Dustin Lynch was collecting donations for the local fire department on a drill field about 300 yards from Norris Hall at Virginia Tech early Monday, unaware of the tragedy occurring inside the engineering building.
The typical weekday morning scene of students scurrying to and from classes changed instantly, said Lynch, a sophomore from Harford County. It was the start of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, as Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old student, killed 32 people before turning a gun on himself.
"I saw things unfolding," the 19-year-old sophomore said from his Churchville home last week. "I saw people running out of the building with their hands up, and police cars everywhere. The police came over to us and told us to leave immediately and lock ourselves into our dorms."
Lynch, a graduate of John Carroll School in Bel Air, and a few friends locked themselves into nearby War Memorial Hall, where they watched the horrifying events on TV and listened to the police scanner on the Internet.
"First it was one victim, then 22, now 32," he said. "We just watched and watched. None of us could believe it."
Lynch called his father, Donald Lynch, in Churchville to assure him he was safe. The two spoke a half dozen times Monday. It was more difficult to reach his mother, Mary Sue Lynch, who is on a trip to Ireland.
"She saw it on TV in Ireland and was frantic to talk to me," Dustin Lynch said.
The two eventually spoke late Monday.
"It was all very tense for us at home, being 5 1/2 hours away," said Donald Lynch, a building contractor. "But once I talked to Dustin, I understood better what was going on, and I knew he was safe."
His son, a building construction major who transferred from Susquehanna University last fall, stayed through Tuesday for the campus candlelight vigil that drew 10,000 people. The crowd filled Cassell Coliseum and spilled out onto surrounding fields.
"Getting everybody together for the service was a great comfort. ... We are dealing with this together and there is so much support," Dustin Lynch said.
After the memorial, Lynch departed for Churchville, arriving late Tuesday. He said he wanted to spend a few days with his family before returning to campus.
"After two straight days of being bombarded with the news and the images, we are all still in shock," he said. "I am taking some time at home for some quiet reflection. People really feel that they need to be with their families right now."
He also was staying in touch with schoolmates.
"We are just now putting faces on the numbers of people killed," he said. "I am fortunate that I don't know any of the victims personally, only that some are friends of friends."
Lynch was to have returned to Blacksburg on Friday. His fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, decided to proceed with a parents and alumni gathering this weekend at the university.
"Eventually, we have to get back and do the best that we can," he said. "VT is an unbelievable place, and we will all be there for each other."
Lynch said that he believes the school administration and the police acted appropriately under the difficult circumstances.
"Now is not the time to be angry or to blame people for things they could not control," he said. "It is the time to comfort and console one another over this loss."