Funerals remember Va. Tech students for their strong faith


BLACKSBURG, Va. — Family and friends remembered Rachael Hill and Jarrett Lane as students with strong faith in God during some of the first funerals for the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

About 800 people gathered at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., April 21 for a three-hour memorial service honoring Hill, who was a member of the church and a graduate of Grove Avenue Christian School.

"I'm waiting to see my best friend again," Hill's mother, Tammy Hill, said during the service, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I know she is with the Lord. If she had the choice of coming back or staying, I think she'd stay."

Hill's father, Allen Hill, also spoke, recounting the last time he saw his only child on the Saturday before her death.

"I'm so thankful for that last tender hug against my cheek where we said, 'I love you, I love you,' and she left," he said.

All eight of the students who graduated with Hill in 2006 spoke at her memorial service, describing her strong faith and devotion to God, the Times-Dispatch reported.

"She was smart and beautiful and so full of love for everyone and for the Lord," former classmate Christina Neulen said, adding that burying her friend was the hardest thing she has ever had to do. "But I turned her over into the loving embrace of her Savior, and I know He'll take much better care of her than I ever could."

Tre Becoat, another former classmate, said he thanked God for placing Hill and her parents in his life. She touched many lives, he said, but through her death, Hill "will touch many more."

In an e-mail to Baptist Press two days after the shootings, Grove Avenue school administrator Clay Fogler said, "Rachael was an incredible witness for Christ, the love of Christ shone through her to others."

Hill, 18, was a standout volleyball player at Grove Avenue, was interested in studying biology at Virginia Tech and was a good piano player, those who knew her said.

Jarrett Lane
More than 600 people in the small town of Narrows, Va., crowded into the high school auditorium and gym April 21 to remember Jarrett Lane, who was the school's valedictorian just four years earlier.

Lane was a four-sport star athlete in high school, was a member of First Baptist Church in Narrows and was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Virginia Tech. At 22, he was weeks away from graduating with a civil engineering degree and advancing to graduate studies at the University of Florida.

Tim Cline, pastor of First Baptist, said at the funeral that in the wake of the shootings he wanted to do what he thought Lane would have done, which is search for answers in the Word of God. Cline said that when people are looking for someone to blame for the tragedy, Lane would have known to blame Satan.

Cline said he would remember Lane foremost "as a Christian."

A few of Virginia's state legislators also spoke at Lane's funeral, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in West Virginia reported.

High school officials estimated that a crowd of 1,700 people passed through the building for visitation the night before the funeral.

Numerous funerals and memorial services for the Virginia Tech victims are reported to have taken place with further ceremonies planned.

Classes Resume
In Blacksburg on Monday, students returned to classes and continued to offer tributes to those they lost one week earlier. At 7:15 a.m., a bell tolled after a moment of silence outside the dormitory where the first shooting occurred, and two hours later another bell rang outside Norris Hall, where 30 of the 32 students and professors became part of student gunman Seung-Hui Cho's death toll. Balloons and white flags were used to symbolize the victims as students solemnly dealt with their losses and tried to move on.

Also on the campus, 33 chunks of limestone were placed in a semicircle to represent each of the victims and their killer. Someone had left a laminated letter at the stone marked for Cho.

"Cho, you greatly underestimated our strength, courage and compassion," the letter said, according to the Associated Press. "You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our spirits. We are stronger and prouder than ever. I have never been more proud to be a Hokie. Love, in the end, will always prevail. Erin J."

Cho's Family Responds
In the first public comment since the shootings, Cho's family released a statement to the Associated Press April 20, saying they are "living a nightmare."

"Our family is so very sorry for my brother's unspeakable actions," said Sun-Kyung Cho, a graduate of Princeton University and a State Department employee. "We pray for their families and loved ones who are experiencing so much excruciating grief. And we pray for those who were injured and for those whose lives are changed forever because of what they witnessed and experienced.

"Each of these people had so much love, talent and gifts to offer," Cho's sister said, "and their lives were cut short by a horrible and senseless act."

The family will do whatever is necessary to cooperate with authorities in their investigation of the case, Sun-Kyung Cho said.

"We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost," the statement continued. "This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person. We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."

Compiled by Erin Roach—BP News.

Published, May 2007