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Herndon Hokie Alumni Among Grieving

Local Virginia Tech alumni react to news of country's deadliest shooting.

Monday morning's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history, has hit a local nerve among community leaders in Herndon who have strong ties to the school.

"We were stunned, shocked; this cannot be happening," said 31-year Herndon resident Laura Price, who along with her Virginia Tech alumni husband George, regularly attends the school's sporting events. "This should not be happening at any campus, not just at Virginia Tech."

Price, a long-time volunteer with Herndon's Friday Night Live concert series, said that she spends more than eight weekends a year with her husband at the University. Price and her husband are regular donors to the school, she said. The couple is down at the Blacksburg campus so often that they just finished purchasing a home near the school in Blacksburg in February, she added.

But the incident has not negatively changed her opinion of the school, her personal feelings of comfort on the campus nor their decision to purchase the home, Price said.

"I wouldn't invest in a house down there if I wasn't" going to use it, she said. "If anything my [positive] feelings towards the school are stronger ... after what happened."

HERNDON MAYOR Steve DeBenedittis, a Virginia Tech graduate who attended the school from 1986 to 1990, remembers taking a class at Norris Hall, where the majority of the murders occurred.

The DeBenedittis family has a strong connection with the school, he said, as he and his two sisters were all educated there. His older sister had lived in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory, where the shootings began.

"It's hard to know what to say, it's completely incomprehensible why someone would do this, it just doesn't make sense," DeBenedittis said. "I know that myself and a lot of us are praying for all of the families at Virginia Tech."

DeBenedittis added that the Town Council would observe a moment of silence at its April 17 work session and move to pass a resolution honoring the victims for its April 24 public hearing.

THE INITIAL IMAGES of the shooting that were broadcast nationally Monday morning left Virginia Tech graduate, former Board of Visitors member, former Herndon mayor and state Del. Tom Rust (R-86) in shock.

"It was just a total sense of sadness," Rust said, "not just for the victims but for the university as a whole."

Rust served as a member of the school's governing body from 1996 to 2002, and took part in its decision to hire university president Charles Steger and ban firearms on the campus, he said.

"I think the university, in an extremely trying situation, has handled it as well as they could," Rust said.

Still, the shooting will surely be a sensitive issue for several Northern Virginia residents, many of whom are Virginia Tech alumni or have children or loved ones at the university, he added.

"I know there are tens of thousands of Virginia Tech alumni in the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area. We call ourselves the Hokie Nation," Rust said. "This really hits home."