Henry J. Lee (Henh Ly)

Age: 20

Class: Freshman

Major: Computer Engineering

Hometown: Roanoke, VA (born in Vietnam)

High School: William Fleming (Roanoke, VA) - Class of 2006

Died along with Prof. Couture-Nowak and 10 other students in French class.


Audio/Video Remembrances

Audio Remembrances From NPR (visit NPR's VT Remembrance Page to listen):

Susan Willis Shares the Story of Lee’s Salutatory Address

Tequila Cooper, Lee's Friend Since Middle School: He Was 'Always Smiling, Always Helpful'

Lee Remembered as Funny, Brilliant

Personal Remembrances From Family/Friends/Colleagues

Submit your personal remembrance for posting here (please include your name and relationship).

Newspaper Remembrance Stories

An Energetic and Intelligent Spirit
(Roanoke Times Profile)

The phone just rang. And rang.

The voice mail would pick up, but never Henh Ly himself.

His big brother and fellow Virginia Tech student, Manh Lee, called and called. He waited for six hours at Montgomery Regional Hospital, asking anybody he could if they knew about Henh, or Henry Lee, as the 2006 William Fleming High School graduate was known at Tech.

No one knew a thing.

Manh Lee knew this much. His little brother lived a floor below the site of two shooting deaths Monday morning in West Ambler Johnston Hall. Roommates told Manh Lee that his brother set out for class at 8 a.m., bound for a 9 a.m. French class in Norris Hall.

Manh Lee also knew by then what had happened in two places on campus that morning.

“I was just worried, because I heard it happened in West AJ and Norris,” said Manh Lee, a junior at Tech.

At last Manh Lee came home to Roanoke and waited for an e-mail. He said he figured that was the best hope to hear that his little brother was alive. None arrived.

About 6 p.m., a call finally came to the family home. Ly’s body was in Roanoke. Manh Lee still isn’t sure how or why his brother’s body ended up here.

Regardless, it was the end of an energetic and intelligent spirit, whose brief life had carried him from Vietnam to Roanoke to the peak of academic achievement and U.S. citizenship.

Henh Ly, which is what Roanokers still call him, was the ninth of 10 children of Song Ly and Mui Lenh.

Song Ly was an only child who escaped on foot from communist China to Vietnam with his mother around 1950. She had been imprisoned in a communist “re-education camp.”

More than 40 years later, Song Ly brought his children to Roanoke in search of a better life.

Ly, who was about 5 and spoke no English when his family arrived here in 1994, made the most of the opportunity.

He was focused and driven academically, with only a B or two among stacks of A s on his high school transcript.

“It’s not like he thought he should get an A,” said Jonathan Bayer, who taught Ly math at Fleming. “It’s not like he thought it was an entitlement to him.”

Ly was a serious student, but hardly a serious person, his friends said.

“Kind of a nervous wreck sometimes, but in the end he was a little clown,” said Samantha Smith, one of a small group of Ly’s friends in Fleming’s International Baccalaureate program. She is now a freshman at the University of Tennessee.

“He was a shy person when you first got to know him, but once you were friends with him he was the most wacky and funny and spastic person,” said Amanda Theller, another Fleming friend, now at Liberty University. One of his many Internet screen names was “spasticdude,” she recalled.

Fatima Cordova, a senior at Fleming, was Ly’s prom date last year. She towered over the diminutive Ly, even without heels.

She later learned he was trying desperately to learn a dance called “the motorcycle” so he wouldn’t embarrass her. He failed miserably, but his effort made the night unforgettable for Cordova.

His clowning never hindered his academic achievement, which he managed while also working at Sears. By graduation , he had racked up endless honors.

At Fleming’s academic awards ceremony, Ly was called to the stage so many times that Principal Susan Lawyer Willis finally told him to sit on the stage with the faculty. And he did.

Despite a friendly but intense rivalry with his friend Zach Zimmerman, Ly ended up second in his class. Willis said Ly was less pleased when he learned that meant he had to give a speech.

