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Va. Tech Victim Known for Enthusiasm

NANCY BENAC | April 21, 2007 03:25 AM EST | AP

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VIENNA, VA. — Vibrant and determined, Maxine Turner never was the type to cower under an umbrella. When rain struck during a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall, others dove for cover. Maxine turned her face skyward and let the raindrops kiss her cheeks.

Later, amid grumbling from fellow soggy travelers, she and her mom Susan broke into spontaneous song, belting out, "Always look on the bright side of life."

It could have been her motto. The Virginia Tech senior, killed at age 22 in the massacre that cut short so many young lives, oozed enthusiasm from her 5-foot-1, 110-pound frame. Halloween, swing-dancing, tae kwon do, Zelda, chemistry _ she made them all her own.

And she was smart, way smart.

Maxine _ Max to her friends _ died just weeks before she was to receive an honors degree and start a chemical engineering job with the makers of Gore-Tex in Maryland, an employer she strategically selected because they weren't far from the beach.

"Not sure what I'll be doing yet," she told friends. But she knew her future would be "AWESOME."

Enthusiasm, accomplishment and zest for dreams were common among the 27 students killed by the gunman, who also shot five professors to death before taking his own life. Among the young victims: class jokers, animal lovers, voracious travelers, athletes, musicians, a high school valedictorian.

For all her gifts, Maxine was practical and in many ways understated, her parents remembered in an interview Friday that swung between laughter-filled recollections of a life so fully lived and sorrow over what will never be.

Friends and roommates filtered through her parents' living room, gently adding a few memories but more often silent as Max's parents sketched her life story.

"She was the greatest person ever," her roommate for four years, Michelle Vrikkis, said simply.

And modest. When new arrivals at Tech began comparing SAT scores, Maxine's 1500 _ with a perfect 800 on mathematics _ would have stood out. "I did pretty good," was all Max would say, her mother recalled.

"She was an amazing girl but you'd never know it," Susan said. "Everyone always seemed surprised when she did these things. It was like, Maxine? Are you kidding, Maxine? She just flew under the radar."

Max's photo leaps from the pages of an album chronicling her four years at Tech. There she is, in a carpet wrestling match, plying her hair-dying skills on a friend, modeling her Zelda costume for Halloween, duct-taped to a window in an unauthorized, only-at-Tech contest to see who could stick up there the longest.

Another picture, showing a sign on her dorm-room doors, speaks of her focus and determination: "Do not be offended, but I really need to work and I will not let anyone in."

President of the swing-dance club during high school, she embraced tae kwon do in college with equal passion. She had earned her red belt and was intent on getting her black belt.

"She wasn't going to get it at what she called a just sort of a 'black-belt factory,'" said Susan. "She wanted to really know it and really be able to do it."

She was an accomplished violinist. She was a youth ambassador to Hawaii. She spent three weeks on a skipjack studying oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, and that was before high school. She packed in so many advanced courses early in high school that she had time for fun electives such as gourmet foods in her senior year.

In college, it was the same story. That was why she had room in her senior schedule for German, and why she was in Norris 207 when the gunfire erupted.

Her mom says everyone assumed Max wanted to take German because it is so connected to engineering. "No," she said. "Maxine wanted to take German so she could understand the lyrics to Rammstein," a German metal band.

About the only thing Maxine didn't embrace was Girl Scouts _ "too patsy," remembers Paul Turner, her father.

"She really wanted to be in Boy Scouts, because they did more camping, and Girl Scouts did all this artsy-craftsy thing," added Susan.

Max helped to found Virginia Tech's chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, the national sorority for women in engineering. She was an officer of the tae kwon do club. She volunteered regularly at the local animal shelter. She mastered the "Legend of Zelda" video games. (Twilight Princess, from the most recent "Zelda" game, was her buddy icon.)

But call home? Max was too busy. Susan's ringtone for Max was "Mission Impossible" because it was such an event to get a call. But they instant-messaged constantly, and Max would let her playful side come through.

Last week, after Friday night's formal dance, Susan remembers that Max's "away" message said, "I was looking in the mirror and I thought, hmmm, something's missing there. I think a tattoo would look really good there." And then she wrote, "Now that I've completely freaked mommy out, I'm gone for the day."

No tattoos for her, though; she was too needlephobic.

Susan thinks Max's ever-changing hues of hairtips may help show her two sides. By turns red, magenta, blue, and so on, Max washed the color out and stuck with plain blondish-brown hair for her job interviews. Then, when her job at W.L. Gore & Associates was in the bag, she dyed the tips red again over spring break, with mom's help.

Now, her sorority sisters are dying their own hair tips _ "to honor the other side of Maxine," says her mother.

Ever practical, Max spent the March break at home despite her friends' efforts to entice her on a cruise. She was eager to start apartment-hunting in Maryland and get in one last dental appointment while still on her parents' insurance.

One day she was scheduled to go to an all-day music festival with friends; instead she went to her 13-year-old brother Anthony's soccer game.

When it came time to select a college, Max immediately wanted Virginia Tech. Her parents made her at least apply to some bigger-name schools. Even after the acceptance letters from Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon arrived, Max insisted on Tech.

"She stood on that campus and she said, 'This is my school. I don't want to go anywhere else," Susan recalled. "She loved it. Her whole four years.

"It was the right place for her _ until Monday."