STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—Penn State students and alumni held a candlelight vigil late Sunday to honor and remember Joe Paterno, the iconic former football coach.
Paterno, 85, died Sunday at a State College, Pennsylvania, hospital, according to his family. He had been suffering from lung cancer and had recently broken his pelvis.
Students braved freezing temperatures to attend the vigil on the lawn of the Old Main building on Penn State's campus. They held candles, locked arms, and sung the school's alma mater to say goodbye.
Later, they walked over to a statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium, which has become a sort of makeshift memorial.
"He's more than a coach; his family's more than a family," said Bethanna Edmiston, a local resident and alumna who met her husband at Penn State.
"It's extremely difficult for the whole Nittany nation," she said. "Unless you're part of Penn State, you just don't understand what it means."
Earlier on Sunday, many fans were seen crying as they stood at the statue. It features Paterno with his index finger outstretched in the "No. 1" gesture. A quote from Paterno, who spent 61 years at Penn State, is on the wall behind the statue.
"They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone," the quote says. "I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."
Edmiston said she moved to State College at age 8, as Paterno took the reins at Penn State.
"Our family thanks Penn Staters, students & all people for prayers & support for my Dad," Paterno's son, Jay Paterno, tweeted Sunday, "He felt your support in his fight."
The gathering at the statue has been ongoing since Saturday night, after a family spokesman said Paterno's condition had worsened.
Some shoveled snow so others could walk up and touch Paterno's outstretched hand on his statue.
Signs, flowers and candles surrounded the statue, along with photographs of Paterno. "You're our hero," one said. Another one, flanked by candles, simply said: "Coach."
Jay Paterno tweeted Saturday night that he drove by the statue, and that the love and support inspired his father.
"He died as he lived," the family statement said. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been."
Several websites that reported Saturday night that Paterno had died later apologized for the error, including the Penn State student news website Onward State, the first to report the erroneous information.
Paterno was fired in November amid outrage over the handling of accusations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who faces more than 50 counts involving sexual acts with 10 boys since 1994. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty.
But several of those gathered at the statue Sunday remembered Paterno as a unifying presence both at the university and in State College.