She had to hound him for a month to get him ready. He would stick his head in her office and just shake it side to side. She would nod back a silent “yes.”

When commencement came, Ly took the stage and told the story of how his family came to America. “Look at me,” was the message he delivered, Willis recalled. “If I can do it, everyone can do it.”

He left Willis and all his friends in tears.

His success continued at Tech, where he kept up his near flawless academic record. He made a single B, his brother said, despite a heavy course load.

Ly kept in contact with his Fleming friends via e-mail , cellphone and his Facebook page.

As word spread of the shootings Monday, his friends, like his brother, began trying to call him.

Cordova left several messages on his cellphone.

“I hope you busted him with your ninja moves,” she said in an early message.

By 5 p.m., she was worried.

“Hey dude, it’s not funny,” she said. “Call me back.”

A short time later, she heard the worst.

Manh Lee said his mother, Mui Lenh was taken to the hospital Monday night after she fainted twice. “My mom’s real depressed right now,” he said.

On Tuesday, word spread across Fleming , where teachers and students sought out counselors.

The school is planning a memorial service for Sunday.

“We’re going to miss the Henh Ly we know,” Willis said. But the real sadness is that “the world is going to miss what he had to offer.”

— Matt Chittum (Roanoke Times, 4/18/07)

New York Times Profile:

Henry Lee emigrated from China to Virginia in elementary school not knowing any English.

But that did not seem to hold him back. By the time he graduated from William Fleming High School in Roanoke, he had a 4.47 grade point average, was a member of the school's French and Beta clubs, was class salutatorian, and even managed to work part-time at a local Sears.

When he died at Virginia Tech on Monday at the age of 20, Mr. Lee - who had changed his name from Hen Ly to Henry - was a freshman majoring in computer engineering.

"He had the maturity and skills to be that computer engineer he always wanted to be," said his high school principal, Susan Lewyer Willis.

Ms. Lewyer Willis said the school held a formal awards ceremony last year for its students, and Mr. Lee won just about every award that was given out. The staff and faculty members all sat on stage, while the students and their parents sat in the auditorium.

"Every other award was 'Hen Ly, Hen Ly,' it was so cute," she said. "We all anticipated Hen Ly. When I was shaking his hand for probably the 12th time, I said, 'Hen Ly, stay up here with us,' he said okay. He had a huge grin on his face."

As salutatorian he was supposed to give a speech, but was so nervous that at first he didn't want to.

"He would step in my office and shake his head no, and I'd shake my head yes, and that was the way we communicated about this. Finally I said, 'I'll tell you what Hen Lee, work with your teachers and they can help you with the speech."

They did, and it needed few revisions. Ms. Willis's secretary put a tissue in her program that day.

Mr. Lee spoke about the difficulties he had coming to America and sitting in a classroom, not knowing how to speak English. He also spoke of having immigrant parents and being one of many children.

"He said to them, 'Imagine sitting in class not knowing the language, now I am number two in my class," she said. "It was such a proud moment."

Cartoon fan was also computer whiz
USAToday Profile

A self-described fan of South Park, Futurama and Family Guy who enjoyed "chillaxin' with friends," sophomore Henry Lee of Roanoke, Va., was remembered by dozens of heartbroken friends as kind, ambitious and fun-loving.

His Facebook page was flooded with memories posted by those who knew him as a child, in high school and at Virginia Tech.

Lee was the ninth of 10 children. "He was the smart, quiet kid in the family," his brother Joe said.

Two of his siblings are Virginia Tech grads, and his sister is a senior at the school, Joe Lee said. Lee was studying computer engineering, and his brother said the family relied on him to fix their four home computers. "I don't know who'll do that now," he said.

The family came to the USA from Vietnam in 1994.

On his site, Lee said he liked to play racquetball and Frisbee, go bowling and to the movies and eat "food and more food."

Washington Post Profile:

When Henry Lee learned he would be graduating second in his high school class last year, he was horrified to hear he had to give a speech at commencement.

