Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pink balloons adorned altar for teen

Forty friends and family members took turns sharing their memories of Austin Cloyd.

Mourners comfort one another Saturday as they leave a funeral for Austin Cloyd, who would have turned 19 on Tuesday, at Blacksburg Baptist Church.

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Mourners comfort one another Saturday as they leave a funeral for Austin Cloyd, who would have turned 19 on Tuesday, at Blacksburg Baptist Church.

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BLACKSBURG -- On as somber an occasion as they come, the funeral of an 18-year-old killed in a mass shooting, two huge bunches of balloons hung at either side of the altar Saturday at Blacksburg Baptist Church.

Some were white. Some were maroon. Some were clear. Most were pink.

"In case you can't tell by looking, her favorite color was pink," the Rev. Tommy McDearis, senior pastor of the church, said of Austin Cloyd. "We wanted to share that as a symbol of the happiness that was in her life."

Amid many tears for the Blacksburg High School graduate, who was killed along with 31 other people Monday at Virginia Tech, were moments of laughter as 40 friends or family members took turns with a microphone to share memories of the victim.

Cloyd was a freshman honors student at Tech who hoped to one day work for the United Nations. Several friends described her as brilliant, caring, cheerful and confident that she could make the world better.

"She always had a smile," Stephanie Larson said. "She was nice, and encouraging. She was so intelligent. She's looking out for all of us now. I'm just grateful I got to meet her."

Larson, who wore a black T-shirt with Cloyd's name on the front and Monday's date "4 16 07" on the back, became friends with Cloyd their senior year of high school.

Austin Cloyd

Austin Cloyd

  • Age: 18
  • Class: Freshman
  • Major: International Studies
  • Hometown: Champaign, Ill.
  • High school: Blacksburg High
  • Parents: Bryan and Renee Cloyd

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It was Cloyd's only year at Blacksburg High, but members of the basketball team on which she played said she was unforgettable for her personality, not just because she stood 5-foot-11 and had long, curly, red hair.

By phone shortly before the service, which he later attended, basketball coach Mickey McGuigan said that at the appropriate time this year's team will try to find a way to honor Cloyd.

"Even though she was only with us for one season I think it's important for the team," he said.

Cloyd and her mother, Renee Cloyd, shared a passion for helping the poor. Austin Cloyd volunteered with the Appalachian Service Project renovating homes.

The Rev. Reggie Tuck, senior pastor of Blacksburg United Methodist Church, said Renee Cloyd was working on an outreach ministry project with him when news of the shooting broke.

"We will never understand it," Tuck said of the crime. "We do understand our heartbreak and pain."

With church pews full, folding chairs were set up in the aisle and soon occupied. Other people watched the service in the church basement on closed-circuit television that was arranged for the event.

"We seat 445," said McDearis, the pastor. "We had about 700 bulletins, and we ran out."

The program to which he referred contained a statement written by the Cloyd family that read in part:

"Our loved ones are gone, but their spirits and dreams can live within us."

Along with her mother, Austin Cloyd is survived by her father, Bryan Cloyd, an accounting professor at Tech, her younger brother, Andrew, and three grandparents.

The family has scheduled a memorial service for Tuesday in Champaign, Ill.

Austin Cloyd would have turned 19 that day.

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