The morning began strangely April 16 for the thousands of students headed to class at Virginia Tech University: Snow flurries swirled through the spring air in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Blacksburg, Va.
A few hours later, the campus was swirling in grief and disbelief: Thirty-three classmates and professors were dead, cut down by a deranged Virginia Tech student in the deadliest shooting rampage in American history.
Professors and students would later say they saw warning signs that Cho Seung-Hui was a ticking time bomb: The 23-year-old rarely spoke or made eye contact, and an English teacher had reported his morbid, violent writings to school administrators months before.
But no one anticipated what Cho planned to do, detailed in a package of photos and writings he mailed to NBC from an off-campus post office after killing two students in West Ambler Johnston dorm that morning. Returning to campus, Cho entered Norris Hall, chained the exits, and opened fire on classrooms full of students and teachers.
One of the youngest killed was Mary Read, a 19-year-old freshman from Annandale, Va. Read's friends described her as a committed Christian and said she attended a Bible study about heaven one week before she died.
The oldest victim had confronted horror before: Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old engineering professor, was born in Romania and survived the Holocaust. He died barricading a classroom door with his body.
The school's paper brimmed with full-color photos of the dozens of other victims, and the school's community brimmed with sorrow. Twenty students who survived the attack suffered from gunshot wounds.
School officials grappled to console the university's 18,000 students and assured scores of dazed youth that the community would prevail. In a small chapel on the school's drill field the night after the shootings, Reformed University Fellowship campus minister J.R. Foster was more direct with the 175 students packed into wooden pews: "We live in a broken world. . . . We die in a broken world. . . . We hope in a broken world."
Over the din of school chants from the thousands of students gathered for a candlelight vigil outside, Foster told students that Christ alone is the remedy for a fallen world. Outside, Virginia Tech junior Mary Grace Giles said those words were her only comfort: "Right now we're just literally crying out to God."
Also in April ...
When it came to partial-birth abortion, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the word "alarming." But she wasn't talking about the gruesome procedure itself. She was lambasting the Supreme Court's decision to uphold a ban on it.
On April 18, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress in 2003. Bolstered by President Bush's appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that the congressional ban does not violate women's rights.
Pro-life groups largely hailed the ruling that upheld Congress' assessment of partial-birth abortion as a "gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited." But some, such as the American Life League, called it "a partial birth abortion manual" leading abortionists to switch to lethal injections for late-term abortions.
After New Hampshire approved a bill on April 26 authorizing civil unions for homosexual couples, Republican state senator Jack Barnes made a prediction: "We are going to have one heck of a mess." New Hampshire joined New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont in allowing civil unions. New Hampshire governor John Lynch signed the bill into law on May 31. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2008.
If the tongue is a fire, radio personality Don Imus scorched his own career. CBS Radio fired Imus on April 12 after the prominent radio host made racial slurs and offensive remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Imus had already amassed a litany of offensive remarks over the course of his radio career, but broadcasters and advertisers wouldn't tolerate it this time. CBS canceled the popular "Imus in the Morning" program.
Eight months later, Imus was back on the radio, hosting his show on the Manhattan-based WABC-AM. Imus promised never to use racial slurs again. But he added another promise: "Other than that, not much has changed. Dick Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan, and I'm back on the radio."
In less than six hours after Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui was identified, 38 global groups bearing his name sprang up on Facebook. The social networking website already was a switchboard for students and families. "Does anyone know the status of Mike Pohle?-his family is trying to get in touch with him," read one entry in the "I'm OK in VT" Facebook group. Pohle turned out to be a victim of Cho.
Facebook's popularity soared after it dropped its high-school and college-only membership restrictions and began welcoming all internet users just over a year ago. The number of unique visitors every month grew 118 percent in 2007 (MySpace experienced just 28 percent growth).
In fact, since WORLD first reported on Facebook (Feb. 4, 2006, "Peer review"), the networking site has added almost 43 million members worldwide-more than quadrupling its base and giving not only students but older web users the chance to create and edit their own public persona, post pictures, and study the lives of their friends. It is the most popular website in Canada and second only to Google in the United Kingdom; traffic for the site jumped nearly 90 percent globally in the last three months of 2007.
As the site attempted to capitalize on its popularity, it launched this year free space to advertisers and rolled out an innovative but controversial system called Beacon to track purchases by Facebook users. That breach of privacy went too far for most users, and a month later-with the company at a startling $15 billion valuation-Facebook made Beacon opt-in-only for users. -John Dawson