Thursday, April 19, 2007

Families grieve for loved ones caught in US campus massacre

Families grieve for loved ones caught in US campus massacre
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The families of Reema Joe Samaha, 18, and Ross Abdullah Alameddine, 20, are still reeling from the shock of discovering that their loved ones were among 33 victims killed earlier this week at Virginia Tech in the United States. Two days on, and with information slowly leaking out about the circumstances surrounding the horrific massacre, both families have been forced to adjust to the harsh fact that Reema and Joe are gone.

"She was so sweet, such a nice and lively young girl," Claude Samaha, Reema's uncle, told The Daily Star. Her uncle said that Reema not only enjoyed life in the United States, where she was born and raised, but also felt a strong connection to her Lebanese heritage. "She danced the debkeh, and was entering competitions all the time," Samaha said. "She would come over every summer and hang out with her cousins and the family ... She wanted to learn Arabic - she was always asking her grandfather to teach her Arabic."

Reema and Ross were both attending a French class at Virginia Tech on Monday morning when 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui stormed into their classroom and fired round after round at his fellow students from a recently purchased Glock 9 mm handgun. Two hours earlier he had killed two students across campus in the university dorms.
Walid Matta, the husband of Samaha's cousin Layal, recalled the enthusiasm with which Reema studied French. "She was really enthusiastic to learn French," Matta said. "She was practicing with her grandfather last Easter, and she had planned a trip to Paris at the end of spring to work there and practice more." Matta said that Samaha was very close to her grandparents (originally from the village of Kencharra, Metn) who up until 2001 lived near them in Virginia, before moving back to Lebanon to retire. "She was really full of life, and very much attached to her country and family here in Lebanon. She loved going to the beach, hiking, hanging out with her cousins because they were all very close in age," he added. Reema visited Lebanon last July, but was forced to cut her trip short and evacuate because of the 2006 war with Israel. "Her grandparents were ready to go and visit her in the states this year - they bought their tickets only a few days ago," Matta said. Matta, himself a graduate of Virginia Tech, was shocked to hear that such an incident could happen at his alma mater. "The university is so big, but it's such a safe place," he said. "It has its own community, and there is always campus security around. Everything revolves around the university."

Like the Samahas, the Alameddines are in complete shock that such a horrific event could occur and end the life of such a young family member. "He was such a soft and gentle person. He never got angry with anyone, and was such a bright student at school," said Omar Alameddine, Ross's uncle. "He had specifically chosen to go to Virginia Tech, even though he received offers from other universities and even though his father wanted him to study somewhere closer to home [in Boston]. But he wanted to be with his friends in Virginia," Alameddine added. Even though the young student had only visited Lebanon once before, his uncle said Ross was excited to do so again. Plans to visit last year were put on hold due to the war. "I would speak to him regularly on the phone," Alameddine said, "and each time he would say 'Uncle Omar, when I come over I want you to teach me how to swim.' And then, just like that, he's gone."

Samaha said that a small memorial service would be held for Reema on Sunday at the Greek Catholic Church in Beirut, following Sunday Mass.

Alamaddine said that no such plans have yet been made for Ross.

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