Graduate Students

At Boston U., Shock and Grief Over Marathon Bombings

Cydney Scott for Boston U.

Students place flowers and other tributes at the base of a monument in Boston U.'s Marsh Plaza, in honor of a graduate student who was among the three people killed by bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
April 17, 2013

Boston University's campus is in shock as it mourns the death of Lingzi Lu, a Chinese graduate student in the mathematics and statistics department who was killed on Monday in the twin bombings near the finish line at the Boston Marathon.

The university is also grappling with the serious injuries of Zhou Danling, a Chinese graduate student in actuarial science, who was with Ms. Lu when the first bomb ripped through the sidewalk near a set of bleachers. A third graduate student who was with them was not hurt.

Ms. Lu, who was 23, and Ms. Danling, who is 22, were nearing the end of their first year of graduate study in the United States, both of them master's students who had recently passed a round of qualifying examinations. Ms. Lu had taken a second exam in statistics two days before the race and had not yet gotten the results. On Monday morning, before the race, she had just finished a group research project she was planning to present at a statistics conference, according to Tasso Kaper, chair of the mathematics and statistics department.

Faculty members said that both students were excited about attending their first marathon. Ms. Danling had sent out text messages days earlier inviting other students to watch the race with her.

When the race was called off after the explosions, Ms. Lu's roommate posted the following message on Facebook: "I have been unable to reach her. Everyone is worried. I have reported this to BU Police. If anyone knows anything, please let me know."

On Monday evening, the university's president, Robert A. Brown, announced that a graduate student had died at the race. Ms. Lu's identity was made public on Wednesday, after the university had made contact with her parents.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of students and faculty members huddled in the wind on the campus's Marsh Plaza for a candlelight vigil for the dead and wounded students.

"There was a sense of solidarity from all over campus," said Lois K. Horwitz, an associate professor of the practice and chair of the actuarial-science department at Boston University's Metropolitan College, where Ms. Danling is pursuing her master's degree.

Ms. Danling, whose injuries include serious burns, is now listed in stable condition at Boston Medical Center.

Many Friends, Many Interests

Ms. Lu was a native of Shenyang, a city in northeastern China. She had attended the Beijing Institute of Technology on a scholarship, according to her LinkedIn profile, and earned a bachelor's degree in international economics. She won numerous mathematics awards and held internships during her college years at the Beijing offices of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the accounting firm, and at Dongxing Securities. She also spent a semester at the University of California at Riverside in a math and economics program.

Her accounts on Facebook and Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, paint a portrait of a young woman who enjoyed food, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, finance, economics, and playing the piano. Her last post, on Monday morning, was a picture of herself eating bread and a bowl of fruit with a message: "my wonderful breakfast."

Ms. Lu had made many friends, among both American and international students in her department and across the campus, said Mr. Kaper.

"She was very energetic, very talkative, bubbly, diligent, and hardworking. Lu had a deep interest in learning about statistics and its applications in math finance," Mr. Kaper said in a phone interview. "She was very much attracted to Boston because of the weather and the way the flowers bloom in springtime."

Mr. Kaper said that Ms. Lu, who was on track to finish her degree in 2014, had hopes of landing a job in the biotechnology sector in Boston, at an insurance company, or in some other area where statistics are used.

A friend said Ms. Lu had come to the United States "because she wanted a better education."

"America has a better education system and better research opportunities," the friend, Li Luquan, a research student at Rutgers University, told the Daily Mail, a British newspaper. "She was living her dream."

Ms. Lu was part of a wave of Chinese students—more than 194,000 in total, according to the Institute of International Education—who are studying at American colleges and universities, making China far and away the top source of foreign students in the United States. Massachusetts is a magnet for international students, ranking behind only much more populous states like California, New York, and Texas in total international enrollments. And Boston University itself is a top destination for students from abroad: With more than 6,000 international students, it ranks 13th among all American colleges in international enrollments.

Faculty members and students at Boston University are still very shocked, and the mood in Ms. Lu's department is somber, Mr. Kaper said. About 70 graduate students and 35 faculty members gathered early Wednesday for an informal memorial. Mr. Kaper said it was a private moment for people to start the long process of grieving and to inform students about crisis counseling and other services available to them.

"She was in the full glory of almost completing the first year of her program," Mr. Kaper said. "She had just learned that she passed her first exam, and then this senseless and insidious tragedy happens."

'Grief Is Work'

At the actuarial-science department, where two-thirds of the graduate students are from outside the United States, Ms. Horwitz spoke briefly about Ms. Danling.

Ms. Danling is "adventurous, an excellent student, very pleasant, always smiling, and has an upbeat personality," Ms. Horwitz said. "She wants to be everyone's friend."

Ms. Horwitz said she last saw Ms. Danling, who is a graduate of Wuhan University in central China, last Wednesday in her corporate-finance class.

Ms. Horwitz added that a statistics class had to be cut short on Tuesday because students kept getting text messages with updates about their classmate's condition. "The combination of losing one student and having another with serious burns has been so upsetting to everyone here," Ms. Horwitz said.

The Rev. Robert A. Hill, dean of the university's Marsh Chapel, visited the injured student twice and said she had undergone surgery on Monday and on Tuesday. "She is doing well," Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Hill, who was standing a block away from where one of the bombs went off, said he immediately went to the campus chapel and opened the doors. "People came into the chapel to rest, to pray, and to seek counsel."

On Tuesday morning, the university's eight chaplains, 25 ministers, and members of 30 religious groups gathered for devotional time and to talk about appropriate responses to people having a difficult time.

As people come in, "I try to be honest about the hurt," Mr. Hill said. "I don't veer away from it and I'm realistic about the loss. Grief is work."

That work, he said, includes gathering together and reaching out to other people. Students are now organizing a blood drive and filling out sympathy cards to send to the families of all the marathon-bombing victims.

College students from other campuses in the Boston area were also among the injured. Three Tufts University students, seven Emerson College students, three Northeastern University students, two Boston College students, and one Berklee College of Music student were among those injured, according to the institutions.

Karin Fischer contributed to this article.