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Tragedy overwhelms leaders

April 18, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The clock tower bell of the Franklin County Courthouse tolled 32 times Tuesday afternoon in memory of the 32 lives lost Monday at Virginia Tech when a student went on a shooting rampage at a dormitory and academic hall.

About 50 county employees and others gathered on the courthouse steps for moment of silence. Present were Franklin County Area Development Corp. President Mike Ross and his wife, Donna, whose daughter, Tracy, is a senior at the university.

"This event has touched me like no other since 911," Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said. He said the ceremony was "just an opportunity for us all to get together and think about how lucky we are."

"I'm sorry. I'm just not dealing with this one very well," an emotional Elliott said, noting that he has college-age sons.

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"They all seem to be physically well, but they are all trying to make sense of something that doesn't make sense," Mike Ross said of his daughter's description of student reactions.

The Rev. William Harter offered up prayer, saying there is a "mystery of evil" perpetrated by individuals and groups that cannot be fathomed by man. He spoke of the heroism of Liviu Librescu, a professor and Holocaust survivor who died blocking the doorway of his classroom against the shooter, identified by police as 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui.

Ross said many people, concerned for his daughter's safety, offered his family support.

"We're so overwhelmed, we don't know what else to say," he said.

Fortunately, Ross said, Tracy Ross was in her apartment when she received an e-mail about the mass shooting on campus, which followed an earlier shooting in which two students were shot dead in a dormitory.

"My mother called Donna, asking her if she had heard from Tracy, without really a heads up as to why," Ross said. At that point, Ross said he was unaware of the tragedy unfolding in Blacksburg, Va.

Donna Ross was quickly able to get a call through to their daughter and "We knew almost immediately (she was safe) and that was an absolute relief," he said.

Tracy once lived in the dorm where the shootings began and took classes in Norris Hall, where 30 of the victims were killed, Ross said.

"She said she will never set foot in the classroom building where the shooting took place," Ross sad.

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