Erin Nicole Peterson

Age: 18

Class: Freshman

Major: International Studies

Hometown: Centreville, VA

High School: Westfield (Chantilly, 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):

Pat Deegan on Erin Peterson: 'She Made It Her Business to Make Everyone Around Her a Better Person'

Personal Remembrances From Family/Friends/Colleagues

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

Newspaper Remembrance Stories

High School Basketball Players, Coach Remember Former Athlete
(Roanoke Times Profile)

From playing power forward on the basketball court to perfecting her French accent in an honors class, Erin Peterson was a vivacious young woman who “enriched everyone’s lives,” said Patrick Deegan, a history teacher and basketball coach at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va.

“Erin had an insatiable desire to drink in life,” Deegan said. “She was one of those people that if there was an activity, she wanted to do it and do well.”

Centreville neighbors and friends received word by midmorning Tuesday that Peterson had died. They believe she was an only child.

She was a starter on the high school’s varsity basketball squad. She also played on an elite American Athletic Union travel team in the spring and summer. She ran track before high school.

But Peterson was also on the football team as an offensive tackle or linebacker for the “powder puff team,” where girls play football against each other.

Centreville neighbor Mary Koch said Peterson took many Advanced Placement classes. She worked four years on the school’s newspaper.

Koch said Peterson, who was a close friend of her daughter, was admitted into many schools and chose to attend Tech after she graduated in 2006 from Westfield High School.

“She had a very promising future,” Koch said. “It was a horrible tragedy and a waste of this young person’s life.”

She and others noted Peterson’s kind and sweet disposition.

On Tuesday, about 16 friends and basketball teammates gathered in the high school’s guidance conference room, writing anecdotes and finding pictures for a memory book.

“About 14 kids said she reached out to them in a moment of need,” Deegan said.

“She was just so generous of herself. The book is a work in progress and is something [the students] came up with themselves. My heart goes out for every parent and friend.”

— Pamela Podger (Roanoke Times, 4/18/07)

New York Times Profile:

Erin Peterson, 18, of Centreville, Va., was a star basketball player at Westfield High School.

She was an only child and treated her teammates like family members. Ms. Peterson was so outgoing that "everyone in the school knew her by name," said a close friend and former classmate, Caitline Meslar.

Ms. Meslar, who played basketball with Ms. Peterson, said the two became friends three and a half years ago, when Ms. Meslar, then a new student, had no one to sit with during lunch on her first day of school.

As Ms. Meslar was sitting by herself, Ms. Peterson approached her and said, "You're on my team, and I can't let you sit alone."

Westfield High School is now planning a basketball game in honor of Ms. Peterson and other shooting victims at Virginia Tech as a way to raise money for college scholarships.

Between team practice and sleepovers during high school, Ms. Peterson also kept busy as member of the French Honor Society. She would "bolster anyone in the school when they were having a bad day," Ms. Meslar said. "She was the only person I knew that is truly one of a kind."

N. Virginia native didn't hide from life
USAToday Profile

On her MySpace page, 18-year-old Erin Peterson writes: "You can't hide from life; you just gotta live it!"

A Virginia Tech freshman, Peterson graduated last year from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va. — the same school attended by the man who shot and killed her Monday in Blacksburg. Another victim, Reema Samaha, also went to the same high school.

While there, Erin played varsity basketball, was in French honors, worked on the high school newspaper and was in Quill & Scroll, a journalism honor society.

Eddie Royal, a receiver with the Virginia Tech Hokies, also graduated from Westfield High. He didn't know the two victims well but had friends who did.

"Everybody who really knew them knew they were special people," he said. "I never heard a bad word spoken about either one of them."

According to her online profile, Peterson was a huge fan of hip-hop celebrity 50 Cent. His pictures adorn her site's wallpaper, and she lists him as her favorite musician and the top person she'd like to meet (buff actor Vin Diesel comes second).

"My absolutely favorite thing to do is to chill with my friends," she wrote.

Judging by the hundreds of postings on her site, Peterson had many.

Washington Post Profile:

On strips of paper, the 16 or so students who gathered at Westfield High School yesterday morning to talk about Erin Peterson each scribbled a single anecdote about her. They were supposed to write about what they remembered most about the high school basketball star. And when they were done, almost all the papers told the same story: Peterson had helped someone when it was most needed.

