Correction: This story has been modified from its original version. — "A different perspective," (CT, April 16) needs to be corrected. Joseph Aust lived in suite 2121. Haiyan Cheng's name was misspelled. The Collegiate Times regrets these errors.
Leah Palmer will always remember the moment she was handed her slain sister's ashes.
The box was still warm to the touch, just eight hours after her body had been cremated.
Joseph Aust still wonders what would have happened if he hadn't made the decision to go to class that Monday morning, instead of being in his room when his roommate, Seung-Hui Cho, returned from his first round of shootings.
The splintering of the wood door Lisa Kaiser laid against in room 205 of Norris Hall will echo in her mind for eternity, along with the feeling of Cho pushing against her weight, trying to get inside the room to kill her.
Col. Rock Roszak of the Corps of Cadets remembers standing by the kitchen table, embracing his wife, and weeping into her shoulder. It had finally hit him. A cadet, full of potential, was forever lost.
A sister mourns the loss of her younger sibling ...
Palmer's sister was Julia Pryde, who was in the advanced hydrology classroom where Cho shot and killed her and nine of her classmates. April 16 seemed like just another day in Palmer's office in Chantilly, where she works as a project manager for Advanced Project Management.
She had already received some calls from concerned close friends, who knew her sister went to Tech, where earlier in the morning the news had announced an ugly shooting took place. Palmer called her sister, but she didn't pick up.
She left a message, but felt assured Julia was probably fine; there had been no reason to worry. It wasn't until about 5 p.m. that evening, right when she was about to head home from work, that she called her mom. Her mom told her to quickly pack her bags, and to drive down to Tech as soon as possible, something was wrong.
Palmer was the first to arrive in Blacksburg. Her parents were driving down from New Jersey. Once she got to Tech, Palmer started demanding answers: "Why am I here? Where is my little sister?"
Finally she got answer from a chaplain with the Virginia State Police: her baby sister was dead.
Pryde had an incredible future ahead of her, Palmer said. And one could determine that by looking at all the accomplishments she'd garnered in just the 23 years of her life.
"Julia was very involved with composting at Tech, she did lots of case studies and presentations to the administration to get it started," Palmer said. "She did work in South America studying the effects of water run off on mountains. She was going to be famous. She was going to change the world."
Suffering the intense loss of her sister, Palmer will never forgive the Tech administration for what she described as a lack of compassion. Palmer remembers feeling bewildered when she first arrived on campus. After she'd been in Blacksburg for two days, consoling her parents and siblings, they still hadn't seen President Charles Steger, Palmer said. After strenuously campaigning to meet him, an appearance was scheduled.
They met in the Skelton Conference Center auditorium. The victims' families sat in the seats, and he stood at a distant podium. His first words to them, as Palmer remembers, were, "Well I suppose you've seen my interview on CNN..."
"We demanded he come talk to us," Palmer said. "How dare he not be there on day one, on Tuesday at 7 a.m. saying 'I'm so sorry for your loss, what can we do to help you?' He never ever apologized. For him to come in and say that (about the CNN interview) was just a slap in the face."
She also recalls feeling slightly nauseous when she learned her parents' Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund payout had a $200.00 deduction subtracted from their total payment. The deduction was for the hotel room at the Inn at Virginia Tech they stayed in during May to receive their daughter's posthumous diploma. Later, in August, Palmer received an invitation to sit in President Steger's personal luxury skybox during Tech's football home opener against East Carolina University.
But more than free tickets to a football game, more than a hand shake from Steger, more than a free hotel room, Palmer wanted something she knew she'll never get again: one more hug, one more smile, one more 'love ya,' from her sister, "Jules."
"Even the invitation to the football game, I mean, that's not reaching out to the families," Palmer said. "I don't want to go to a football game. I want Jules back. I want my little sister back."