Web brings students together to mourn shooting victims

(MCT) – The aftermath of the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history has brought grieving college students to their comfort zone: the Internet.

Planet Blacksburg, a Virginia Tech student-run news Web site, had a rundown of the days’ events as they were occurring, while some students in the buildings text messaged and instant messaged to get answers from the outside.

In the hours that followed, students from across the country have formed an online community in mourning through blogs, profiles and other message boards.

One message was prevalent throughout: “Today we are all Hokies.”

It’s branded at the bottom of a cartoon by freelance cartoonist Ben Lansing, depicting a crying Hokie with other Virginia college mascots such as the Cavalier (University of Virginia) and the Duke Dog (James Madison University) gathering around it. The cartoon has become widely circulated since Monday’s shootings of 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Posted all over Facebook profiles and MySpace walls, the slogan has been put on pictures of a black ribbon with a large “VT” in the middle of it and turned into Facebook profile pictures. Students from other schools have placed their mascots underneath that.

By 5 p.m. on Monday, there were more than 200 Facebook groups dedicated to the tragedy. Many had the words “pray” and “tribute” in the title. Since then, college-specific groups have been created, such as “Dickinson College is praying for Virginia Tech” and “Hoosiers pray for Virginia Tech Tragedy.”

Some are there to simply offer condolences and let Virginia Tech students know thoughts and prayers are with them, others are set up to get word out about vigils, moments of silence and candlelight prayers.

Then there are those set up to remember the victims, a place for friends and family to come together and speak of lost loved ones, such as “In Remembrance of Reema Samaha,” which was created by one of her cousins who attends the University of Maryland.

Along with Facebook, MySpace, another popular social networking site, has been a hub for comments and condolences.

“Even though I don’t know you or those who perished, Today we are all Hokies,” said a post on the MySpace blog of a friend of Maxine Turner, one of the shooting victims. “I am here representing Montgomery College in Conroe Texas in saying we grieve with you and with the families of those lost. We unite in mourning while leaving our differences behind in times like these.”

Another post read, “it might not mean much, I cant pretend to know how u or anyone else feels about what happened, but my thoughts are with everyone affected…”

On Turner’s MySpace page, friends and others have come to pay their respects. “I love you and still can’t believe you’re gone,” reads one post. “You were a real success. Just 2 weeks from graduation _ you did so well for yourself. I’m so proud of you, and I’m sorry this had to happen to you.”

While CNN and other traditional news outlets were providing blow-by-blows of the tragedy to outsiders and Virginia Tech students alike, other outlets were focused on the event as well.

MTV.com, the online home of the youth-friendly television network, has created an online forum for people from around the world to vent their feelings.

“This is so scary. I am a high school senior headed off to Ohio State next year, and now I am really nervous,” read one post. “Why would someone do this? I feel so bad for everyone who was hurt. You guys are all in my prayers.”

“I don’t go to Virginia Tech, but this tragedy affects us all,” wrote “Josh” from Chicago, Ill. “As a generation, I like to think we are all in this together _ and we are. We can rise again. I send my love and support to the students of Virginia Tech. You guys will overcome this.”

Wikipedia entries also have been created to memorialize the event and some of its victims.

While students write about and remember their friends, or simply offer condolences and are thankful for their own safety, the way they are doing it is a reflection of the times as well. People are turning the cold, sometimes impersonal online world, which provides instant access to information, into a place for instant reflection and remembrance.