160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! BLACKSBURG, Va. – Her back still aching due to a jump from a second-floor classroom window to avoid being shot, Caroline Merrey knelt before a memorial to Professor Liviu Librescu – the teacher who barred the door with his own body and helped make her escape possible. In a way, Merrey was glad for the pain. It’s another reminder that she’s alive. “Every time I bend and feel my back sore, I kind of go back to that room and I can picture what happened,” the 22-year-old senior from Baltimore said Monday. “His selflessness is the reason I’m here.” Merrey joined several thousand other students gathered on the main campus lawn of Virginia Tech to remember the victims of last week’s massacre. A soul-rending silence fell over the grassy oblong at 9:45 a.m., the moment the first 911 call came in from Norris Hall that a gunman was on the loose. People flinched as an occasional balloon popped, sounding eerily like the muffled report of a gunshot. Then came the tolling of an antique brass bell installed on a limestone rostrum at the edge closest to Norris, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 students and professors – and himself. There were 33 peals in all. After each toll, a white balloon was released for each of the victims. Finally, students and staff members released 1,000 balloons in the Hokie colors, maroon and orange. As the crowd broke up, someone began shouting the refrain, “Let’s go!” and the crowd responded, “Hokies!” As many as 90 percent of the students returned to campus, and school officials said class attendance hovered around 75 percent Monday. But normalcy is still a long way off. Chemistry professor Joe Merola tried to give a lecture on how to calculate the voltage in batteries, but looking at 100 students’ faces – and the sweat shirt he’d placed on the seat of a student who had been wounded – he couldn’t do it. “I lost it halfway through class,” he said. “I burst into tears and had to turn it over to the counselors.” At 7:15 a.m., a moment of silence was observed about a half-mile away near West Ambler Johnston Hall, the dormitory where Cho shot his first victims, Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher. In front of the dorm, a small marching band from Alabama played “America the Beautiful” and carried a banner that read, “Alabama loves VT Hokies. Be strong, press on.” Afterward, a group of students and campus ministers brought 33 white prayer flags from the dorm to the school’s War Memorial Chapel. They placed the flags in front of the campus landmark and adorned them with pastel-color ribbons as the Beatles’ song “The Long and Winding Road” played through loudspeakers. A week after the shootings, faint, brownish bloodstains were still visible on the pavement where the dead and dying lay after being pulled from nearby Norris.