BLACKSBURG — A crowd of people listened Sunday as friends and family described the short but extraordinary life of Virginia Tech student Samanata Shrestha, who practiced kindness, was brilliant, wanted to someday cure a disease and loved to eat.
Speaker after speaker hailed the 21-year-old woman, who was found dead Feb. 10 in Montgomery County in what police are calling a homicide.
“She was a shining star who never sought the spotlight,” said Devi Gnyawali, a professor of management at Tech. “She was very accomplished, yet very humble.”
Addressing more than 150 people, speakers stood on a hydrangea-decked lower outdoor terrace of the War Memorial Chapel for a public vigil organized by student groups. After the tributes, people stood quietly holding burning white candles. Tech, once again in mourning, sent top university officials to the public vigil, which ran about an hour.
Shrestha was, say those who knew her, loving, devoted, curious, wise, compassionate and fun. She passed notes in class and handed out doodles that might be signed, “I love you, from Sam.” She loved ice cream and macaroni and cheese.
Her mom, Rajshree Shrestha of Vienna, described her daughter, who was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, and moved to the United States when she was four, as heartful, reliable, patient, hardworking, strong, independent. “You wiped our tears and then you made us laugh,” she said.
A senior, Samanata Shrestha would have graduated from Tech in May. Shrestha planned to earn a medical degree at Penn State College of Medicine, where she had been accepted. When she became a doctor, she wanted to employ research to find the cure for a serious disease, her mother said.
Jessica Dehn, president of Tech’s Epsilon Sigma Alpha service fraternity, to which Shrestha belonged, is raising money at crowdrise.com for the Free Clinic of the New River Valley, where the young woman volunteered. There were more calls to action.
“I say let us change the world on her behalf,” said Gayathri Cheran, Strestha’s roommate, as she explained a small gift offered to every member of the crowd. It was an Actively Caring for People bracelet. The movement encourages people who spot acts of compassion to hand a bracelet to the person doing the good deed, who in turn watches for a chance to pass it on to somebody else acting kindly. The movement began at Tech after the 2007 mass slaying.
“Together, we can cultivate a culture of compassion,” Cheran said. She and Scott Maselli, Shrestha’s boyfriend, accepted hugs as they handed out bracelets.
Shrestha’s body was found in the rear seat of her 2004 Mercedes wrapped in a sleeping bag and other articles, authorities have said. The car was on a road northeast of Blacksburg. Jessica Ewing, 22, who is also a Tech senior, has been charged with one count of second-degree murder in Shrestha’s death. Recent Tech graduates Keifer Kyle Brown, 23, and Michael Christian Heller, 23, are facing charges that they were accessories after the fact.