Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday commemorated the third anniversary of the mass slayings at Virginia Tech, calling them a "tragedy of immense magnitude and senselessness" and pledging to recognize the anniversary every year he is in office.
During a ceremony at the state capitol bell tower, McDonnell read a proclamation honoring the 32 people who died and those who were injured in the shootings on April 16, 2007, when a student gunman fatally shot 27 students and five faculty members before killing himself.
The governor also recognized the continuing loss felt by the families and friends of those slain and thanked law-enforcement officers who responded to the scene to prevent further deaths.
He declared that the state would observe Virginia Tech Remembrance Day each April 16 during his term.
McDonnell called the event "a somber reminder of how precious life is, and how we must always be ready to help one another in times of great tragedy and in times of inexplicable horror."
He also noted that the shootings prompted officials to improve college security practices and the state's mental health and criminal-justice systems. He praised his predecessor, Gov. Timothy Kaine, for his "steadfast leadership" in the aftermath of the slayings.
McDonnell thanked the families of those killed and injured for their efforts to help shape policy changes.
In the shootings' aftermath, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation to tighten criteria for identifying, detaining and ordering treatment for mentally ill people who are a threat to themselves and others. Another measure closed a loophole that allowed gunman Seung-Hui Cho to legally purchase the two handguns he used even though a court had ordered him to get psychiatric treatment.
But legislators rejected a bill to prevent felons and those judged mentally ill from buying weapons at gun shows.
McDonnell said he hoped the tragedy would continue to spur people to "be a good neighbor, to love one another more, to find ways to not turn our back on a situation that might lead to calamity" -- perhaps an indirect reference to the gunman's mental health problems.
After a moment of silence, McDonnell read the names of each of the slain students and faculty. A bell tolled 32 times to end the ceremony.
In Blacksburg, the university also was holding several events to mark the anniversary, including a 3.2-mile run and a candlelight ceremony.
Football coach Frank Beamer called off Friday's practice and noted that since the slayings, Virginia Tech has become "a tighter, stronger campus than it's ever been. We've just got to keep pulling together and moving forward."