, Bohland said. Tonight, we are all Hokies.
One of those attending, Sarah Gaines, 23, of Alexandria, graduated from Tech last year with a degree in Political Science and once shared classes with one of the students killed. Ill just start thinking about it and Ill start crying, she said. As the days have gone on its just gotten harder.
Chamro Eun Men, 22, also an 06 grad, said when she was at Tech no one in her dormitory locked their doors. One of the things I loved about the school is that its such a safe school, she said. This is like a bad dream.
For most of last week, local young alumni said they kept in touch with friends at Tech through Facebook, an online social network. I kept calling my sorority sisters to see if they were okay but the phone lines were clogged, said Gaines, a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority. When I finally got through, I learned that my sorority did a roll call and everyone was accounted for.
Three local students, who lived in the same dormitory as gunman Cho Seung-Hui of Centreville, congregated Thursday at Bittersweet Cafe in Old Town. They remembered Cho as being detached from the rest of the close-knit members of Harper Hall, where Cho lived in a three-room suite that he shared with five other students on the second floor.
Jessica Romaine, 19, of Alexandria, a sophomore and graduate of Thomas Edison High School, said her roommate lives near Columbine, CO., site of the 1999 shooting rampage that killed 12 students and a teacher, and the third-deadliest school shooting in the United States.