A Daugh­ter’s Un­timely Re­quiem

Par­ents Re­mem­ber a Vi­brant Girl as Va. Tech Fu­ner­als Be­gin

The Washington Post Sunday - - Front Page - By Paul Dug­gan

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.

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