A network of Taiwanese studying at Virginia Tech University allowed students to quickly contact each other by telephone to establish that none had been involved in Monday's shootings, allaying anxieties during the early hours of the incident, students and Taiwanese officials said.
Officers of the Republic of China Students Association said Taiwanese students, most of whom were at home when the shootings that left 33 people dead occurred, first heard of the incident at about 11am, more than an hour after the massacre took place.
As soon as they were notified, the association's officers immediately began calling members of the 40-member organization, Yang Ting-chun, a 21-year-old graphics design senior from Taichung, told the Taipei Times.
Yang was acting as association spokeswoman.
But while that eased most of the worst fears, the association still could not reach a number of Taiwanese who had not joined the association, she said.
While the total number of Taiwanese students at the university was not available on Tuesday, Joseph Wang, an architecture professor who is an adviser to the students' association, estimated the number to be around 50 to 60, based on the number of students who turn up for Taiwanese student events on campus.
The biggest concern in the early hours was for the three or four Taiwanese students housed in the West Ambler Johnson Hall, where a South Korean student is believed to have killed two people in the first shootings of the day.
"We called them one by one to make sure they were okay" and found them all safe, Yang said.
Most Taiwanese students live in apartments off-campus, rather than in the dorms, said Margaret Lee, the director of the cultural division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington.
One reason, she said, was the fact that they can shop locally and cook in their apartments, rather than relying on cafeteria food in the dorms. She said that seven to eight Taiwanese students live on campus, including those at Johnson Hall.
Despite the incident, Yang said that the students she had spoken to had no plans to quit their studies at the university.
After the shootings, the students held a meeting on Monday evening to give each other support during the crisis.
"We were all pretty shocked, asking how could a thing like this happen in Blacksburg, which is a safe place," Yang said.
"We are not leaving, because we know it is a safe place and this was just one incident," she said.
Wang echoed Yang's reaction. He described the initial reaction among the Taiwanese students as "disbelief."
Wang said that students asked themselves "how could this happen in this tranquil, peaceful academic community. This is unbelievable in this magnitude."
The Taiwanese students did not see the events unfold as the gunman went on a rampage at around 9:40am, and first learned about them from an e-mail from university officials.
"When I first heard about it, I was terrified," Yang said. "I knew some of my friends were at school, so I was pretty worried if they were at that location [where the shootings took place]."
"I was pretty surprised and shocked when I got the e-mail. We had to get to people and we tried to contact everyone in the association to make sure everyone was okay," she said.
After making the calls, she said the Taiwanese students were "relieved" to find out that at the time, none of their compatriots were in Norris Hall, the classroom building where 31 people were shot dead, including the gunman, who took his own life.