"He said, 'Oh no, I can't do it,' and I said, 'Yes, you can, you have worked hard for this honor,' " said Susan Willis, principal of William Fleming High School in Roanoke. She spoke a day after Lee was killed in his 9 a.m. class at Virginia Tech, where he was studying computer engineering.

Lee finally summoned the courage to give the speech in front of 5,000 people. He spoke of coming to the United States as an immigrant from China and how hard it had been to not understand English.

"It was so moving," said Willis, adding that Lee, who became a U.S. citizen and changed his name from Henh Ly shortly before he graduated, spoke to a crowd that included many immigrants.

"He said, 'If I can do it, you can, too,' and we were all moved to tears. And afterward he grabbed me and said, 'Thank you for making me do this.' "

Lee, a member of his high school's French Honor Society and vice president of its Beta Club, graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma.

Besides being a stellar student, the college freshman had a dry sense of humor. On his Facebook account, he listed groups he belonged to, including one called "My Name Is Henry Lee," whose 32 members share the name. "Wouldn't it be awesome if we have a Henry Lee convention?" Lee wrote on that page. "We wouldn't need name tags."

-- Tara Bahrampour, The Washington Post

Chronicle of Higher Education Profile:

Before Henry Lee’s graduation speech last spring at William Fleming High School, in Roanoke, Va., the principal’s secretary stuffed a precautionary wad of tissues into her boss’s program.

The principal, Susan Lawyer Willis, needed them. Mr. Lee’s speech, as salutatorian of the 2006 graduating class, “truly moved me to tears,” she says. In the speech, which he had balked at delivering, Mr. Lee recounted his determination to succeed, despite speaking little English when he immigrated to the United States from China as a young child.

That same spring, Mr. Lee, 20, became an American citizen and changed his name, from Henh Ly to Henry Lee. He told his teachers he just liked the name Henry, Ms. Willis says.

Mr. Lee was an outstanding student at William Fleming, excelling in mathematics and earning the rigorous International Baccalaureate diploma. He was also a member of the National French Honor Society. When academic awards and scholarships were handed out at a special ceremony at the end of the year, he won so many that faculty members invited him to sit on the stage, rather than to continually make the trek back and forth to his seat.

Mr. Lee was studying computer engineering at Virginia Tech.

“He was going to do great things, and he was going to contribute to our society in a great way,” Ms. Willis says. “What we’re grieving, what I’m grieving right now, is that lost opportunity.”

—Karin Fischer

Fleming grad stood tall in hearts of many

Henry Lee was small in stature, but his death leaves a large void in the lives of his friends.

Roanoke Times, 3/22/07

Their rivalry was intense, surpassed only by the bond of their friendship.

Zach Zimmerman was William Fleming High School's 2006 valedictorian. Henh Ly, known to many now as Henry Lee, finished right behind him. Friends since elementary school, Zach began to grow after a while. Lee didn't. He called Zimmerman "fatty," and Zimmerman called him "Number Two."

By graduation, Zimmerman was a full head taller than Lee.

"That puts his head at my chest, at my heart," Zimmerman said Sunday at a memorial service for Lee at his old high school. "And that's where he'll stay."

Lee, 20, perished with 31 other people at the hands of an enraged gunman a week ago at Virginia Tech, where he was a freshman computer engineering major.

Sunday's memorial service revealed how his diminutive size belied the huge space he occupied in the hearts of those who loved him.

Some 1,000 mourners packed the Fleming auditorium for the memorial service organized by his classmates, and spilled over into the gym to see the service on closed-circuit television. Some came from several states away. Zimmerman flew in at the expense of Princeton University, which he now attends.

Many arrived in a snaking caravan from a private funeral service, lead by a hearse carrying Lee's body. The casket was placed on the floor in front of the auditorium stage, along with traditional Buddhist funeral accents such as burning incense and an offering of food for Lee's next journey. Later, the casket would be taken to Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens for burial.

More than a dozen people spoke, all them at some point breathless with emotion, the pitch of their voices soaring as they strained to keep their composure. In between, they laughed.

