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Many forgive Virginia Tech killer

Many forgive Virginia Tech killer

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BLACKSBURG, Va. - Kelly White and her two children visited the semicircle of memorials on the Virginia Tech campus, leaving 32 pink tulips - one for each victim in last week's massacre. They also placed a tulip on the stone for gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

"Forgiveness is part of being freed from anger," said White, a Blacksburg resident with relatives who attended the school. "I try to teach my children that God loves everyone."

Cho killed 32 people in the worst shooting in modern U.S. history. But surprisingly little outrage has been directed toward him around campus.

He is memorialized alongside his victims, and students preach forgiveness and talk about him like a troubled family member.

Caroline Merrey, 22, jumped to safety out a classroom window in the building where Cho killed 30 people and himself. She said she was angry at Cho but also feels sorry for him. "I don't know how I can be feeling both of those things at the same time, but I do," she said.

Campus leaders, experts and those touched by the tragedy say there are several reasons for the spirit of forgiveness. Many people are too overcome by grief to think about anything else. The fact that Cho killed himself provided enough retribution, some say. Others say forgiveness is rooted in the area's strong Christian values.

And there's also the loyalty to the "Hokie Nation."

After a student organization placed the stone memorials in a semicircle last week on the main campus lawn, senior Katelynn Johnson added a 33rd stone for Cho. Johnson said she told almost no one because she feared a backlash.

She came forward after someone took the stone away, because she was outraged. She says she accepts all "fellow students, faculty and alumni as Hokies" no matter what problems they have.

"I believe his life had value no matter what he did," she said. "We lost 33 people."

Johnson said she has received hundreds of messages supporting placement of the stone for Cho. She only got a few negative responses, and only one from the Tech community.

After the first stone for Cho was removed, someone else came forward and placed a new one there. Thursday, the stone remained.

The appearance and disappearance of the stone reflects the community's struggle to come to terms with the massacre.

Virginia Tech has not included Cho in its memorial services for the 32 victims. A bell chimed 33 times Monday on the campus lawn, but university officials said the first chime was to start the ceremony. Officials released 32 balloons to remember Cho's victims.

The university has had no contact with Cho's family and does not plan to award him a posthumous degree as it will the students he killed, spokesman Mark Owczarski said.

The Rev. Scott Russell, an Episcopal minister at Virginia Tech, said he talked to some students who feel the need to acknowledge Cho's death because the family deserves compassion. But he said many more students aren't able to forgive.

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