Few clues, many tears in deaths of Virginia Tech students
Those who knew Heidi Childs and David Metzler, shot to death in a national forest this week, say they led exemplary lives.
By Rex Bowman | The Roanoke Times
By all accounts, the two Virginia Tech students were great people: He was hardworking and fun-loving. She was bubbly and outgoing. He was a "sweetheart." She was a "shining star." And, as everyone who knew them could see, the two deeply religious, sun-kissed sophomores were in love.
"They were the cream of the crop," sighed the Rev. Gerald Kroll of Heritage Baptist Church in Lynchburg, summing up the short, happy lives of David Metzler and Heidi Childs.
Metzler, 19, of Lynchburg and Childs, 18, of Forest were found shot to death Thursday morning in the remote Caldwell Fields area of the Jefferson National Forest in Montgomery County. Metzler was found dead in his 17-year-old Toyota. The body of Childs, his girlfriend of four years, was found outside the car. Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Whitt said of the crime scene: "It's brutal. It's ugly."
Brutal and ugly. The words are the antithesis of the lives the two teenagers led, according to friends who struggled to come to grips with the reality that two of the sweetest people they ever knew were gone so abruptly.
At Tech on Friday, about 100 people attended an impromptu, student-led memorial service for the two on the Drillfield. The 45-minute gathering included prayers and singing, including the hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul."
Jeff Highfield, director of Campus Crusade for Christ at Tech, which Metzler and Childs joined when they enrolled at the school, said those who knew the couple are heartbroken.
"They were great people, wonderful students, they loved life and had great friendships, and most of all they loved the Lord," Highfield said. "David was just starting to be a Bible study leader for freshmen men to help them transition to campus life. He really had a heart for other guys in that respect."
"Heidi was incredible," said longtime friend Nicole Settje, who set up a prayer group for the families on Facebook. "She had a smile that would brighten a room when she walked in. My first memory of her is, when we attended the Word of Life camp in Florida in the summer when she was in the eighth grade, she brought a baby snake on a charter bus. The snake was on the bus for 16 hours, and when we found out, there was panic on the bus. But she didn't mind, she wanted to protect that baby snake."
Metzler, meanwhile, worked for Settje's father's plumbing company during the summers, Settje said, and Metzler took the good-natured joshing of the older plumbers gracefully. "He had a very fun relationship with everyone. He would work with this bunch of middle-aged plumbers, and one guy named Steve would pick on him, and David would call him Stevie-poo."
When he wasn't spending summers working on pipes, Metzler, along with Childs, worked at Lynchburg's Mountain Frost Creamery, driving the ice cream truck through the hilly neighborhoods.
Sarah Baker, who now lives in Tennessee but was in the youth group with the two at Heritage Baptist Church, said she knew them from their days together in church band -- both Metzler and Childs played guitar -- and both were great to be around.
"She was wonderful, one of those innocent, shining stars that give you hope for the next generation," Baker said. "She was very sparkly. And friendly." If another girl was too shy to get onstage to play, Baker said, Childs would take the stage to offer encouragement. If there were too many guitars for the amp system, Childs would be the one to unplug and let others play.
"And David was very honest and helpful," Baker said. "He was following in his father's footsteps as a man of integrity."
Childs was the daughter of a Virginia State Police trooper. Metzler's father is a doctor. While Childs was home schooled, Metzler attended Brookville High School. Their family lives intersected at worship services at Heritage Baptist, where parishioners have been praying for the families.
"Everybody's pretty emotional right now, because it tears us up," Kroll said. "They were both godly young people."
On Friday night at the church, about 80 friends and family members talked informally about Metzler and Childs in the same room where the two played the guitar and sang many times.
Will Honeycutt, who taught a young adult Bible study class that the two attended this summer, said the whole church community was grieving.
"We are a family, and when one member suffers, we all suffer," he said. "It wasn't only a loss for their parents, it was a loss for all of us."
In an e-mail, Susan and Larry Lewis, who know both families, said "both families, each and every member, are very down to earth, awesome, caring, un-selfish, giving, nice people, and strong Christians."
Kroll said Metzler and Childs both threw themselves into the Disciples in Action program, which involves memorizing Scripture, serving in nursing homes and helping senior citizens in the church.
Barbara Tinsley, who lives across the street from the Metzler family, recalled Metzler as an easygoing fellow who once laid mulch for her. "He was a nice young man from a fine Christian family," she said. "He was always polite and friendly."
Settje said Metzler and Childs were always together, and no one seemed able to imagine them apart. "She was very bubbly, very vivacious and full of life," Settje said. "And he was an all-around nice guy. He was just a sweetheart who loved everyone and would let you know he loved you.
"And we didn't think of them as separate."
Staff writers Sharla Bardin and Jorge Valencia contributed to this story.