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At colleges, bells sound a shared grief

Anna Snowden, a freshman at Northeastern University, used a mallet to bang a bell held by Ed Klotzbier. The bell chimed 32 times, once for each of the victims in Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech. Memorials were held on campuses around the country. (DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF)

Hundreds crowded Northeastern University's Centennial Common as the sound of church bells tolling from across the city echoed in the distance. It was noon, and the campus, like campuses across the nation yesterday, grew silent.

More than 300 students and faculty linked arms with parents and maintenance workers. Some bowed their heads, others looked to the sky as they reflected on those killed and wounded at Virginia Tech on Monday.

Some churches, such as the historic Old South Church in Boston, rang their bells 33 times, one chime for each of those killed, including the gunman. But at Northeastern, there were 32, as freshman Anna Snowden , 18, used a mallet to bang a hand-held bell.

"I know the family of two people who were killed," she said, noting that her older brother attended a nearby university and had many friends at Virginia Tech. "We are not going to ring a bell or light a candle for the gunman. He chose to do this. He chose to take these people's lives. We just want to pray for the victims' families."

Bells also rang at noon on c ampuses at Boston College and Brandeis University to honor the victims. Everything from college tours to eating at the cafeteria came to a halt.

"You are in our hearts, you are on our minds, you are in our prayers each day," said Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz in a statement posted on the school's website yesterday. "Your strength, your heart, your courage inspire us. We will not forget you."

Later yesterday afternoon, about 20 Boston University students gathered in a meeting space in the student union building to discuss the tragedy as part of the dean of students' regular coffees and conversations with students, and as early evening approached, MIT planned a candlelight vigil. Emerson College's student government encouraged students to wear orange and maroon, Virginia Tech's school colors.

The deaths at Virginia Tech affected the nation, but hit home ever so vividly with other college students and parents who tried to imagine the incomprehensible -- whether such a tragedy could strike their own campuses.

"I just pray to God that if people are shot here, administrators and security will lock the school down," Snowden said. "If there is a gunman on campus, they need to let us know and please, please, shut down the campus until everything is safe."

During Northeastern's gathering, senior vice president Philomena Mantella told the crowd that the college stands in solidarity with Virginia Tech.

"We share their sense of grief, shock, and sorrow," Mantella said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those" touched by the tragedy.

One student, wearing an orange T-shirt, sobbed into a newspaper clipping featuring his friend, Ross Alameddine , a Saugus native who was killed during the massacre. The student was too overwhelmed to comment.

Angie Williams of Dorchester has a daughter who attends Northeastern. When Williams saw the news of Monday's shooting unfold on TV, she said, her stomach turned .

"It's scary, especially for parents who send their children to school," said Williams, chatting with a group of women on the campus green after the moment of silence ended. "I know some people say the school should have done more to protect their kids. But what can you do? Put an armed guard at every door?"

The only thing a parent can do is pray and hope for the best, she said.

Others said that while they were shaken up by the shootings, they refused to live in fear.

"I'm not afraid," said Katie Ingersoll , a junior from New Jersey. "I mean, what happened was awful and scary. But I am not going to walk around hiding in the hood on my head, worrying at every moment."

Leah Rosen , also a junior from New Jersey, said she was heartened that so many showed up on a sunny Friday afternoon so close to final exams to honor the victims.

"Twenty minutes seems like a lot to students," she said of the gathering. "It was sad what happened at Virginia Tech, but it was good to see our campus come together like this."

Megan Tench can be reached at