Va. town weeps for fallen 'star'

The Baltimore Sun

NARROWS, Va.-- -- Jenny Martin will decide where to plant all the donated flowers. The police chief will tear down a fence at the high school to accommodate the crowd for the memorial service.

The Riffes, owners of the town's funeral home, must think of what to say when the phone rings. It hasn't stopped ringing since Monday, when people in the aptly named town of Narrows, along the mountainous banks of the New River, figured out that Jarrett Lane must be dead.

No one was saying the mourning here is any more powerful than what 32 other communities must be feeling since the deadly shooting Monday at Virginia Tech. But they agreed on this: In Narrows, Lane was someone special.

He was the high school valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 average, and the youth leader at First Baptist Church who encouraged other kids to be proud of their religion. He was the football player whose heroics helped Narrows High School beat Giles High School, its archrival.

He was one of just two students in his class to go to Tech, the university to which so many of them aspire. And even after he left, the tall kid with the short hair and toothy smile used to return to Narrows to volunteer as a track coach, or as a youth counselor at church. While other students partied at night, Lane went bowling, often with younger students and members of Virginia Tech's campus Christian group.

"Here I am, 42 years old, and I haven't accomplished near the things that he has in just 22 years of life," said Robert Stump, principal of Lane's high school.

"He was different," said Gene Thorn, a friend of Lane's family. Then he paused and pointed to a garden on Mary Street. "He was like these flowers. Or, you know when you come outside on a clear night and see the North Star shining? That's what he was. He was our star."

Far-reaching impact

To walk the streets of Narrows today is to understand the saturating effect that Monday's shootings had in places far removed from the university's manicured campus in Blacksburg, Va.

The main bridge into the town of about 2,000 people, squeezed into the valley 30 miles west of the university, is adorned with ribbons in Virginia Tech colors, put there by friends of the mother and grandmother who raised Lane. The railroad bridge is draped in a sheet made by former classmates, painted with the message "We miss U Jarrett."

Stump made a commemorative display in the high school lobby of sports jerseys, yearbooks and a trombone, which Lane played in the school band. To find a picture, he simply walked down the hall and removed the one that has hung in the school for four years, hailing Lane's achievements there. Kathy Turner, mother of a school senior, stopped by to take a picture of the display for her daughter's scrapbook.

"All my years I never saw nothing this bad in a little small town like this," Turner said.

"That young man made a difference," said Martin, who was coordinating memorial decorations on behalf of the town's women's club. "What summed him up best to me was that he was a good Christian. He wasn't afraid to declare his faith in front of his friends. Do you know how special it is to find a young person like that? Someone even the adults could learn from?"

Big plans

Lane dreamed of being an engineer, and after graduation this year planned to enroll in a graduate program in coastal engineering at the University of Florida, where he received a graduate assistantship. He was already studying graduate-level engineering at Virginia Tech, including advanced hydrology with professor G.V. Loganathan, which met Monday morning in Room 206 of Norris Hall.

When Cho Seung-Hui began his second shooting rampage, Room 206 was the first classroom he entered, witnesses said. He shot the professor first, then calmly walked through the room and killed nine of the 13 students. Lane's friends figure he was probably sitting near the front.

Back in Narrows, people learned that Lane was a victim long before the police or the media were sure, just by talking with neighbors. The women's club was planning a social gathering that evening, but members carried the food over to Lane's house on Memorial Boulevard instead.

The night before he died, Lane sent an e-mail to a friend, high school baseball player Gage Dent, encouraging him to work hard so he could someday follow Lane to the University of Florida and play ball there. The writing wasn't prompted by anything other than Lane's habit of keeping in touch with everyone and always spreading kindness.

Gage's mother, Beverly, the town librarian, shook her head at the thought, then excused herself as her eyes glassed over. "A lot of young people really looked up to him," she said. "A lot of grown people. too."

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