"He was the most spastic person I've ever come across," said Lee's Fleming classmate, Evan Gall, who came in from Oklahoma. "He was just nuts, and I loved him for that."

Derek Spangler became friends with Lee mainly because they were about the same height, Spangler said.

Yet Lee would ask him, ironically, "Why are you so short?"

Academically, though, Lee was anything but a clown. He was "fearless" in his drive, Gall said, and pressed his friends to achieve with him.

He would call them lazy and harass them when they didn't turn in work.

"It was worse than our parents," Gall said.

In Miaisha Nunnelly's yearbook, Lee wrote, "It has been fun fighting with you over scholarship money." Lee won that battle, Nunnelly said later. She rode a bus 10 hours from Ohio State University to be at the service.

Lee came from an immigrant family of limited means. They arrived in this country from Vietnam in 1994, but were thoroughly Chinese culturally. The family speaks Cantonese at home. Lee's father and grandmother fled communist China on foot around 1950.

Song Ly and Mui Lenh came to the U.S. as refugees on the strength of a single letter certifying that Song Ly had worked as a canteen manager for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, said Nancy Calkin, a volunteer with Roanoke's Refugee and Immigration Service and a close family friend.

Song Ly recently retired from the Home Shopping Network. Generous donors have helped the family manage funeral expenses for the ninth of their 10 children.

"We came here full of hopes and dreams," Henry Lee said in his graduation speech, a video of which played during Sunday's service. Though we are all on a journey, he said in June, "the obstacles you have overcome, and not the destination, define who you are."

Last year, Lee redefined himself: as a U.S. citizen. It was then that he took his new name: Henry Jake Lee. He chose a "J" name for his middle name, because J falls exactly in the middle of his first and last initials.

He was always something of an American kid, it seems. A montage of pictures showed him as a boy at the beach, on a merry-go-round, picking apples, goofing in a Power Ranger costume. Most pictures, though, showed a smiling young man always surrounded by a crowd of friends or family.

"He was always the one who called to get us all together," testified Lewis Kleiner, another Fleming classmate.

Lee himself, in his graduation speech, described feeling lost in his first American classroom amid strangers who spoke a language he didn't understand.

Yet as soon as he was able he surrounded himself with friends who would remain with him until his death.

Elizabeth Weddle was yet another classmate there to mourn him Sunday.

"His influence extends beyond what he ever knew," she said, "or could ever have imagined."

By Matt Chittum

Virginia Tech Magazine Profile (5/07)

Henry J. Lee (Henh Ly) was always the one to repair his family’s computers, which turned out to be good preparation for becoming a computer engineering major at Virginia Tech. Henry was the ninth of 10 children of Song Ly and Mui Lenh, who moved from Vietnam to Roanoke, Va., in 1994.

An academic achiever, Henry graduated from William Fleming High School’s International Baccalaureate Program as class salutatorian with a 4.47 grade point average. He was also a member of the French and Beta clubs. At Virginia Tech, he was a dean’s list student even as a freshman.
Henry’s brother, Manh, also attends Virginia Tech, and his sister, Chi, has completed her studies in accounting and is receiving her degree during the 2007 Commencement ceremonies.

Henry was a creative person, interested in origami and photography.  Additionally he liked to watch movies and hang out with his friends. He will always be fondly remembered by his classmates and teachers as the young man with an open smile and zany personality. His Virginia Tech classmate Nathan Spady calls Henry “an extremely bubbly guy, always ready to go.”

“Henry loved his family and was a good son,” writes a family friend. One of his proudest moments was becoming an American citizen in May 2006. Although the Ly family will forever miss their treasured child, they find some comfort knowing that Henry died a heroic death while trying to help his teacher block their classroom door.

Memorial Scholarship

Through the Virginia Tech Foundation, the Henry J. Lee Memorial Scholarship has been established at Virginia Tech in his memory. For more information and/or to donate to this memorial fund, see VT's Hokie Spirit Memorial Funds page.