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"April is the cruellest month." When T. S. Eliot penned that opening line to "The Waste Land" in 1921, he had no idea how it would resound in modern America. Oklahoma City, Columbine High School, and Virginia Tech—our calendars mark all three within a span of five days, a week soaked in grief.

"As a youth minister, you anticipate weddings, not funerals," said Matt Rogers of New Life Christian Fellowship (NLCF), a Christian community that meets in the Student Center at Virginia Tech. "We have no playbook for something like this."

I spoke at NLCF two weeks after the tragedy, accompanied by the Ruegsegger family, whose daughter Kacey survived gunshot wounds at Columbine High School eight years ago. "Very few people know what you're going through," Kacey told the students gathered for the somber service. "We've been there."

The news media portrayed yet another mass killing on a U.S. campus. What greeted the visitor, though, was an overwhelming display of national solidarity. Banners and posters hung in many school buildings, covered with tens of thousands of handwritten messages of support. And a cluster of spontaneous memorials appeared around campus. Each day, visitors filed past the mounds of mementoes—a baseball, a Starbucks cup, a teddy bear, a favorite novel—that gave individuality to the 33 who'd died.

Spring arrived late in western Virginia. As April faded into May, redbud and wild dogwood trees dotted the surrounding hills. Tulips and daffodils set off the gray stone university buildings. "It's usually such a happy time," mused one student. "We pack our books and stereos and head home, some of us with diplomas. This year, a gray haze hangs over everything."

Before departing, many students paid one last visit ...

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In the Magazine

June 2007

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