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- April 30, 2007
- Vol. 67
- No. 17
The Lives They Lived
Promising Students, Beloved Teachers: Family and Friends Remember Their Lost Loved Ones—32 Dead at Press Time, 29 Identified
RYAN CLARK, 22
Senior. Major: psychology, biology and English
Juggling three areas of study (plus band practice—he played the baritone—and resident-advisor duties at West Ambler Johnston Hall) "was nothing to him," says stepsister Claressa Thompson of Ryan, who also has a twin, Bryan, who is in the Marines. "He never said he was tired and still made time for everybody. He was outgoing and always had a joke. If there was a bad situation, he would know how to laugh about it. I know he wouldn't want us to be all mopey."
EMILY HILSCHER, 18
Freshman. Major: animal and poultry sciences
Hilscher, Cho's first victim, carried her girlhood love of horses to college, where she was a member of the equestrian club. "She absolutely loved animals," says high school pal Rachel Gall. At Tech, Hilscher was among the top riders and talked about making horses her career, either as a veterinarian or a trainer, says club member Niki Knoebel. Next year looked even brighter for Hilscher, as her longtime boyfriend planned to transfer to Virginia Tech. Says Knoebel: "She seemed really optimistic." As for rumors that Hilscher was the object of the killer's unrequited affection, Knoebel doesn't believe them. She says she doubts Hilscher even knew him. "She never mentioned him. Some people are saying he was stalking her, but [if so] she never said anything."
REEMA SAMAHA, 18
Freshman. Centreville, Va.
Samaha wanted to be an urban planner or a landscape artist. But she had another passion as well. "She was an absolutely amazing dancer," says Liz Varnerian, a fellow member of the Hill and Veil belly-dance club. Samaha's father agrees. The weekend before the youngest of their three children was killed, Joe and Monda Samaha had watched Reema perform a Lebanese dance at a festival. "She would light up a stage when she danced," Joe says. Returning home after that final performance, he wrote his talented daughter an e-mail praising her. "I contemplated whether to send it, then thought, 'I need to tell her how proud I am of her, and how happy I am that she has so many friends.'" He did send the e-mail, signing off with, "Keep up the good work. See you next weekend."
CAITLIN HAMMAREN, 19
Sophomore. Majors: international studies and French
"You could describe her in 1,000 ways," says Virginia Tech freshman Doug Cobb. A close friend who lived across the hall, he speaks of her in the present tense: "She can make me smile whether it's the best day of my life or the worst. I can always go to her. She's kind of like a second parent to me."
Cobb wasn't the only one Hammaren looked out for. "There was a girl last night who said Caitlin had talked her out of suicide; she didn't think she was fitting in," says her cousin Gloria Daly, 17. "Caitlin would just sit and talk with her. She was amazing. I talked to her a lot. She would call and say, 'I dyed my hair; I'm not sure I like it,' or tell us she was having a hard time with her econ class, even when she was doing great. She held herself to really high standards. I think sometimes she was afraid of letting people down, even though she wouldn't be letting anyone down. There were so many people whose hearts she touched."
ROSS ALAMEDDINE, 20
Sophomore. Major: English.
"I asked Ross what he wanted to do at college, and he said he wanted to be a doctor like his father," said neighbor Carmine Gualtieri, 90. "He was a helluva nice guy." On Facebook.com Jacqui Vander Moss, an ex-classmate at Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Mass., wrote, "My best memories are of his crazy legs on the dance floor and his quirky smile." Of his death Jacqui wrote, "I wish it wasn't real."
MARY KAREN READ, 19
Freshman. Major: interdisciplinary studies.
Hoping to teach elementary school someday, Read was a "delicate and soft-spoken" girl who shared clothes with her best friends and baked strawberry cakes for their birthdays, according to Malisa Savanh, a pal since seventh grade. "That pink cake mix with white frosting was a favorite." She also kept a MySpace page, where she shared her enthusiasms. A recent post: "I want to read The Da Vinci Code but I am currently reading Crime and Punishment."
