BLACKSBURG, Va.— Students, faculty and their families gathered on the campus of Virginia Tech University to mourn the day after a gunman killed 32 students, including at least one involved in the school's Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
President Bush, with his wife Laura, attended the public convocation at Cassell Coliseum "with hearts full of sorrow" on "a day of sadness for our entire nation."
"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," Bush said April 17. "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.
"In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God," the president said. "As the Scriptures tell us, 'Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'"
The Virginia Tech family also heard from Gov. Tim Kaine, university President Charles Steger and representatives from the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian communities on campus. The thousands in attendance at the coliseum and in overflow seating at the football stadium recited the Lord's Prayer and closed with emotional chants of the school cheer "Let's go Hokies."
Darrell Cook, campus minister at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Tech, reported that at least one student from their group was killed in the shootings, someone he identified only as Brian.
"We have been overwhelmed by the support and prayers of our campus ministry family around the nation," Cook said in an e-mail circulated to Southern Baptist collegiate ministers April 17. "... We are doing all we can here to help students walk through the first steps of grief."
Cook requested prayer for Brian's family and friends as well as for the staff at the BCM as they minister to people in the campus community.
Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press about 300 students gathered at the BCM Monday night for a prayer and worship service.
The BCM is sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, and two chaplains were on site at the campus ministry building to assist students in the grief process, Burton said. The chaplains were continuing to assess the needs, including how to support churches as the school's 26,000 students disperse to their hometowns, he reported.
Burton also told BP that the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia sent a disaster relief kitchen unit to Blacksburg and had parked on the street next to the dorm where the first shooting occurred. They reportedly were preparing 200 meals for Bush's entourage and planned to feed about 250 law enforcement officers Tuesday night.
"The spirit of cooperation between the two Virginia conventions has been exemplary and is very reflective of the Baptist spirit," Burton said. "... The bottom line is I think we're at the appropriate level of response right now, and we're prepared to up our presence through disaster relief chaplains as needed, and the Virginia Baptist conventions anticipate being able to handle that in state."
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed his "deepest concern and prayer support for the students and faculty of Virginia Tech as well as for the townspeople."
"When tragedy like this occurs, sometimes people look to the Lord, and I pray that all will do so and find the comfort that only He can bring to their hearts," Page said in a statement to Baptist Press. "At the same time, Southern Baptists stand ready to help in any way that we can to assist and encourage these victims and their families. We are all shocked and horrified at this egregious expression of violence. Our prayers and love are with all those affected by this tragedy."
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the massacre "a brutal reminder that life is fragile and that evil exists in our world" and pointed to the hope found in Christ's resurrection during a time of intense trial.
"While such an event is troublesome for a believer, for those who are not people of strong religious faith the random and horrific nature of this violence is going to be much more difficult to handle," Land said. "It is my fervent prayer that Christians on the Virginia Tech campus will, in God's strength, reach out to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of their fellow students in this dark hour.
"The staff of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joins all believing Americans in lifting up in prayer to our Almighty God all those whose hearts are broken over the bloodshed and whose lives are shattered because of this terrible tragedy," Land said. "May they find comfort in our Father's arms."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Christians cannot shrink from calling the shootings evil.
"One of the things we have to say is that we understand that the Bible never flinches from dealing with evil as evil," Mohler said during the seminary's chapel service April 17. "There is no euphemism in the Scripture. There is no glancing away from the reality. There is the honest assessment that evil is not only as evil as it appears; it is far more evil than we could imagine. For it is not only what we do to each other. It is our effort to rob God of His own glory."
When speaking about tragedy, Christians must never stop with the message of sin but also explain that sending Christ to die on the cross was God's answer to evil, Mohler said, adding that Jesus accepted upon Himself God's wrath against evil.
The gunman was identified as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English at Virginia Tech. Cho was a legal immigrant from South Korea, and The Chicago Tribune said he left a note in his dorm room railing against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus. Acquaintances told authorities Cho's behavior in recent weeks had become increasingly violent and erratic, and his creative writing pieces in English class were "disturbing."
Cho allegedly opened fire in a dormitory around 7:15 a.m. Monday, killing two people. Two hours later, shots were fired in multiple classrooms in the school's engineering building before the gunman killed himself in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
With reporting by Dwayne Hastings & David Roach.