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FIRST-PERSON: A mist that quickly passes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the aftermath of the murderous mayhem that rocked the campus of Virginia Tech — and the whole nation — USA Today posted a feature on its site that gives us a short, but personal introduction to each of those who perished.

In our busy, information-crazed world, it is easy to focus on the number of innocent students and university faculty killed — 32 — and not consider that each number represents a life: a life supremely valued by God.

Life is fleeting, but that reality takes on a brutal and different meaning when it is young lives that are taken. We grow accustomed to the faces of those who stare at us from the obituary page of our local newspaper, for we are comforted in saying quietly to ourselves that most of them surely “lived a good life.” But we are crestfallen when death snatches a young person or when wanton violence claims a helpless victim.

The newspaper feature, which for most of the victims includes a photo, is both a memorial and a testimony to their lives. We learn a little bit about each one, and our hearts grow heavier. In a strange but proper way we feel a tiny sense of the sadness and hurt with which their family and friends are contending. It is in times like this that our country feels just a little bit more like a neighborhood than a nation.

The flame that kept their dreams alive was extinguished in a horrific moment. Those who knew them and loved them ache from the emptiness their untimely death has ushered in. In a blink of an eye, the lives of their family and friends were inalterably changed.

While each of their life stories could have filled a book, for some a volume of books, we can through this USA Today special report meet and grieve these cherished individuals:

Ross Abdullah Alameddine, the account tells us, was a “sophomore who had just declared English as his major.” Christopher James Bishop, a German professor at the school, directed an exchange program between Virginia Tech and a German university.

Brian Bluhm, the paper tells us, was an “avid” Detroit Tigers fan who loved his work with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries center on the Blacksburg campus. Ryan Clark could have graduated last December, but stayed on at the school as the resident advisor in the dormitory where he was killed. Clark would have spent part of this summer as he had for the last seven years, as the music director at a camp for physically and mentally challenged children and adults.

Austin Cloyd, “inspired by an Appalachian service project that helped rehabilitate homes” in which she participated, started a similar program in her hometown, USA Today reports. Jocelyne Courtoure-Nowak, a French instructor at the school, left a Nova Scotian college to teach at Virginia Tech. Kevin Granata, an engineering professor, is said to have been “one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy” by one of his collegues.

Caitlin Hammaren, a sophomore, was, the paper says, a member of the National Honor Society and played on the junior varsity tennis team. She was “more than most a real role model,” said the superintendent of the school district where Hammaren attended high school. Jeremy Herbstritt already had two undergraduate degrees from Penn State and was pursuing an engineering degree at Virginia Tech. He planned to be a civil engineer after he graduated.

Rachel Hill was a freshman studying biology — “an only child, was popular and funny, had a penchant for shoes and was competitive on the volleyball court.” Emily Jane Hilscher, also a freshman, the paper says, was known around her hometown as an animal lover. She was majoring in animal and poultry sciences.

Matthew Joseph La Porte was a member of the university’s famed Corp of Cadets and worked as a lifeguard in the summer. His MySpace.com page, according to the account, counted the movie “Finding Nemo” as one of his favorites. Jarrett Lee Lane was a senior civil engineering student coming to Virginia Tech as the valedictorian of his high school, where he played varsity football and basketball.

Liviu Librescu, a professor of aerospace engineering, survived the Nazi Holocaust but was felled by gunfire through his classroom door as he sought to use the door as a barricade to keep the gunman out. Librescu’s son told USA Today, “This was typical of him. He did not fear death and at all times tried to do the right thing.”

G.V. Logananathan had taught in the university’s engineering school since 1982. Partahi Lumbantoruan was able to attend Virginia Tech in pursuit of his doctorate because his family in Indonesia “sold off property and cars to pay his tuition.” He wanted to be a teacher.

In a space on her MySpace site, Lauren McCain said Jesus Christ was the “love of my life.” The USA Today report says Lauren, who was home-schooled, was an “avid reader, was learning German and had almost mastered Latin.”

Daniel O’Neil, an engineering graduate student, played the guitar and wrote songs. Jan Ramon Ortiz, also a grad student in the engineering school, was married a year ago and tutored other students because, his cousin told the paper, “he lived to help other people.” Minal Panchal was studying to follow in her father’s steps and become an architect. He died four years ago.

Daniel Perez Cueva moved to the states from Peru in 2001. His major was international studies. He worked at a CVS drugstore in Blacksburg to pay his school bills. Michael Pohle was slated to graduate with a degree in biological sciences this spring. His high school lacrosse coach told the paper that Daniel was just a “great kid.” Julia Pryde, with an undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in hand, was working toward a master’s degree. In high school, Julia swam freestyle and breaststroke on her high school’s swim team.

Mary Read, a freshman, was active in Bible study and Campus Crusade for Christ at the school. She was leaning toward a degree in elementary education. Reeme Joseph Samaha loved theatre and dance. According a friend’s statement to USA Today, the freshman was a “beautiful dancer and well-loved by all of us. She was gorgeous, unique, talented and irreplaceable.”

Maxine Turner, the paper reports, was prepared to graduate in December but decided to take a German class in the spring term. The Vienna, Va., student decided to attend Virginia Tech after turning down offers from a “handful of high profile schools.”

The 32 individuals who perished on the Virginia Tech campus did not know when the sun rose that Monday morning that it would be their last day on earth. Yet Scripture reminds us that life is but a mist — here for a while, than vanishing (James 4:14).

These individuals are more than statistics; they are more than names; they were particularly and specially knit together by God in His image. His love for them was without end.

While those of us whose eternity is secured in Christ’s atoning work should not fear death, the brevity of life coupled with our assurance that death has no power over us should compel us to break forever our silence about this mystery in which our hope rests (Ephesians 6:18-20).

“But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” Ephesians 2:4-5 (HCSB).

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings