A Daughter’s Untimely Requiem
Parents Remember a Vibrant Girl as Va. Tech Funerals Begin
The parents, Joe and Mona Samaha, were due at the funeral home later in the morning to view their daughter Reema — to see her body for the first time since the madness at Virginia Tech. They sat in their living room early yesterday, flowers and sympathy cards around them, and looked ahead to those private moments, their daughter clothed for burial in a white satin dress her mother picked out.
“ I really want to touch her hair,” Mona said. She leaned closer to her husband on the sofa, her legs crossed, and stared at her lap. She spoke just above a whisper. “ I want to touch her fingers. She has such little fingers. From the first day it happened, I wanted to do that. And her hair. I might take a little piece of her hair.”
Joe breathed deep and said, “ I want to hold her, and I want to kiss her.”
She is 18 forever, Reema Samaha, a freshman, this smiling beauty in a portrait photo on the living- room table in a brick colonial in Centreville — brown eyes and black hair and a lifetime in front of her until six
days ago, when the shooting started in Norris Hall. Thirty- two dead in the massacre, students mostly, plus the gunman. And now comes the aftermath, the grief and farewells.
Now come the funerals and memorials. At least five this weekend. It was Minal Panchal’s turn yesterday. More than 100 mourners filled a chapel at Donaldson Funeral Home in Odenton to say goodbye to the 26- year- old architecture student, also slain in Norris.
“ It is now time to send our sweet Minu to a better place,” a family spokesman said as the memorial service came to an end. Panchal lay in a wooden coffin with colorful flowers draped over her chest. On her face, a peaceful smile.
Reema Samaha’s funeral is tomorrow. She wanted to be an urban planner. She wanted to design green spaces for cities. Instead, in the white satin dress, she’ll go from the Murphy Funeral Home in Falls Church to Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek- Catholic Church in McLean for a service, then back to Falls Church, to National Memorial Park.
Then, in anguish shared by loved ones of all the victims of April 16, her parents will return home from the cemetery, to that photo in the living room and the unending pain that Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho left in his wake.
This is what Cho, 23, wrought: “ Just very sad in knowing that I’m not going to be able to see her anymore,” said Mona Samaha, 49, a Lebanese- born elementary school teacher in Herndon. “ To really listen to her. Her asking me my advice. As independent as she was, she always came back to me for the last decision making. I’m not going to be able to play with her hair. Give her water if she’s thirsty outside in the sun.”
Joe Samaha, 51, a real estate broker of Lebanese descent, said he and his wife wanted to talk about their slain daughter “ so people will understand who Reema was. Her ambitions, her goals. What she meant to us.” She loved to entertain, loved contemporary dance. “ As a performer,” her father said, “ she wanted to be on stage. And I want the world to be her stage now. I want the world to see her. As a last wish.”
So as the clock ticked, as the couple waited for that appointment at the funeral home and then a memorial service for Reema in the afternoon — as the doorbell chimed, as visitors kept arriving, as the telephone kept bleating and hushed relatives moved about the house, tending to this, tending to that — Joe and Mona Samaha sat close on the sofa. And here came their memories. “ She enjoyed being different,” her father said. “ Whether it be dance or theater or character acting, her mind worked differently. . . . She was unique in that way. She saw things in a different perspective, which we don’t. And she could translate that into something that was beautiful, in a performance. It was innate, since she was probably 2 years old, when she started to dance. She had a different rhythm in her head.”
She was born June 23, 1988, the youngest of the couple’s three children. Her brother, Omar, is 23; her sister, Randa, 21.
“ She was not always neat,” her mother said. “ But when she was growing up, she would not want to do finger painting, because it was messy. . . . Yes, she always had to be the pretty girl. She was dainty. Little hands, little fingers. Finger painting was not her thing. . . . She always wanted to play dress up. When she was 2 or 3, she took all of her grandmother’s shoes . . . She was in love with shoes.
“ And she would want to wear high heels,” Mona said. “ But of course nobody can wear high heels at 3 and go up and down the stairs. . . . But she was in the blue and shiny high heels, going up and down the stairs all the time.”
