NASHVILLE - Tennessee parents of Virginia Tech students waited anxiously to hear from their children in Blacksburg, Va., as news broke of slayings on the campus and the death toll rose on Monday.
Alice Chilton, a freshman from Nashville, was in her dorm when the news broke of the first shootings two dorms away and was in class nearby when the second round of shootings began.
"I think news spread around campus the same way it spread to the rest of the country. The dorms were put on lockdown and they were told to stay away from the windows," said Ira Chilton, her father and a Virginia Tech graduate.
Alice turned out to be fine, but the wait to hear from her was difficult.
"Just waiting to connect with her, hear her voice," he told WTVF-TV. "You would never imagine it happening in a place like this." At least thirty people locked inside a Virginia Tech classroom building were killed by a fellow student Cho Seung-Hui on Monday in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, the university and police said Tuesday. The gunman committed suicide after the attack. Ballistics tests also found that one of the guns used in that attack was also used in a shooting two hours earlier at a dorm that left two people dead, Virginia State Police said. In the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Bill Rooks learned that his daughter Erin was safely locked down in her dorm room during the shootings.
His relief was tempered by knowing other parents were not as lucky.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with families who lost children," he said.
As callers overloaded the cell phone system in Blacksburg, Va., a number of students turned to the Internet to communicate with the outside world. Freshman Taylor Parrish, a former student at Nashville's Harpeth Hall High School, sent an e-mail to the The Tennessean. "I heard the sirens at about 7:30 a.m. this morning," he wrote. "I called my mother first, at around 9:30 a.m. She did not even know what was happening at that point." Malia Carden, of Nashville, graduated from Virginia Tech in 1996 and was in Blacksburg last weekend for a reunion. "It just tainted all of that. I just feel awful for everyone involved," she said. She wrote about the shootings on her blog on Monday, at one point writing, "I don't think I can keep these updates up. I'm crying so much I can barely see the screen." Virginia Tech senior Bryant Creque was still at home for a long weekend in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood on Monday, but his girlfriend was on campus. "She said it's chaos, with cops running around everywhere," he said. "It's the weirdest thing to be here watching this on campus (on TV)." Gina Lee of Kingsport said her son Aaron Sturgill works at a campus restaurant, the Kingsport Times-News reported. She was especially distraught by news of the shootings having already been through a frightening incident in 2002 when Sturgill was attacked by seven people in while driving to the school from his off-campus apartment. Although Sturgill was not hurt on Monday, she said, "We had already been through a lot with him, and I was just truly scared this morning. I just feel heartsick for those parents who have lost their kids this morning." There are about 22 students from the Nashville area attending the school, and about 100 from the Knoxville area, according to those cities' alumni associations. A statewide number was not immediately known. Steve Barry, treasurer of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the association, told The Tennessean on Monday that the 15 Tennessee students whom the group had obtained information about were all safe. East Tennessee State University plans to sound bells at 9:30 a.m. for the rest of the school week in remembrance of the victims. Gov. Phil Bredesen said he ordered state buildings to fly their flags at half-staff .
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