One girl wrote about how she had just transferred to the school and was sitting alone at a table when Peterson invited her to join her group, saying something like, "You're not going to be sitting by yourself anymore."

Another girl was in a locker room, visibly upset, when Peterson stopped to comfort her.

One anecdote described how Peterson always brought all the players together before a game to give them an inspirational pep talk.

"The thing that really sticks out about Erin was she was an excellent basketball player, but she was an outstanding person," said Pat Deegan, the girls' basketball coach. "If there was a positive activity and there were people involved in it, then Erin was going to be in the middle of it."

Peterson, a freshman at Virginia Tech majoring in international studies, had played on the high school basketball team for four years, three of them on the varsity team. Her senior year, she was the captain of the team, Deegan said.

"I've been coaching for 27 years, and I can't remember anyone who was a better leader than Erin," he said.

Mark Richardson chairs the Minority Achievement Committee at the school, which aims to ensure that all students have the ability to achieve. Erin Peterson found that achievement both on the court and in the classroom, he said.

"She was a very kind and smart individual. She did all she could to help others and was very active in the school both athletically and academically," he said.

Even after Peterson left for Tech, she was never really gone, calling the high school team on certain game days to encourage the players, Deegan said.

"When she was in the game, she was a warrior," Deegan said. "But she understood that before the game, you take in life, and after the game, you take in life."

Her loss has left a large hole, one that will never be filled, he said.

If he had written anything on that sheet of paper that morning, he said, it would have been simply: "Erin made the world a better place to be, and we're all at a loss without her."

-- Theresa Vargas, The Washington Post

Chronicle of Higher Education Profile:

Even classmates who barely knew Erin Peterson, 18, could recognize her loud laugh and infectious grin. “She would always put a smile on your face,” says a high-school friend, Rachel Dall. “Even if you were having the worst day, one smile and a hello would make you feel so much better.”

Ms. Peterson, from Centreville, Va., was a freshman at Virginia Tech. She and another victim of the shooting, Reema Samaha, graduated in 2006 from Westfield High School, in Chantilly, Va., the same high school that the gunman had graduated from three years earlier.

At Westfield High, Ms. Peterson was captain of the girls’ basketball team and was well known for her passion for basketball, her outgoing kindness, and her dedication to her family and faith. She began every game with a prayer, her teammates say, and taught her players to hold their heads high. One former teammate recalls how Ms. Peterson made her feel welcome when she transferred to Westfield High and didn’t know anyone.

“She was one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. She was always ready to support you,” says the former teammate, Veronica Sofia Bonilla, a Virginia Tech freshman who attended high school with Ms. Peterson. The two friends moved into Virginia Tech residence halls together in August, on Ms. Peterson’s 18th birthday.

A hard-working student, Ms. Peterson did not have a declared major but was interested in political science and international relations, her friends say. She had recently been accepted into an honors fraternity at Virginia Tech, Phi Sigma Pi.

—Paula Wasley

Local victim is remembered
The Potomac News (Virginia)

Erin Peterson, 18, of Chantilly, a Westfield High School classmate of victim Reema Samaha and the gunman, was a 6-foot 1 center for the school's girls basketball team, helping lead it to a district championship in her sophomore year.

"She could do a layup on anyone,'' said Anna Richter, a high school teammate, recalling that Peterson's parents attended nearly every game and were among the most enthusiastic fans.

Pat Deegan, Peterson's high school coach, said: "I've been coaching for 27 years, and I can't remember anyone who was a better leader than Erin.''

Peterson and Samaha both graduated from Westfield last year, according to Barbara Burke, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools.

"She was just a super child,'' William Lloyd, Erin's godfather, told the Washington City Paper. "Never ran the streets. Her and her dad, man, you couldn't separate them. He lost a child from cancer - a daughter, 8 years old. A week later, [Erin] was born.''

Lloyd said that Erin and her father, Grafton Peterson, did part ways on their pro football allegiances. "She was a Redskin,'' he said. "He was a Cowboy.''


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Essay becomes student's eulogy

Roanoke Times, 4/24/07

CENTREVILLE, Va. -- After the death of her "Big Nanny," as Erin Peterson used to call her great-grandmother, the 6-foot-1-inch teenager known for her soft heart took a long time to grieve. She wrote an essay for one of her Virginia Tech classes she titled "Losing a loved one, gaining perspective."

