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Campus blanketed by reminders of N.C. fire tragedy

COLUMBIA -- The long walks across campus, classroom lectures and cell-phone chatter were clouded with the harsh reality of loss Monday at the University of South Carolina.

News of the deaths of six USC students Sunday has left many seeking support and the university community desperately hoping to provide it.

"It's just one of those scary things," USC junior Jessica Sainato said. "I think this is kind of opening people's eyes that we all are affected by tragedy."

Like many others on the USC campus, Sainato didn't know the six students or the one from Clemson who died in the house fire Sunday morning at Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. But the reality of the deaths was inescapable throughout campus Monday.

Individual classes were canceled. Online social networking sites were blanketed with tributes. And many campus hot spots were engulfed by local and national media.

For some, the deaths marked a memorable loss in the university's history. For others, the tragedy struck much closer to home.

Tyler Strange, a junior sport and entertainment management major from northern Virginia, was a friend of one of the young women who died. He said he first learned about the fire on national news Sunday evening and later discovered he knew one of the victims.

"I made a few calls, and that's how I found out," Strange said. "I'm just trying to remember the good times. You can't really think about the bad. I'm sure there will be some questions and stuff, but you just have to think positively and try and move on as best you can."

USC junior Lindsay Wardlaw cheered with Emily Yelton, the lone Clemson student, when the two were students at J.L. Mann High School in Greenville.

"Everyone is in shock," Wardlaw said. "We're just really concerned for ... all of her family."

On Monday, Wardlaw planned to spend time with her sister, who also had known Yelton and her sister.

Signs of loss everywhere

As some students went about their normal routines Monday, there were constant reminders of the tragedy.

Just outside a second-floor room at the Russell House where students were picking up tickets to the USC/Florida football game, a group gathered around a television set to view news accounts of the fire on CNN. Elsewhere across campus, the weekend events dominated cell phone conversations.

USC professors offered their support in various ways. Some canceled classes, while others gave students who wanted to talk the opportunity to do so.

Journalism professor Van Kornegay was keenly more aware of life's frailty and the potential of personal impact when he greeted his students.

"I walked into class and looked in all their eyes and all their faces a little bit longer today," said Kornegay, who has two college-age children. "These are not Social Security numbers or grades on a test or the next project."

Several victims of the weekend fire were members of Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at USC. Fellow sorority and fraternity members set up a table in their memory in front of the Russell House and passed out black ribbons to others who stopped by.

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