BLACKSBURG, Va. - They had to get away.
Being on the campus of death was just too "overwhelming" and "spooky," they said.
Students at horror-stricken Virginia Tech packed suitcases and duffel bags yesterday and carried them to waiting vehicles. Many of the students were still stunned by what had befallen their bucolic campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
"I just want to be with my family," Kellen Edenfield, 20, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering, said as he sat in his navy-blue Jeep Wrangler behind Harper Hall, his duffel bag in the back.
"It is very overwhelming being here. My parents, I think they want to see me."
Edenfield is heading home to Greensboro, N.C. He said he attended the vigil the night before and heard President Bush, and now, he said, he'd had enough.
He said his family was very worried about his being on campus. "I've been on the cell phone for the last two days straight."
He wasn't sure he'd be back in time for finals.
"That's not the most important thing right now," said Edenfield, whose dorm room is in Cochrane Hall, behind Harper, where the killer - Cho Seung-Hui - lived.
Senior Carl Brown, 21, said he had planned to stay on campus, but then his friends started to leave.
"It is really spooky by yourself," Brown said as he lugged a green suitcase to his car behind Harper Hall. "I just want to get away from things. Hopefully it will be a new atmosphere when I get back."
A business major from Montclair, N.J., Brown said he was shaken when he found out that Cho lived on the second floor of Harper, two floors below his room.
Like many students, Brown awoke Monday morning to learn only sketchy details of what was going on.
"I woke up and there were all these cops outside," he said. He said he didn't think much of it until he turned on CNN.
Cops huddled in the lobby of his dormitory all day, he said, allowing only residents to enter.
Outside West Ambler Johnston Hall yesterday, where the first two victims had been killed, Bobby Hamlett, 19, was waiting for his roommate, Matt Hearn, 19, to pick him up and drive them home to Richmond.
Hamlett, a freshman business major, stood on the sidewalk with two bags of dirty laundry and duffel bags of fresh clothes.
He said he lives on the sixth floor and only learned of the shootings, as did other students, through university e-mail messages.
"It's kinda strange that someone was shot in my dorm," he said.
Sara Lilly, 19, sat on the curb outside Harper Hall, waiting for a ride from a fellow student. Her room is on the third floor, one flight up from Cho's.
Lilly said she had wanted to "regroup with the community," but since all her suite mates had left, she decided she didn't want to be alone. She was heading for Northern Virginia.
Hayley Finch, 19, from Littleton, Colo., drove to her father's house in Richmond, where she planned to catch a flight to Colorado to see her mother.
Her high school is five minutes from Columbine High, where two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher on April 20, 1999, before taking their own lives.
With everyone else gone, Virginia Tech would be a "ghost town," Finch said by cell phone.
"I'm definitely coming back," she said. "I'm not afraid of coming back."
Meanwhile, the campus' central Drillfield has become the center of student grief as a new memorial was erected.
Those who hadn't left right away huddled in the chilly afternoon, talking in subdued tones.
The memorial in front of Burruss Hall, the cathedral-like administration building, consisted of three 4-feet-by-10-feet wooden boards on which students wrote messages:
"This will be remembered as the darkest day of my life. Ryan, Reema, Emily and the other 29 victims, you will be in my heart forever and your spirits will live on in this university and your Hokie family."
Next to one board was a purple and white sign that read: "NYU Stands With You."
Bouquets were arranged below each board. On the semi-circle of 32 stones around the quad were more flowers and university flags.
The town of Blacksburg, Va., joined in the expressions of grief. Yellow ribbons were wrapped around light poles on North Main Street. The American flag at the post office was lowered to half-staff.
At popular Joe's Diner, a photo of Nicole White was displayed on the front window. The slain student had worked there last year.
On College Avenue, Pee Wee's BBQ hung a message: "For those remembered words unspoken, from all that care, deepest sorrows, prayers, thoughts and tears."
In an incongruous scene on on the grass behind Harper Hall yesterday afternoon, two students were nonchalantly tossing a baseball. *