As the Peterson family prepares to celebrate the life of a young woman who nurtured all those around her, they see the essay given to them by Peterson's professor as instructions she left for them. How to grieve for her, how to gain strength from losing her in last week's Virginia Tech shootings.

"She was such a strong spirit. She set the bar so high," said her mother, Celeste Peterson.

Peterson was remembered in the last week for her calm strength and her kindness, for her constant smiles and jokes, and for her determination in basketball at Westfield High School in Chantilly.

Peterson was in Norris Hall when (the gunman) went on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead at Virginia Tech.

Sitting in the family's two-story brown shingle home at the round kitchen table, where "everything used to happen," her mother remembers the 18-year-old calling from school a few days before the shootings. Her daughter, who called home every night and usually tried to conceal her homesickness, was crying.

After some words of wisdom from her mother, Peterson thanked her mom for picking up the phone, for being there. She said her mother and father were her best friends. She pleaded for them to visit her the next weekend, and her parents made the five-hour drive to Blacksburg.

"If I could just see my mom and dad," she had told her roommate in the dorm, according to her mother, "I can make it through the semester."

As an international studies major at Virginia Tech, Peterson's strong moral compass made her want to make a difference in the world; her golden heart roused a sensitivity for victims of Katrina and the Asian tsunami, said her cousin, Tracey Littlejohn.

She already was proficient in French and it was in that class where she and another 2006 Westfield High graduate, Reema Samaha, were killed.

Samaha's funeral was Monday; Peterson's is today.

The family will read from Peterson's essay at her funeral today, a celebration of her life and her positive influence on others.

By Lubna Takruri (Associated Press)

Tears, Hymns for a Kind Girl With a Competitive Spirit

The Washington Post (Wednesday, April 25, 2007; B01)

Before Erin Peterson's Centreville home became a center of mourning, it was a pizza house, study hall, movie theater, classroom and sanctuary, a place where a teenage girl learned to be a young woman and two parents delighted in helping their baby get ready for the world.

Members of the Westfield High School basketball team, who wanted to bring dinner and some solace, dreaded walking into that space without Erin there.

"Her parents were like her life," said Josephine McLane, a close friend and teammate. "Everyone on our team thought it was going to be so bad seeing her mom."

But then Celeste Peterson did what she has been doing, some nights until midnight, since Erin, a freshman international studies major at Virginia Tech, was killed: She began supporting all the supporters.

"She was like, 'What are you guys waiting for? Eat,' " said McLane, whom Erin had dubbed Robin to her own Batman. "She was trying to make everybody else feel better around her. . . . She was crying a couple times, but she was just telling stories about Erin."

"Just looking at her, you could see Erin in her," McLane said. "She was full of life, too."

Celeste Peterson's memorial to her daughter, that evening at home and yesterday with hundreds of mourners who filled and surrounded Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville, has been, for now, to keep being a mother. She doesn't know how else to make it. Yesterday, she stood outside for more than an hour hugging and talking with those walking in to see the open casket, which was placed before a hanging blue tapestry with two outstretched hands.

Erin was buried later in the day at Rock Hill Cemetery near Round Hill, where her grandfather is the caretaker.

"I just want to scream to the top of my lungs, 'The world is not as good without her.' I know a lot of parents lost their kids, and they are probably feeling the same way. But this kid, I'm just, I'm just shock and awe, that's all. I mean, shock and awe," Celeste Peterson said Monday. "She had such a kind and nurturing spirit. She was something. She was something."

Erin was both a tough competitor and a generous presence. She and McLane at times ripped each other's jerseys in practice, vying for a starting spot on the team, but they were inseparable once they cooled down.

As a sophomore, she tutored a senior in algebra without any embarrassing fanfare, her mother learned a few days ago.

"She was a true Bulldog on the court," said Westfield Principal Tim Thomas. Off, "she was gentle, and she was sweet. . . . I have an answer to the question, 'Mr. Thomas, what's a model student?' My answer consists of three words. Erin Nicole Peterson."

Erin demonstrated an old-fashioned sense of decorum and a teenager's taste for pop culture. She insisted on addressing co-workers at the Chantilly-based North American headquarters of Rolls-Royce, where she had been an intern and planned to return, as "Miss Janice" or Miss so-and-so, even after her boss insisted that she stop. It was the way she was raised, her mother said. You gave adults their prefix.

