Celeste Peterson of Centreville, Va., recalls loss of daughter Erin in 2007 Virginia Tech shootings

6:42 PM, Apr 23, 2012   |    comments
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CENTREVILLE, Va. (WUSA) - Memories from that dark day at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007 are seared into the personal tragedies of every family that lost loves ones.

"We don't go a day without thinking about Erin.  She was a huge part of our lives.  But we thank God that we can now stand up everyday and continue on." 

Some parents of the 32 victims, like Celeste Peterson of Centreville, had bad feelings early on that day.  She hadn't heard from her daughter Erin.  And neither had her friend.

"She said... 'Now 20 are dead.' My husband called and said to meet me at home and we'd go down there."

She also realized Erin, who was a freshman, had been in Norris Hall where Seong Hui Cho killed 30 people. He started the killing spree two hours earlier, killing two students in a dorm.

The Petersons were one of only two families that sued Virginia Tech. Celeste says they decided to sue to get answers because that's what Erin would have wanted. The jury recently found in their favor, deciding that Virginia Tech was negligent by not giving students adequate warning after the first two shootings.

"Students are now safer. That was what Erin was all about.  Taking care of people."

Peter Read, who lost his oldest daughter Mary says bad decisions were made at the very top.

"The current administration can keep denying it, but it doesn't change the facts.  That a jury of their peers has found that what they did was wrong," said Read. 

But those feelings have not stopped him and his wife from taking their four younger children  back to Blacksburg on numerous occasions, including football games.  They'll be there for the 5th anniversary Monday.  

"We did not want our children growing up being afraid of Virginia Tech and remembering it as the place Mary was shot. We wanted them to understand why she love Virginia Tech and wanted to be there."

Mary, 19, is remembered as a sweet, happy student who was majoring in interdisciplinray studies. 

Everyday, Read wears a square pin with MR for Mary Read.  It had orange and maroon VT colors mixed with Atoms for Annandale high school.  It was designed to commemorate an award the Patriot school district in Fairfax County gives out every year in honor of Mary and Leslie Sherman who went to West Springfield and was also killed in the shootings.  Sherman,20, was passionate about history and running.

The other Fairfax County students killed in the Tech shootings were Maxine Turner, 22, chemical engineering major from Vienna's James Madison High School; Reema Samaha, 18,  a dancer and actress who was a Westfield High School graduate like Erin Peterson, also 18, who played basketball and lived like to its fullest.

The gunman had also been a Westfield graduate.  

Another local victim, Daniel Perez Cueva, 21, was a C.C. Hylton High graduate in Woodbridge and had emigrated to the United States from in Peru with his mother and sister in 2000.  

Most if not all of the victims have scholarship funds to carry on their legacies.

The Petersons have not been back to Virginia Tech since that day, because the emotions of that day are too painful. But they'll be honoring their daughter's memory this Sunday, April 15, 2012. Erin's family, friends and the community will gather at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville, at 4 p.m.,  for a celebration of Erin's life and legacy during a gospel concert.

The event is free to the public, but donations will be accepted for the Erin Peterson Fund, which provides scholarships to deserving students.


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