After last week’s events here at Virginia Tech, all I can think of is Reema Samaha. I think of her constant smile, her love of dance and the first day she came to take part in Hill and Veil, the campus’s Middle Eastern dance group. She came to our beginner belly-dance hour on a Wednesday night early last fall, and afterward, she politely asked if she could stay and try to follow along with the advanced group. Within minutes, we knew that she was a natural dancer, one of the best we had ever seen. Part of me is angry that she is dead, but most of me just does not understand. Blacksburg has always felt safe to me. I felt safe as I walked to class from the bus stop on Monday morning. I felt safe seated in my 9:05 class Monday morning — until we saw police with large guns run past our room in Pamplin Hall. My classmate, Amanda, turned on her laptop and found an e-mail notification of a “shooting incident” earlier that morning. We passed cellphones around attempting to reach parents, significant others and friends. The professor, Clare Dannenberg, turned on the TV in hopes of getting more information than the spotty e-mails were giving us. The news reported a gunman in Norris Hall — just two buildings away.
We were placed in lockdown and weren’t let out until a little after noon. There was slight gridlock to get off campus; we could go only one way since ambulances were lined all down Perry Street. We spent the afternoon trying to get ahold of as many people as possible, trying to find out who was in Norris.
I had received e-mails from all of the advanced dance girls, except for Reema. We tried her cellphone; the mailbox was full. We checked her screen name; she was not online. We looked at Facebook. Her wall was covered in messages saying, “We can’t find you” and “Where are you?” I received a phone call around 11 p.m. It was Liz Varnerin, the dance group’s vice president, in tears. Through her sobs, she told me that Reema had not made it. The first thing I was able to say was, “Oh God, are you sure?” I hoped so badly that I was going to wake up from all of this. But something inside me knew. And I cried, like thousands of other students, parents and professors across the campus. All I can hope is that God or Allah or whatever being it is up there made it as painless as possible for her.
And I cry now because this is not just my story. This is the story of every Virginia Tech student. A few details may change, but we all lost 32 friends that day. We have bonded together in the face of tragedy, we have gripped each other’s hands, and we have wept while holding our heads high. We have been broken, but we remain standing. We will mourn for a long time, and we will never forget. But I, at least, will return. I will return to Virginia Tech for Reema — and we will dance for her together.
A natural: Reema Samaha, bottom right, and the author, second from right in the back row.