MAXINE TURNER, 22
Senior. Major: chemical engineering
Looking forward to graduation, Turner had already lined up a job at W.L. Gore, which makes Gore-Tex fabric. "Not sure what I'll be doing yet, but they are AWESOME," she cheered on her Facebook page. "She was really happy," recalls senior Tuan Pham, who taught a Tae Kwon Do class that Turner took. "Probably the nicest girl I've met, always willing to help people."
DAN O'NEIL, 22
Graduate student, civil and environmental engineering
A graduate of Lafayette College, where he was vice president of the Arts Society and active in intramural sports, O'Neil's research focused on how urban development contributed to severe flooding in the Lehigh Valley by affecting the watershed. His hometown friend Steve Craveiro told the AP that O'Neil was a talented musician and Beatles fan who played guitar and wrote his own folk and acoustic songs.
G.V. LOGANATHAN, 53
Professor, civil and environmental engineering
Born in India, he "wanted to build a future for his children and for future engineers," says friend Marie Sandy of Loganathan, a husband and dad to two girls. "You could approach [him] about anything," says student Brian Skipper. "Once I said, 'I failed your test today.' He laughed and said, 'Well, so what? The rest of your life, are you going to worry about this one test?'"
MATTHEW LA PORTE, 20
Freshman. Major: political science
La Porte won an Air Force scholarship to Virginia Tech and would have done two years in the service after graduation. "He was quiet and shy but extremely forceful," recalled Lt. Col. Rodney P. Grove of Carson Long Military Institute in New Bloomfield, Pa., where La Porte spent 7th through 12th grade, "and he was a great cello player." (In fact, according to his MySpace page, La Porte's musical tastes embraced Mozart, Beethoven and an exhaustive list of heavy-metal bands.) Adds Grove: "You could tell he was somebody who would make a difference in the world."
JEREMY HERBSTRITT, 27
Graduate student, civil engineering
"I saw Norris Hall and said, 'Oh my God; Jeremy has a class there,'" says his distraught girlfriend, Alexis Bozzo, 22. "We would have gotten engaged before the end of the year. He was the most outgoing person I ever met, always smiling, willing to help anyone; he'd give rides to the grocery store to international grad students who didn't have transportation." A graduate of Penn State, Herbstritt was also a passionate long-distance runner. "I can't imagine my life without Jeremy," says his mother, Peggy. "I wish I could just wake up."
RACHAEL HILL, 18
Freshman. Major: biochemistry
Murdered in her French class shortly after calling to tell her mother she was fine, Hill had her own page on a Web site devoted to fantasy and sci-fi art. On it she wrote, "I'm Rachael, but everybody calls me Rae," and posted some of her drawings of fantasy figures. "Rachael was curious, an avid learner, a competitive student and athlete; she enjoyed science and French culture and was an accomplished pianist," says Linda Kennedy, her history teacher at Grove Avenue Christian School. "Rachael was a leader, someone who inspired those around her."
ERIN PETERSON, 18
Freshman. Major: international studies
Like Seung-Hui Cho, Peterson graduated from Westfield High in Chantilly, Va. She was three years behind the shooter, and it is not known whether they knew each other. "A beautiful, beautiful child," says her aunt Mary Peterson. "Never caused any trouble. She played basketball. She was an honor student."
JARRETT LANE, 22
Senior. Major: civil engineering
A star athlete and valedictorian at Narrows High School, Lane was a student "everybody liked," says classmate Renee Jessee. Adds his brother-in-law Daniel Farrell: "How anyone had the time to do all that Jarrett did is unbelievable. Studying, coaching high school sports, playing intramural sports, working for parking services, doing an internship with facilities at Tech, you would think that at least one of those areas would suffer, but it never did."
HENRY LEE, 20
Freshman. Major: computer engineering; Minor: French
The salutatorian of his high school class, Lee—who emigrated from China as a child with his family—became a U.S. citizen last year and changed his name from Hehn Ly. Lee had two older siblings, both of whom attend Virginia Tech (neither was injured). Friends on his dorm hall say Lee was up for anything: a game of wallyball, the theater, a country fair. "He got me to do things I never would have tried," says freshman Nathan Spady.
