All it took were a couple of pictures posted on the Internet. Mere hours after a Virginia television station reported that Penn State students had uploaded pictures of Halloween partygoers dressing as Virginia Tech shooting victims, criticism exploded from both campuses, with one Facebook.com group denouncing the costumes reaching 4,100 members as of 2 a.m. this morning.
The only publicly accessible picture, uploaded after Halloween, shows a woman wearing an orange Virginia Tech T-shirt smeared with blood and a bullet wound, posing jauntily. According to television station WSLS in Roanoke, Va., several other pictures showed a similarly attired man.
For Virginia Tech students still shaken by a tragedy not yet a year old, the pictures are a slap in the face from students of a university they once lauded for its sensitivity and compassion in the wake of their loss.
University spokesman Bill Mahon, who released a statement to the Blacksburg, Va. campus, said he was shocked by the pictures.
"I certainly find it appalling, as most Penn Staters would find it appalling," he said. He said he believes it happened "off campus, in a private party."
Caitlin Beckett, a sophomore majoring in finance at Virginia Tech, agreed. Learning of the pictures several hours before she was interviewed, she said it was too painful to join the group protesting against it. Her friend, Mary Read, then 19, died in the shootings.
"I just didn't want to think about it -- it's just kind of sickening," she said. "You would think that people, after what happened, would have more respect than that ... even if it happened after five years, it wouldn't be OK."
Virginia Tech freshman Krista Silano wasn't a student at the university when Cho Seung Hui shot and killed 32 students last April, but she remembers the wave of loss and grief that struck the town.
She attended a memorial service with her high school lacrosse team.
"It's going to affect everyone who was affected or even just goes here," she said. "I didn't think that would ever happen from any community. I didn't think anyone would make light of the subject."
Penn State football player Evan Royster said he feels the same anger. He knew two of the shooting victims from his Chantilly, Va. high school -- also attended by Cho -- and played below the maroon-and-orange "VT Section" students organized for the Blue and White football game last year.
"It just kind of makes me mad," the running back said. "I don't get why somebody would make a mockery out of something like this."
But, he said, he hopes Blacksburg residents will realize that the actions of the photographed students do not represent the whole university.
Erin Carroll (sophomore-sociology) is in a similar situation -- a 10-year Blacksburg resident, she said she's caught between feeling the same outrage and defending her new home of State College.
"That's horrible to do. Really insensitive," she said. "When [the shooting] did happen, we did the dressing for the Blue and White game. I sent a lot of the pictures home, and they were incredibly touched and moved; it was a very big deal to them.
"For the same college to turn around and turn their back on that," she continued, "it would be very, very hurtful."
Other Penn State students reacted with similar shock and revulsion when shown the available picture.
Cameron Wade (freshman-supply chain and information systems) held a print of the photograph closer, and then passed it away, disgusted.
"Anyone associated with Virginia Tech should be angered by that. It's like joking about the Holocaust," he said. "College students drink a lot of alcohol, and I'm sure they thought it was funny at the time. But that's not a thing to joke about."
The Virginia Tech athletics department wrote in a letter last week that "no group showed more support for Virginia Tech students than the student body of Penn State."
Josh Valentine (sophomore-recreation, park and tourism management) summed up what probably is the worst fear for a university that prided itself on extending a helping hand to a sister institution in need.
"If I was at Virginia Tech, I would hate Penn State for life," he said.
Collegian Staff Writer Leslie Small contributed to this report.