RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Tech student Bethany Darnley didn't know slain police officer Deriek Crouse but like many in the "Hokie family," she wanted to reach out and help Crouse's family.
Through a campaign known as "Hokies for Crouse," Darnley and fellow students are raising money for the family of the officer shot to death Thursday as he sat in his unmarked cruiser during a traffic stop on the Blacksburg campus. Crouse, who joined the campus police force in October 2007, was a married father of five children and stepchildren.
"It's hard to find the words, but I think we are really showing the world that we are Hokie Nation and that we come together, especially in times of need," Darnley, a 22-year-old senior from Pittsburgh, said of the fund, which had raised more than $56,000 as of Sunday through online and in-person donations.
The student movement is donating the money to a memorial fund set up at the National Bank of Blacksburg. Students also are collecting gift cards and presents for the family, including his children and stepchildren, who range in age from 10 to 18.
"They don't have their father to buy gifts for them this season, so we wanted to step up for them," Darnley said.
"They deserve a Christmas miracle more than anyone."
"Hokies For Crouse" began when Darnley established a Facebook event to accept donations and gifts for Crouse's family. Drew Jenkinson, a 21-year-old senior from Lorton, reached out to help push the effort online.
What started as an effort to get donations from friends quickly grew.
"As a community we're very passionate about our own people, so we wanted to put forth an effort to make sure that people recognize the situation and provide the family of officer Crouse with the care they deserve. I knew this community had that power and that passion behind them, but I was very pleased to see that it proliferated the way it did," Jenkinson said.
"When you're here in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech, you are part of the family, so if something happens to one of your family members, just like any other family, you respond."
The fundraising efforts are in concert with expressions of support from the Virginia Tech community for Crouse and his family, including a candlelight vigil Friday.
Thousands of people silently filled the Drillfield to remember Crouse, a firearms and defense instructor with a specialty in crisis intervention.
The vigil, which included a moment of silence, closed with two trumpeters stationed across the field from each other playing "Echo Taps" as students and others raised their candles.
"Let's go!" one student then shouted. "Hokies!" everyone else responded.