Political leaders including President Bush and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine joined religious leaders from various faiths to comfort a grieving Virginia Tech community Tuesday afternoon inside Cassell Coliseum on the campus in Blacksburg, Va.
“In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected,” President Bush said a convocation message.
He encouraged students, faculty and families to look for “sources of strength to sustain us,” including community, loved ones and the “faith that sustains so many of us.”
“Across the town of Blacksburg and in towns all across America, houses of worship from every faith have opened their doors and have lifted you up in prayer,” the president said. “People who have never met you are praying for you; they’re praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured.”
“There’s a power in these prayers, real power,” Bush said. “In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God. As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'”
Gov. Kaine, a Democrat and former missionary to Honduras, also cited biblical texts for dealing with emotions of grief, anger and despair. Other speakers included clergy from Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian traditions.
Police Tuesday identified the gunman they believe killed 32 students and faculty in two separate attacks across campus from each other and about two hours apart, before turning a gun on himself.
Cho Seung-Hui, 23, was a U.S. resident alien raised in a Washington suburb after moving from South Korea as a boy in 1992. He was a senior English major who lived on campus.
Authorities said they didn’t know a motive, but the Chicago Tribune reported he left behind a rambling note that railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.
Officials said as a resident alien without a criminal record, it was legal for him to buy a gun.
The university said it would release names of victims when all were positively identified and next-of-kin were notified, but a partial list of names started to come together during the day on Tuesday. A blogger began compiling MySpace Web pages of some of the dead, an attempt to bring home the tragedy’s human toll.
John Upton of the Baptist General Association of Virginia told EthicsDaily.com Tuesday afternoon he had received word that at least two of those killed were from Virginia Baptist churches.
“We just are tying to do what we can to help in this hour so tragedy,” Upton said. “This is unbelievable to many of us…. Right now we’re just responding to an unbelievable tragedy.”
Darrell Cook, campus minister of Baptist collegiate ministries at Virginia Tech, said about 300 students gathered Monday night for counseling and support. “Yesterday was a big time for students taking the first steps of dealing with grief,” Cook told EthicsDaily.com by phone Tuesday morning. “Some people last night were still waiting to hear from friends.”
Cook said one of the BSU’s graduate students, Brian Bluhm, was among the victims.
According to a university Web site, Bluhm had an undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in civil engineering and was working toward a master’s in water resources. His main area of research was sustaining of safe levels of water quantity in a reservoir during critical drought. He was a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Engineering Education.
Cook said Bluhm’s family lives in Winchester, Va. When in Blacksburg, Bluhm attended Northstar Church, a close-knit congregation made up largely of young adults who are students, faculty and staff at the university, as well as others from the community. The church is affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
Northstar Pastor Bob Jackson described Bluhm as “quiet, unassuming young man” and “a very diligent student who was preparing to graduate this year.” Jackson said the church was attempting to comfort those who have lost friends on campus.
Jackson asked for “continued prayers as we try to help those students who will be moving from the stage of shock to the other levels of grief.”
Cook predicted that as names of victims were released, “the reality of relationships will start to sink in” for students. Cook lived in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998 when four middle-school students and a teacher were killed in a school shooting there. He said he was beginning to see similar reactions occurring now at Virginia Tech.
Cook asked readers of EthicsDaily.com to “pray for the students and families as they walk through the grief and recovery process, and our students in keeping a foundation of trust in God in a dark and painful time.”
Tommy McDearis, pastor of Blacksburg Baptist Church, rushed out the door Monday morning after getting a call from Virginia Tech police. As chaplain for the police department, he spent the rest of the day counseling and praying with victims and their families.
“He’s one of the first people the police department call,” Kelly Sardello, the church’s minister to children, told a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship news writer. Sardello said McDearis and the church’s youth minister, Jeremy Rasor, were at the Inn at Virginia Tech “helping notify families of the deceased.”
“Just like the community, we’re all very much in shock,” Sardello said. She said the church’s intercessory prayer team has been praying around the clock, and the church took part in a community prayer vigil Monday evening.
“The church is trying to put together what to do,” Rasor said. “Things are still kind of up in the air.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.