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Tech Tragedy Hits Close to Home

Shooter, several victims, from Northern Virginia.

Nikolai Vozza was in a Norris Hall laboratory class when a SWAT team rushed inside and told everyone in the room to run.

A janitor in the building had yelled to the lab class that a shooter was inside somewhere. Before Vozza knew it, "tons of SWAT" members were all over the main floor of the building, he said.

"We didn't know what was going on," said Vozza, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering and a 2004 Lake Braddock graduate. "All we knew was that there was a shooter."

Vozza’s experience mirrors many accounts from Northern Virginia residents, mostly young adults, who were directly affected by Monday morning's massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech's campus in Blacksburg, Va.

The shooter, identified by Virginia State Police as Seung-Hui Cho was from the Sully Station neighborhood in Centreville, and was a 2003 graduate of Westfield High School.

At least two of the victims, Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson, were also residents of Centreville and Westfield graduates. Other local victims include Maxine Turner of Vienna, Mary Read of Annandale and Leslie Sherman of Springfield.

First-year student Kristina Heeger of Vienna was one of the students injured in the attack, according to reports.

LESLIE SHERMAN, a sophomore, attended West Springfield High School and graduated in 2005. She participated on cross-country team for four years and was on the track and field team for two years. Sherman was also a member of the National Honors Society, according to the high school’s web site.

"Leslie was a wonderful, vibrant, terrific, happy kid. She was always smiling and always making others smile," said Tim Hogan, whose daughter Kim was close friends with Leslie and ran with her on the West Springfield cross-country team.

Ryan MacRae, whose locker was next to Sherman’s for three years at West Springfield, said Leslie was a extremely happy person.

"She was friendly and always had a smile on her face," said MacRae, who had known Sherman since fifth grade. MacRae said he discovered Sherman had been killed from a former classmate.

Sherman also had a passion for history and made frequent trips to Williamsburg, Va. with her father, Anthony Sherman, said Hogan.

The West Springfield cross-country community – which Hogan described as "very close" – grew concerned about Leslie when they hadn’t heard from her Monday night after the shootings. They found out about her death Monday evening.

"My daughter called me around 10:30 p.m . and she could hardly speak. Monday was a sleepless night," said Hogan.

Phillip Murillas, a Robinson graduate, lived on the same hall with Sherman at Virginia Tech, and attended a colloquium with her. "I came to respect her intelligence and passion for learning," Murillas said.

REEMA SAMAHA had been active as a high-school student in theater and participated in Cappies, a program for advanced drama students in the Washington-metropolitan area. She was also a member of several dance groups in college.

"[Reema] was a beautiful, wonderful dancer and she helped me out immensely with the show," said Yevonne Henry, a Westfield parent who choreographed the performance of "Oklahoma" at the school last spring.

PETERSON, standing 6 feet and 1 inch tall, was a star basketball player at Westfield and going on to join the Virginia Tech team as a freshman this year.

Several student postings on "In honor of Maxine Turner" at www.facebook.com described the chemical senior engineering student and Madison graduate as kind and honest.

Read, 19 years-old, played lacrosse and clarinet in the school’s concert band, while attending Annandale High School.

THE STUDENT identified as the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who was a 23 year-old Tech senior and English major, lived in a dormitory on campus, said Virginia Tech president Charles W. Steger. A resident alien from South Korea, Cho killed himself after carrying out the largest mass shooting in United States history, according the Virginia State Police.

Dale Rumberger, principal of South County Secondary School, was principal of Westfield High School until 2005. He said he knew victims Leslie Peterson and

Reema Samaha as well as Cho, though he knew the girls better than the identified shooter. He declined to comment further.

The murders took place in two buildings across the university's campus from each other, first at a little after 7 a.m. and then after 9 a.m.

RYAN CLARK of Georgia and Emily Hilscher of Rappahannock County were the first victims to be shot in Ambler Johnson Hall, where Clark worked as a resident assistant. Most of the victims were killed in Norris Hall, an academic building that houses the school's engineering program.

There is no evidence of an accomplice and at least one gun was used in both incidents, said Col. Steve Flaherty of the Virginia State Police. Police have reported that at least two guns, a 9 mm handgun and .22-caliber gun, were used in the incident.

The Virginia Tech tragedy comes close to a year after another young resident of Centreville and Westfield graduate, 18-year-old Michael Kennedy, ambushed the Sully District Police Station in Chantilly and fatally shot two police officers.

Tech’s campus was also placed on high alert because of a similar incident in August 2006 when a escaped jail inmate killed an deputy sheriff and a unarmed security guard at a nearby hospital and was found in the woods near the Blacksburg campus. The defendant, William Morva, is in custody and facing charges.

Phone line and Internet access was spotty as students, family and friends tried to get in touch with loved ones in Blacksburg following the shooting.

"I am using whatever methods I can, IM, Facebook and the phone, to get in contact with people," said 27-year-old graduate student David Kang, a Vienna native and Marshall graduate, on Monday. Kang was driving into Blacksburg from Northern Virginia when ambulances and police cars started to rush by him on the way to the scene.

"I have been on-line but the servers have been up and down and the phone lines busy," said 23-year-old Travis Denardo, an Ashburn resident and Blacksburg native, Monday evening.

Fairfax County Public Schools has announced that it will place trained psychologists and social workers in their schools to work with students and adults that have been affected. Additional police were also placed throughout the community and near the schools Tuesday, according to schools spokesperson Mary Shaw.

Virginia Tech has cancelled classes for the remainder of the week.

Scott Krischke, Mirza Kurspahic, Amber Healy and Bonnie Hobbs contributed to this report.