April 17, 2007 / 4:53 PM / 13 years ago

Heroic acts bright spot amid U.S. campus tragedy

BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Amid the horror at Virginia Tech were tales of heroism during the rampage, including an older professor — himself a Holocaust survivor — who gave his life to protect his students.

Virginia Tech students grieve on the university's campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, April 17, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Romanian-born Liviu Librescu, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, moved two decades ago to the United States where he taught in the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Although he was 76, long past the usual retirement age, he was still teaching at Virginia Tech on Monday when chaos erupted in Norris Hall, the campus building where a gunman identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, opened fire, killing 30 people before committing suicide.

Students described how the septuagenarian Librescu used his body to barricade the door against Cho so they could escape by jumping out the classroom’s second-floor window. Some broke legs in the fall, but they survived. Librescu was shot to death during the rampage.

An impromptu shrine to the professor was set up on the campus, with flowers and his picture.

“He was an exceptionally tolerant man who mentored scholars from all over our troubled world,” Ishwar Puri, his department head, said in a written statement released to the media.

“The people of Israel grieve with all who have been touched by this horrible tragedy and pray for the speedy and complete recovery of the wounded and for the families of those who lost their loved ones,” Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, said.

Julie Faith, 50, a Virginia Tech graduate whose son now attends the university, said Librescu’s story moved her to tears. “That was an amazing story. That was what made me really lose it,” she said.

Students who survived the massacre at Norris Hall spoke of school janitors who, as Cho opened fire upstairs, ran to help others instead of saving themselves.

“The janitors came running through, and told everyone to get out,” said Nick Vozza, 20, of Burke, Virginia, who was in the Norris Hall basement when Cho began his attack two floors above.

In a German class upstairs, a few students tried to barricade the door against the onslaught of bullets, and then tried to help their injured classmates while they waited for help, Trey Perkins, 20, told Fox News.

Of 15 students in his class, he said only about six came out alive.

Many students wore the school’s colours of orange and maroon in a sign of solidarity on Tuesday. Many said they were shocked and exhausted as the names of the victims began to trickle out, and they faced an onslaught of media and investigators.

But they said they were heartened by the stories of heroism.

“It’s one of those things where every little thing you do can save somebody’s life,” Vozza said. “The only thing we can do to get through this thing is to be nice to each other.”

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