BLACKSBURG - Peter Read wants you to make a choice.
He asks that you turn away from the face of the deranged gunman glaring at the camera. Gaze instead at the face of a bright and bubbly brunette who smiled even when she was unhappy, a face always in the middle of a crowd.
It is the face of Mary Karen Read, the daughter he will now see only in scrapbooks.
Hers is just one of 32 promising lives cut short at Virginia Tech - the life of a musician, an aspiring schoolteacher, a doting big sister to five siblings. A 19-year-old freshman who had just filed her first tax return and learned, the day before she died, how to make a pumpkin pie.
When you think of the massacre that befell this quiet college town, those are the memories Peter Read wants you to remember. "We want the world to know and celebrate our children's lives, and we believe that's the central element that brings hope in the midst of great tragedy," Read said Thursday, with his wife, Cathy, at his side. "These kids were the best that their generation has to offer."
As the Reads left Blacksburg on Thursday for their home in Annandale, they were exhausted, pale, heartbroken - and furious. On television, the overwhelming image of the tragedy was the face of Cho Seung-Hui - a killer whose name Peter Read cannot bring himself to speak.
"I want to issue a direct personal plea, to all the major media," he told The Associated Press. "For the love of God and our children, stop broadcasting those images and those words. Choose to focus on life and the love and the light that our children brought into the world and not on the darkness and the madness and the death."
Several networks have already heard Read's message loud and clear - from disgusted viewers. Fox News Channel announced it would no longer run the disturbing audio and images of the gunman. NBC, which aired the material first, and cable outlet MSNBC said they would "severely limit" their use.
Read hopes the focus will swing back to the children. Children such as Paul Turner's daughter Maxine, a 22-year-old chemical engineering major from Vienna who loved beaches, swing dancing and her close-knit circle of friends. She would have graduated soon, and she had already lined up a job in Elkton, Md.
At Virginia Tech, Maxine Turner co-founded a sorority and earned a red belt in Tae Kwon Do. She loved the German band Rammstein and signed up for a language class to understand the lyrics.
It was there that she died.
On Thursday, her body rested at a morgue in Roanoke, where state and U.S. flags were lowered and access was heavily guarded by police. A hearse will arrive sometime this week to carry her home, a scenario that will be repeated many times as parents hold funerals.
Like so many today, the Read family is blended: Peter Read, a 44-year-old Air Force veteran, married Yon Son Yi, of Palisades Park, N.J., who gave birth to Mary Read. But the couple later divorced. Yi remarried and had a second daughter, Hannah, 4Â½. Read remarried too, and he and wife had four children: Stephen, 11; Patrick, 4Â½; Brendan, 2Â½; and Colleen, 10 months. The Reads live in a quiet cul-de-sac in Annandale, where they moved in 2001 from Virginia Beach.
Mary Read made friends fast. She joined the French honor society, the National Honor Society and the marching band. She played lacrosse for two years and moved easily between the cliques that fill high school hallways.
She wanted to teach math and science to elementary school students, and she enrolled at Virginia Tech.
In her dorm room were scrapbooks filled with hundreds of photographs - at summer band camp, at Myrtle Beach, on the arm of her father as part of the homecoming court.
The end of her freshman year was just weeks away, and she had planned to spend the summer at home, working at a deli and helping care for her siblings.
She came home Easter weekend, staging practice egg hunts for her brothers. Then, the weekend before her death, she came home again.
She divided her time between her friends and her family those two days but was inseparable from her laptop. She sat on the stairs, where the wireless reception was best, to instant message and e-mail her friends. A brother sat nearby, toy computer on his lap.
"He wanted to be like Mary," Peter Read recalled.
On Sunday, Read's wife showed his daughter how to make her favorite dessert, a pumpkin pie. And when Read took her to the bus stop at 4:30 p.m., she had a slab of the pie and a container of Cool Whip in a plastic bag.
Mary Read never called to check in when she reached Blacksburg, but her parents know what she did that night: She had recorded her favorite TV show, "House," on DVDs and watched them on her laptop during the 4Â½-hour ride.
The next morning, she had French class in Norris Hall.
, where gunman Cho Seung-Hui took her life. When news of the shootings broke, Peter Read started calling his daughter, hoping she would pick up. Then he called her roommate. The hours wore on, without word. When Read learned that the parents of his daughter's longtime friend Danielle Waters were driving to Blacksburg late that afternoon to find their daughter, he asked to ride along. On the drive, Olga and John Waters learned their daughter was alive. Around 9:30 p.m., Read's cell phone rang. It was his wife, and the state police were at their door. The Reads won't talk about their grief over these past few days. It's too painful, too personal. The time is not yet right. But they share the photos and drawings from their daughter's dorm room, which was just as she had left it. In a plastic bag was the empty container that had held her pie. And on her desk was a calendar Mary Read's grandmother had given her years ago, each day offering a quote from a famous woman. On April 16, the words were from a teacher, Helen Keller: "When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another."comments powered by Disqus