Ambitious 'Planners' had many hopes for the future

April 20, 2007 | By Wendy Koch, Richard Wolf

One ran marathons. Another led a swing-dancing club. One played classical piano, while another wrote music. One helped South American villagers improve their water quality. Another was among the world’s top researchers on cerebral palsy.

The stories of the 32 victims of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech read like a “who’s who” of talent and ambition, compassion and love.

“They were going to make their mark in the world,” said Eddie Goss, the high school basketball coach of Matthew Gwaltney, 24, a graduate student.

The victims were mostly young. Median age: 22. The oldest was Liviu Librescu, 76, an engineering professor and Holocaust survivor. Eight were still teenagers. Two-thirds belonged to the Millennial Generation, born since 1982. Four were seniors about to graduate.

“The first thing that strikes you about them is that they were normal, well-adjusted kids, close to their parents, looking forward to being good parents themselves, to serving their communities, to being good citizens,” said historian Neil Howe, co-author of several books on generations.

They were smart. Most graduated high school with honors, several as valedictorians. Nine victims were graduate students, another five faculty. Together, they had at least 23 college degrees. They wanted to be veterinarians, architects, photographers, engineers—or to join the Peace Corps.

They were diverse. Some came from the tiniest hamlets in America’s heartland. Others hailed from faraway lands: India, Indonesia, Peru, Egypt, Romania.

They wanted to change the world. Senior Ryan Clark, 22, spent summers as music director at a camp for disabled adults and children. Freshman Austin Cloyd, 18, spent summers roofing homes in Appalachia.

“They come across as mature. They come across as planners,” Howe said. “They were really planning their…lives.”

Some were spiritual. Their religions ranged from Buddhist to Muslim to Hindu. Four served in Campus Crusade for Christ.

Some were in love. Jamie Bishop, 35, a German instructor, met his wife Stephanie Hofer in Germany and followed her to America so she could earn her doctorate. “It was like he had just met her for the first time each day,” said friend Jacques Morin.

For some, college was a dream come true. Henry Lee, 20, was one of 10 children whose parents escaped from Vietnam when he was 5. Daniel Perez Cueva, 21, was working his way through college at a local CVS drugstore.

Five were parents. Others yearned to be parents. Still others put it off so they could study, work or travel.

Perhaps more than anything, they were optimistic—even in death. Freshman Mary Read, 19, was “not the type of person who would want everyone to be sad,” said a friend, Virginia Burk.

“We want the world to know and celebrate our children’s lives,” her father, Peter Read, said Thursday. “These kids were the best that their generation has to offer.”

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