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Virginia Tech professor whose daughter died in campus shooting resumes his work

Professor Bryan Cloyd returned to the spot where his daughter's body had been found.

Cloyd settled into it, closed his eyes. But in that moment, it was not a violent vision of Austin's death that flooded his mind. It was a joyful vision of her birth.

"It was an image of hope," Cloyd recalled softly on Sunday from a nearby classroom building as his wife, Renee, sat by his side, brushing away tears. "And I think that was Austin saying, 'Dad, I'm OK.' "

Cloyd returned to work Monday as the school year opened at the very campus where his daughter perished among 32 others killed in April by student gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

To an outsider, Cloyd's immersion in a place filled with so many reminders of his daughter - and the way she died - might seem bitterly painful. And sometimes, Cloyd acknowledges, it is. But more than anything, he says, it is healing.

"We couldn't leave here," said Cloyd, 46, of Blacksburg. "This is a campus now where she will forever be remembered."

What better place to heal, Cloyd said, than a community that has shared their grief and understands it?

"Two or three of the (victims') families had mentioned, 'This has got to be difficult for you living here,' and no, it's just the opposite - we have the support here," Renee said.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Cloyd wondered whether he could ever return to his job as an accounting professor at Virginia Tech. Then gradually, he got used to being on campus on Monday mornings - the day of the week his 18-year-old daughter was killed. His visit to Norris Hall, where Cho killed 30 people before committing suicide, also eased some of his anxiety.

The couple was nervous about the prospect of watching students and parents arrive on campus in their jam-packed cars - reminders of their own daughter's move-in day last year.

But seeing the returning students' excitement has been comforting, Renee said. And Sunday's dedication of the victims' memorial also brought them some peace, she said, helping to show the community that they can honor the dead while still moving forward.

Then there are the constant reminders of Austin: the campus lawn she walked across, the dining halls where they ate lunch together, the stone buildings she admired so much.

More and more, though, Cloyd says those reminders are a source of comfort. He gazes often at the spot on campus where Austin posed for a high school graduation picture.

Spending the summer making plans to carry on their daughter's legacy has also helped with the transition, Cloyd says. The couple plans to use $150,000 (111,309 EUR) of the $180,000 (133,570 EUR) allotted to them by Virginia Tech's memorial fund to establish The Austin Michelle Cloyd Honors Scholarship. The fund promotes social justice causes - something their altruistic daughter would have approved of, her parents believe. The scholarship will provide undergraduate honors students with up to $7,500 (5,565 EUR) to underwrite the costs of a service-oriented activity.

"It enables kids to do the sorts of things that Austin would have wanted to do," Cloyd said.

The remaining $30,000 (22,262 EUR) in fund money will be used to help pay for the Virginia Tech Appalachia Service Project's collegiate service weekends. Austin felt deep compassion for those who lived in poverty and was devoted to the ASP, which provides housing services to low-income families living in Central Appalachia.

"We know that service for others helps you heal as well."Renee said.

This semester, Cloyd will teach a small doctoral seminar on accounting research, and in the spring he will teach an undergraduate tax course.

The memorial to the victims lies less than 100 yards (90 meters) from Cloyd's office. On Sunday, he and Renee stopped to place an arrangement of bright pink and yellow flowers next to Austin's marker.

Cloyd does not know how the year ahead will unfold. He does not know if he will have the energy he wants for his students.

But as he sits in a room on a campus teeming with reminders of his daughter, he says he does know one thing.

He will not have to face the year alone.

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