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About 9,000 people attend vigil on the fifth anniversary of Virginia Tech shootings

Events will be held throughout the day on the school's campus in Blacksburg.

April 17, 2012|Melissa Gaona/Karen Kiley/Elizabeth Harrington | WDBJ7 Reporters
WDBJ7

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Five years ago Monday, grief consumed the campus of Virginia Tech after a gunman opened fire, killing 32 people.

Virginia's Governor was one of many speaking at a candlelight vigil Monday evening.

People will never forget what happened at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

Hokies will never forget the 32 lives taken.

As Governor Bob McDonnell said people have chosen not to curse the darkness but light a candle.

About 10,000 people stood together on the drillfield at Virginia Tech Monday night.

"Be together as a Hokie nation," Andrew Shelton said.

It capped an emotional candlelight vigil that began at dusk with Governor Bob McDonnell addressing the crowd.  He remembers that day five years ago. A day that shook everyone.

"Everybody remembers what they were doing, where they were, how they felt, what they were thinking on that cold Monday morning," McDonnell said.

Then the names of all 32 victims were read aloud.

It was followed by an affirmation of that person. Their loves, their achievements and dreams.

Most of the crowd didn't know the victims, but that didn't matter.  They're all Hokies.

"I love the fact that everyone still comes out here and shows their appreciation," Damir Grljevic said.

After the sun set people lit candles one-by-one.

The day of remembrance officially ended at 11:59 p.m. Monday night

That's when the ceremonial candle was extinguished.

Five years have passed but the anniversary is still a heartbreaking day for the Hokie nation.

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For the first time in five years, Virginia Tech students are back in the classroom on April 16.

For the Hokie Nation, April 16 will always be a day of remembrance.

"Its still obviously a lot of emotion that goes on just thinking about what happened here five years ago," Virginia Tech student Ashley Spangler said.

Thirty-two people were killed by a gunman on this day back in 2007. Since the shootings, no classes have been held on April 16th.

"I think the students who died that day definitely deserve a day of respect, whether or not we are or we aren't in class, they should definitely get their recognition," Virginia Tech student Tom Sefcik said.

Administrators say those killed will always be remembered. But this year, they'll be honored before the start of classes. The decision to have classes Monday was carefully thought out and planned by the April 16th committee years ago.

"Teaching is what we're about. We feel it's the best way to remember the students who were so passionate about their learning experiences and to be back in the classroom," Virginia Tech senior vice president Mark McNamee said.

Though many of these students weren't here when the shootings happened, everyone remembers.

"Although it's really important to have classes run as normal, I think at the same time it needs to be a day that we keep sacred because it was such a huge event that really impacted our school," Spangler said.

Over the weekend, Virginia Tech held a 3.2-mile run, instead of on the anniversary. Also on Monday students, staff, and alumni gathered on the drillfield in the middle of the day for a community picnic.

It gave people a chance to come together, to feel the Hokie Pride that's so strong at Virginia Tech. And even those students who weren't anywhere near campus five years ago, this remembrance picnic gave them a taste of just how strong the community has become since the tragedy.

"It's something we'll always remember but we've definitely moved past it and this is a beautiful campus and no matter what I feel safe here," Virginia Tech freshman Alexis Craghead said.

Besides the community picnic, there were some smaller, more private events held around campus.

Administrators believe that being back in the classroom will be an enriching experience, not only for students but also faculty. Administrators also say that they don't talk about "moving on."

Instead, they take this day to think about what happened, remember those who lost their lives, and to grow from this tragic event.   

Later tonight, a candlelight vigil and commemoration ceremony will be held at 7:30 p.m. The vigil has been held at the memorial every year since the shootings. This year, Governor McDonnell plans to be there.

At 11:59 p.m., the ceremonial candle lit at midnight this morning, will be extinguished.

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Virginia Tech is marking the fifth anniversary today of the April 16th shootings.

It started right at midnight with the lighting of a ceremonial candle at the April 16th Memorial on campus.

The candles were lit by the Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets and representatives of the student body.

The Corp of Cadets will stand guard for 32 minutes to represent the 32 people who died on April 16th, 2007.

At 9:43 a.m. this morning, a bell on Virginia's Capitol Square in Richmond rang 32 times to mark the anniversary.

The candle will remain lit in rotating shifts for 24 hours.

At 11:30 a.m. today, a community picnic will be held on the drillfield.

Then at 7:30 p.m. tonight, a commemoration and candlelight vigil will happen at the memorial. Governor Bob McDonnell will be there.

One minute before midnight tonight, the Corp of Cadets will extinguish the ceremonial candle.   

Once it's put out, the light will be carried back into Burruss Hall, representing the commitment to never forget.

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