But Erin was also frequently spotted at school with a single ear bud hanging out, piping in 50 Cent, to the head-shaking dismay of friends who didn't share her crush. She'd watch "Love and Basketball" over old-school stove-top Jiffy Pop at a friend's house and "Steel Magnolias," again and again, at home.

Erin could also be concerned about the right shade of nail polish, as was the case in a pre-prom rush last year with friend Whitney Hubbard. They debated whether she should go with gold to match her dress; she ended up with French tips.

They didn't get to bed after the prom until 6 in the morning. "We didn't want to leave. We were having so much fun," Hubbard said.

At the service yesterday, in a church filled with song, white-gloved attendants tried to comfort weeping mourners by waving fans printed with an image of the Last Supper. Erin was devout. She had used a marker to inscribe her basketball shoe with the words: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Church musician James Wigington led the chorus and mourners in soaring repetition: "It's going to be all right. It's going to be okay. Erin Peterson, we love you."

Erin would call home daily from Virginia Tech. Her father, Grafton, would wait up. "He'd usually stay downstairs in the chair until after she called, then come to bed," Peterson said.

"It has been hard. My husband's just done. He doesn't want to talk to anybody else, and I don't blame him," Peterson said. "He's dealing with some anger. I mean, his baby's gone."

Sitting at home, Celeste Peterson leafed through a memory book put together by teammates and friends. "RIP BIG E," it said. In one picture, she was in the new dress they had just bought her. "This is at her dorm room. . . . There's her prom. This is at her birthday party last year," she said.

"Talking about her and how fun she was has really helped a lot," she said.

She tried to read the message left by one friend, Tim Parrish, eventually making it through: "I remember your mom always calling me baby and I know that she's lost her real baby now, but you'll always be in our memories. I hope heaven's got a basketball hoop, cus I'm lookin forward to postin up on you up there, even though I'm sure you dominated me almost every time we played."

Her daughter had a way of combining common sense and book sense, her mother's exuberant outlook and her father's realism, family members and friends said. Celeste Peterson would tell her daughter that she could do anything she wanted.

" 'Erin, your destiny is greatness,' " she'd tell her, which would elicit a joking scoff. "I said, 'God told me to tell you that this is your destiny.' I just never thought my baby would have to die for people to get to know how great she is."

By Michael Laris

Virginia Tech Magazine Profile (5/07)

Erin Nicole Peterson was born Aug. 17, 1988, in Fairfax, Va., to Celeste and Grafton Peterson. An only child, Erin was a dedicated “daddy’s girl” whose parents considered her their “angel – their dewdrop from heaven.”

Erin’s early learning took place at Virginia’s Appletree Private School and Merritt Academy.

She graduated in 2006 from Chantilly, Va.’s Westfield High School, where she was a member of the National Honor Society. In addition to excelling in the classroom, Erin also exhibited great skill on the basketball court. Wearing number 45, she served on the school’s squad for four years, three as a varsity player and, during her senior year, one as the team’s captain.

Last summer, upon the nomination of her high school principal, Erin worked as an intern with Rolls-Royce North America Inc. At the company’s invitation, she was to have returned as an intern this year.

Erin’s personality was a wonderful blend of warmth and magnetism anchored by a sound moral compass. She lived a life that was filled with joy and freely shared that joy with others. In return, Erin received the admiration and respect of her peers and the complete adoration of her family.

A certified homebody, Erin loved watching movies and staying in with her family. She absolutely adored her maternal great-grandmother. Erin had a profound respect for her parents and called them every night. A faithful and spiritual young woman, she was a firm believer in the power of prayer.

Erin entered Virginia Tech in fall 2006, majoring in international studies. She had recently been elected co-president of EMPOWER, an organization dedicated to building self-esteem and confidence in young minority girls.

Erin passed from this life on April 17, 2007. While her passing has left a gaping hole in the hearts of her family and friends, Erin’s spirit and her legacy of excellence, optimism, leadership, and love will live forever.

Memorial Scholarship

Through the Virginia Tech Foundation, the Erin Peterson Commitment to Excellence Memorial Scholarship has been established at Virginia Tech in her memory. For more information and/or to donate to this memorial fund, see VT's Hokie Spirit Memorial Funds page.