And that lovely face in the portrait photo. Later yesterday, speaking to 800 people at the memorial service at a Chantilly church, Joe would say this about her smile: “ It was the bait, the lure — tempting you. And then, when she would capture your friendship and love, like a carpenter bee, she would drill a very clean hole into your heart.”
In the living room, her mother said: “ I noticed when she was a baby, she would cry, but as soon as I put her in the crib, she would stop.” There was a white satin comforter in the crib that pacified little Reema. “ One time, when I pulled her out, she carried it with her. And I noticed that it meant something to her. When I took it out of her hand, she was not happy. So that was something very special that she carried with her wherever she goes.”
Even to Virginia Tech, to her dorm room in Slusher Wing. “ We’ve got it now,” Mona said of the comforter. Yesterday, she took it to the funeral home, to put with Reema.
Other things Reema liked: Lebanese salad and funny TV shows, Harry Potter books and MAC cosmetics. Red lipstick, especially. She liked the color red.
She graduated from Westfield High School last spring, the same school from which Cho graduated in 2003. “ On the night of her prom, she looked so beautiful, with her wavy hair all to the side,” her mother said. “ Like Princess Jasmine. Fiery red dress. Big earrings. And everybody came to tell me she looked like Princess Jasmine, right from ‘ Aladdin.’ ”
The University of Virginia wait- listed her, and that was a disappointment. “ She was sad that she couldn’t go to U-Va., where her friends and cousin and sister are,” Mona said. “ So she went to Virginia Tech, because it is the school that accepted her, one of the best schools. But she was a little lost there.”
“ She was homesick at first,” her father said.
“ Very homesick,” her mother said. “ In her words in the e- mails, there was a lot of sadness. And then I asked her if she cries, and she said, ‘ Well, duh!’ But she wouldn’t want to talk about it. But I could tell. Every weekend there was a message. Saturday and Sunday.”
In their hearts, her parents wanted her home, wanted to gather her up in their arms, but they resisted, hoping she would tough it out — which she did. “ This semester, her second, was a semester of discovery,” Joe said. Reema had always been attuned to her heritage, and she joined a dance troupe of Middle Eastern students at Virginia Tech. She also performed with the school’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble. She made many friends.
And decided on a major: urban planning.
Her mother and father visited her last weekend, to watch her dance. And they had planned another trip this weekend.
“ Last Sunday, after all the perform- ances, she kept repeating, ‘ I’m so happy you came, Mommy! I’m so happy you came!’ And that was the last sentence she said to me, right as we were leaving. And she hugged me. We left at 6. And when we got home, about 10, her sister had to talk to her for something, so they talked on the phone.
“ Reema told her, ‘ I’m already feeling lonely, but I shouldn’t, because they just left me, and I’ll see them again next week.’ ”
Then, in the morning came the madness, and the end of everything.
After a while, Joe got up from the sofa, and his wife rose with him, both freighted with sorrow, a cargo of grief.
They stood there, and they knew it was time to leave. Time to see Reema. “ We always thought she was like a butterfly, because she was so light,” her mother said. “ Like a flower. If I had to put her in small words: A butterfly. A star. A flower that was picked too soon.” Staff writers Ovetta Wiggins and Jacqueline L. Salmon contributed to this report.
Joe Samaha hugs his surviving daughter, Randa, 21, at a Chantilly memorial service for 18-year-old Reema Samaha, below, who was slain in the Virginia Tech shootings. At left, her brother, Omar, 23, dabs his eyes. The funeral for Reema, a freshman urban planning major, is tomorrow.
Family members and friends mourn the loss of Reema Samaha at Saint Timothy Catholic Church in Chantilly. About 800 came to the service for Reema, who graduated from Westfield High School last spring.
Mourners attend the funeral of Austin Cloyd, 19, at Blacksburg Baptist Church. Austin, a freshman international studies major from Blacksburg whose father is a professor at Virginia Tech, was a dean’s list student.
David McKee, right, director of Virginia Tech’s marching band, hugs Bryan Clark, the twin of Ryan Clark, a member of the band who was killed in the shootings, during a memorial service for Ryan yesterday.
Police officers in Virginia Tech caps stand along the road and observe the graveside service yesterday for Jarrett Lane, a 22-year-old senior from the small town of Narrows, Va.