Construction crews had been hammering and drilling for weeks below the window of Room 211 in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech. Professor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak went on teaching.
Please tell me that isn't what I think it is, Madame Couture said.
It's just hammers, a student reassured her. The professor opened the door and peeked outside, then slammed it shut.
Her face was white with terror.
Get to the back! Get under your desks! Madame Couture ordered. Call 911!
Emily Haas pressed herself against a back wall and squeezed her eyes shut. Her sorority sister, Allison Cook, curled up nearby.
"Put the desks in front of the door!" cried Clay Violand from the back of the room, as students scattered onto the floor, lying behind desks.
The professor pushed several lightweight desks made of metal and plastic in front of the door. She backed up against a wall.
Colin Goddard, lying in front of Violand, shielded his 6-foot-3 body under a desk. But his limbs stuck out. He dialed 911. Room 211, Norris Hall, he told the operator. He thought of jumping out of a window, but it had to be cranked open with a lever. There wasn't enough time.
Goddard saw bullets pierce the door. The 911 operator was still talking. He saw the gunman's boots and pants. Goddard did not look at his face.
It was a class of 22 intermediate French students. Madame Couture, as they called her, was its heart.
Since the start of the spring semester in January, the students met three days a week. Madame Couture was so passionate about the language she would break into a French song during class, urging the students to sing along. She would flail her arms like a conductor and they would follow her lead, botching lyrics and singing out of tune. The French-Canadian woman loved teaching the language. Sometimes, she got so excited about a lesson it made her breathless.
On Monday before class, Madame Couture stopped by the foreign languages department at Major Williams Hall. Fabrice Teulon, an associate professor of French, talked to her briefly about the spring chill. Madame Couture told her she had recently planted flowers in her garden. She worried they would die in the frost.
Goddard, 21, woke up at 8:40 a.m. He showered and put on a blue long-sleeved shirt. He was an international studies major who had lived in Somalia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. He was drawn to people like classmate Kristina Heeger, who had also lived in different parts of the world. She was having car trouble so he swung by to pick her up. They talked about cutting French, but decided not to. They arrived a few minutes late, and sat together a few rows back near the door.
Haas, 19, put on jeans, her mother's old yellow T-shirt and a blue fleece. She arrived early and sat in the middle of the room next to Cook, her Pi Beta Phi sorority sister. The two had known each other for years and had attended the same church in Richmond, Va. Haas talked about the horse race she went to over the weekend. Minutes later, Haas moved to the back of the room because Madame Couture paired her with a freshman who was known for her sweet smile.
Violand, 20, usually sat near the front. He was a bass player who had untamed long hair. He was sluggish in the mornings. As he often did, Violand arrived late and took a seat in the back row. The professor did not get mad at his tardiness. It was not her way.