JUAN RAMON ORTIZ, 26
Graduate student, civil engineering
Bayamón, Puerto Rico
"He was an exceptional son: smart, sweet and amiable," says Juan Ramon Ortiz of his only boy, the youngest of three kids. Ortiz, a grad student at Virginia Tech with his wife of less than two years, Liselle Vega Cortes, was teaching a class when he was killed. The couple, says Ortiz, "both were working all the time" but hoped to soon start a family. "With some children who get in trouble, you might think something bad might happen. Not with Juan. We just can't believe it."
LAUREN MCCAIN, 20
Freshman. Major: international studies
On her MySpace page, she writes of her favorite music ("Everything except for country"), movies ("Definitely Sci-fi!") and her deep religious faith. "The purpose and love of my life is Jesus Christ. I don't have to argue religion, philosophy, or historical evidence because I KNOW Him."
NICOLE WHITE, 20
Junior. Major: international studies, concentration in German
Isle of Wight, Va.
On Facebook her friend Victoria Borkey posted a haunting entry. "Has anyone heard about Nicole White?? She sits beside me in my Abnormal Psychology class and I really want to know if she is ok." White was recently engaged to Jenny Brabrand's son Richard, 20. "My son and Nicole went to high school in Smithfield together," says Brabrand. "She was a really smart girl. She loved animals. She was a volunteer EMT in high school and rode with the fire department. During the summers she volunteered at the local veterinarian. She was just one of those people who go out of their way to help others."
JULIA PRYDE, 23
Graduate student, biological-systems engineering
She had a special interest in mountain development and wildfire management. Last summer she traveled to South America to conduct research on water-quality modeling and soil erosion in the Andes. Wrote Dr. Theo Dillaha in an e-mail to her department: "She always had a smile and thoroughly enjoyed life."
BRIAN BLUHM, 25
Graduate student, civil engineering
Stephens City, Va.
"My main area of research is sustainability of water quantity," he wrote on his department Web site. "Brian just visited Baltimore last week; he was finishing his thesis and had a job lined up," says Ricky Castles, 25, an engineering doctoral student and close friend of both Bluhm's and victim Matthew Gwaltney's—both of whom he calls fun and hardworking. "The three of us would talk sports late into the night. Brian was a sports fan—loved the Detroit Tigers, and he was commissioner of my fantasy baseball league. He was a very good teacher and had a great personality."
MATTHEW GWALTNEY, 24
Graduate student, civil and environmental engineering
Gwaltney was part of a sports-loving trio of pals including Ricky Castles and victim Brian Bluhm. "He'd joke with you and was definitely a good guy to be around," Castles says. "We'd go to football games, tailgates, basketball games; Matt played basketball with a bunch of guys. We'd sit in the hallway, hypothesizing, 'if this team does this and Tech does that,' or things about this player or that one." More seriously, he adds, Gwaltney had a passion for teaching. "I think his students really enjoyed his class."
ONE FAMILY'S DESPERATE SEARCH
AUSTIN CLOYD, 18
Freshman. Majors: international studies and French
Bryan, an accounting professor at Virginia Tech, and Renee Cloyd knew their daughter had classes in Norris Hall and could be in harm's way. They waited anxiously by the phone, hoping she'd check in to say she was safe. They even told friends not to call. "They wanted the phone lines open for Austin," says their former pastor Terry Harter. But after that call failed to come, they began an increasingly desperate search at area hospitals. At each stop, says Harter, "She wasn't there." That night the couple traveled to Roanoke to check the last of the hospitals where students were taken. Still, "she wasn't there." Then Tuesday morning, as they sat—and prayed—at a nearby inn where families had gathered, they got the news they had hoped never to hear. They were shown a photograph of Austin, a talented athlete who loved working with children, and confirmed the ID. "They are devastated," notes Harter. "They hadn't heard from her all day, but still they didn't want to give up hope."
