Tuesday’s convocation at Virginia Tech provided an opportunity for members of the Hokie Nation to show their support for university President Charles Steger, who has come under criticism for the delay of more than two hours before an e-mail was sent to students and staff notifying them that there had been a shooting on campus.
As the service in the basketball arena began, a student in section 7 held up a sign reading “Support Steger.”
A warm wave of applause greeted Steger when he was introduced as a speaker. It quickly grew into a standing ovation, led by renowned poet and Virginia Tech Professor Nikki Giovanni.
Giovanni herself brought down the house later in the service by reciting her poem, “We Are Virginia Tech.”
After the convocation, Steger also drew support from two students living one floor above the alleged shooter.
"People need to stop playing the blame game," said Christopher Byron, a junior accounting major from Dunwoody, Ga. He was standing outside Harper Hall, where his suite is No. 3120, directly above suite 2120, where Cho Seung-Hui lived with five other students. "Even if I had known more about what had happened" in the first shooting, "I still would have gone to class. I had a test."
His suite-mate, Adam Thompson, agreed. A senior from Rosedale, Ga., studying human nutrition, Thompson said that security on the campus is more than adequate. Each dorm resident has a card key that opens the outside doors of only that dorm, but students frequently held the doors for other students or strangers. "Maybe not at 3 in the morning, but at 7 in the morning when this happened, sure."
Police have said they're not sure how the gunman gained access to the dorm where the first two victims, a female student and a male resident adviser, were killed. Because students often are coming back from all-night study binges, or headed out to the dining hall next door, the students said that many people would have been coming in or out of the dorms early in the morning. "So someone held the door for him," Byron theorized with a shrug.
Harper Hall is a private, quiet dorm where students mind their own business, more like an apartment building, both Byron and Thompson said. Each suite has a single entry door, with common rooms and three bedrooms shared by two students each. Because the bathrooms are inside the suites, students don't share common bathrooms on the halls, as is the case in most other dorms on campus. Few freshmen live in Harper, because it's harder to get into, so it's mostly an older crowd that tends to skip the RA's lectures on "how to spend spring break." So if a student was troubled, few others might know, they said.
The Harper Hall rooms are nearly empty now, and both students said they planned to join the exodus from campus, now that classes are canceled for the rest of the week. Not all the students are going voluntarily.
"My mom guilt-tripped me into coming home," Byron said.
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As officials, students and families struggle to come to terms with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, a team of MSNBC.com reporters and editors and NBC News producers and correspondents is on the scene.