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Virginia Tech students return to campus to resume their studies

Still reeling in shock and grief, Virginia Tech begins Monday to try to restart the work of teaching and learning that was so horrifically interrupted a week ago by the murderous rampage of Cho Seung-Hui.

With the option of taking a grade on the work they have done so far - or dropping a course without penalty - some students may elect simply to deal with their grief at home.

But those who have come back say this is where they want to be right now.

"I want to be back this week even if I don't take my exams, just to be with people," Brittany Gambardella said Sunday, moving back into a dormitory where two students were slain at the beginning of the rampage. "Then you go home, and you end the year on a good note."

Students and faculty were expected to gather at 7:15 a.m. Monday near the dormitory where Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher were killed by Cho a week ago, before he moved on to a classroom building and killed 30 others plus himself.

At 9:45 - the time of the second shooting - the university planned a moment of silence, with a single bell tolling from the tower of the main administration building. A minute later, the bell will toll 32 times - once for each victim - as 32 white balloons are released from the field below.

The university says it is not sure how many students planned to be back Monday - or whether some might not come back at all.

But among those here, there is a strong sense that the university community - though grievously wounded - is tighter now than before. None could think of anyone who was considering transferring because of the shooting.

"I want to go back to class just to be with the other students. If you just left without going back to classes, you would just go home and keep thinking about it," said Ryanne Floyd, who returned to campus after spending most of last week with her family and avoiding news coverage of the tragedy. "At least here, being with other students, we can get some kind of closure."

The students are returning to classes are more details about the rampage emerged. Dr. William Massello, the assistant state medical examiner based in Roanoke, said that Cho died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head after firing enough shots to wound his 32 victims more than 100 times.

But there was nothing unusual about Cho's autopsy, he said, and nothing that would have hinted at any psychological problems that might have led him to commit the mass killing.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech students say they are becoming overwhelmed by the intense media coverage of the case. On Sunday, Virginia Tech's Student Government Association issued a statement asking the media to respect the privacy of students and leave by the time classes resume Monday.

"Our students are ready to start moving forward, and the best way we can do that is to get the campus back to normal," Liz Hart, director of public relations for the SGA, said in an interview. Students don't want "anything external remind to us it will be a difficult road. We know that."

Virginia Tech officials say their top priority is the victims' families, and they have given each of them a private e-mail address and direct phone number for President Charles Steger.

Students have returned to a campus covered with memorials and tributes to the students, from the flowers, writings and candles laid out for each of the victims on Virginia Tech's main campus lawn to posters covered with the words of students.

There are constant reminders of counseling options, and a state police security presence, at least through Monday.

But there will be edgy moments, and difficult conversations.

"I still feel safe. I always have," said Claire Guzinski, a resident of West Ambler Johnston Hall, where Clark and Hilscher were slain. "I just think, stuff happens. It's still in the middle of nowhere, a rural area. What are the chances of it happening twice?"

The only thing she feels nervous about? What to say to classmates who lost close friends.

"What do you say?"

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