LESLIE SHERMAN, 20
Sophomore. Major: history and international studies
Two weeks before the shootings, Sherman, a marathon runner, had met with her dorm's honors discussion group. Another member, freshman Jenna Gorbatkin, recalls, "We were talking about life and how to justify bringing people into this world when it can be so cruel sometimes. Everyone was kind of at a loss for words, but Leslie was like, 'I know it may seem kind of silly, but I think that all the small things and little joys in life make it worth living.' She was a very optimistic person."
CHRISTOPHER JAMES BISHOP, 35
Instructor, foreign languages
Jamie Bishop, who spoke five languages, was a favorite for hosting his "Kitch 'n Bitch" sessions, where students could hang out, practice German or watch foreign films. "He loved his music, was a skilled artist and a superb and engaging teacher," says his department head, Andrew Becker. Bishop's wife, Stefanie Hofer, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, was uninjured.
LIVIU LIBRESCU, 76
Professor of engineering science and mechanics
Librescu, who saved some 15 students' lives by blocking his classroom door, was a Romanian-born Israeli citizen internationally renowned for his research in aeronautical engineering. A Holocaust survivor who had been interned in a Nazi labor camp, the married father of two sons died, with bitter irony, on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day. Recalls student Andrey Andreyev, alive today because of Librescu's heroics: "He was one of the nicest professors I ever worked with."
KEVIN P. GRANATA, 45
Professor, biomedical engineering
Husband to Virginia Tech faculty member Linda Granata, and father to their three young kids, Alex, Eric and Ellen, Granata had a childlike enthusiasm for his work. Lately, that meant building a device to simulate the vibrations that cause back pain for truck drivers. "He was like, 'Yay! A new 100-lb. toy for the lab!'" says Gregory Slota, a Ph.D. candidate. Another notable feat of Granata engineering: the gigantic tennis-ball catapult he built for his sons' Boy Scout troop.
MICHAEL STEVEN POHLE JR., 23
Senior. Major: biology. Flemington, N.J.
A 215-pounder with a black belt in karate, Pohle hoped to go into pharmaceutical sales, worked nights as a bartender and had a serious girlfriend. That's why he gave up playing varsity lacrosse. "He had a lot going on and wanted to concentrate on school," says ex-teammate Tim Tyrrell, who recalls Pohle's affable personality. "He was always cracking jokes. He came to practice smiling. I never saw him down about anything. He was a pretty good player. He was a big guy. He was sent out to hit people. He was the kind of guard you didn't want guarding you. He was our enforcer." Christian Harding, Pohle's coworker at Nerv Restaurant & Lounge, notes a softer side. "The night before he died, he was giving advice on relationships," Harding says. "He said when you're away from someone, you can learn what they mean to you. That touched me after it happened."
Professor, French, Blacksburg, Va.
"She was an adoring mother" with "a great family," says friend Lloyd Mapplebeck of Couture-Nowak, a Canadian who previously helped to found a French school in Nova Scotia. With husband Jerzy Nowak, head of Virginia Tech's horticulture department, she had two daughters, Francine and Sylvie. Says Mapplebeck: "There was always a sparkle in her eye."
DANIEL ALEJANDRO PEREZ CUEVA, 21
Junior. Major: international relations; Minor: French
Perez was in high school when he came to the U.S. with his mother from Peru (where his father still lives). Initially homesick, he lately relied on YouTube to reminisce about his childhood. "We watched TV shows from when we were little," says Hugo Quintero, 20, a Colombian student who became his best friend. "Our favorite was a cartoon soccer show called Super Campeones." But Perez, an excellent swimmer, also looked ahead: Just the Saturday before the shootings, he had been talking about his intern applications to the French and Italian embassies. "He was talking about jobs, the future."
Share your thoughts on the Virginia Tech tragedy, plus get news updates on the shooting, at people.com/vatech
- Reported by Nicole Weisensee Egan,
- Alexandra Rockey Fleming,
- Kristen Mascia,
- Wendy Grossman,
- Susan Mandel,
- Rachel Teitelbaum,
- Susan Keating,
- Sandra Sobieraj Westfall,
- Sean Scully,
- Michelle York,
- Kathy Ehrich Dowd,
- Lesley Messer,
- Nina Burleigh,
- Sharon Cotl.
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