Former C-U resident died at Virginia Tech

By Angelina Cole

Commentary from author:

When I was asked to write a story about a former resident of Champaign-Urbana who had become an unfortunate victim of the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech, I began as if it were any story.

But through seeing her pictures and listening to her loved ones grieve to me over the phone, I felt as if I had lost someone I knew as well, though not to the same extent. It was in the tears spilled on the Chicago Tribune’s newsprint and the fear of not doing her justice by any means, that I realized I wanted to capture Austin Cloyd’s essence and celebrate her life.

I wanted her friends to have an outlet to share her life with other people who did not have a chance to know her, as well as make the Virginia Tech shootings tangible from several states away.

Commentary by: Angelina Cole

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Originally published on April 19, republished May 7.

Austin Cloyd was always smiling. Six feet tall with a shock of red hair, she had a lifelong love for basketball, especially the University team. Cloyd was among the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre on Monday.

“She had a big bright smile that brought everyone up around her,” said friend Tiffani Price, freshman at Virginia Tech.

In 2005, the Cloyd family moved to Blacksburg, Va., from Champaign, so Austin’s father, Bryan Cloyd, previous Accountancy professor at the University, could teach at Virginia Tech. Austin Cloyd finished high school at Blacksburg High School in 2006, where she met Price during basketball practice. She entered Virginia Tech as a freshman this past fall.

Monday morning when the shots were fired, Cloyd was in French class in Norris Hall. Bryan Cloyd was in his office just a few buildings away and did not know what was happening, according to Terry Harter, senior pastor at the First Methodist Church in Champaign. After the events, the Cloyds tried to contact Austin, and by 5 p.m., they still hadn’t heard from her.

The family began checking the hospitals in Blacksburg and Roanoke, Va., with still no sign of their daughter. The Cloyd family – Bryan, Renee, her mother, and Andrew, her brother – went Tuesday morning to the location for families with missing children. Friends and family began to gather at the Cloyd’s home to support them, Harter said.

But around 11 a.m. Tuesday, more than twenty-four hours after the first shots rang out in Norris Hall, the distraught Cloyd family positively identified Austin’s body in a photograph provided by the authorities.

Austin Cloyd was dedicated to her school work, her church family and of course, basketball. A straight “A” honors student while at Centennial High School in Champaign, Austin met friend Beth Elliott, freshman in Engineering at the University, on the bench during basketball practice.

“We played the same position (center) and we were both six feet tall,” Elliott said. “We would get together and watch the (Illini) basketball games. Her mom would make lunch, ‘Awesome Lunch Wednesdays’ we called them. We both loved basketball, playing and watching it. We loved penguins and Lucky Boys Confusion, Motion City Soundtrack; those were always in the car on the way to lunch.”

The Cloyd family were active members of the First Methodist Church where Pastor Harter and his wife Martha mentored Austin through the two-year process of confirmation.

“The Cloyds raised their kids with the attitude that they were a blessing,” Harter said. “And to be a blessing to others – to be compassionate, caring, sensitive and concerned with others.”

Austin Cloyd embodied these values through her participation in the Appalachia Service Project, which rehabilitates homes in the Appalachia area of the United States.

“These families are extremely poor. We raised money to go for a week and work on homes,” Harter said. “She went every time we organized a group. She was really in her element getting to know families and kids.”

While the family lived in Champaign, Renee and Austin created a similar project, the Champaign-Urbana Service Project, for local kids and students who couldn’t go all the way to Appalachia.

“She was kind, gentle, but also strong,” Harter said. “She was humble – not shy – and a confident, good person who was fun to be with.”

These sentiments are shared by her friends and family in Virginia.

“We lost an amazing person,” Price said. “Just her personality and her as a person was amazing. She treated everybody with respect.”