April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

When the shooting started, Usman Ali, 27, was in a basement classroom of the American Civic Association in Binghamton, N.Y. He assumed that his sister Parveen, 26, who had asked to sleep in that morning, had not made it to the immigrant center for her English language class yet. But when he called home to warn her off he found out his mother had insisted that Parveen go to the lesson. Usman, whose family came from Pakistan in 2001, hid in the boiler room for three hours. When he emerged, he learned that his sister had been killed. “She was the base of our family,” says another brother, Nadar, 24. “She was like a parent, a friend. She pushed me to go to college, to be someone and achieve.”

Parveen was one of 13 people gunned down in a horrific rampage on April 3 at the Association center, which catered to immigrants—many of them from the world’s most troubled nations—striving to gain citizenship. The gunman, Jiverly Wong, 41, who came to this country from Vietnam, had recently lost his job. In a matter of minutes he used two handguns to kill his victims. It was not clear what prompted him to choose fellow immigrants as his targets—authorities said he had been ridiculed in the past for his own poor English skills—only that he left a trail of enormous pain. “It’s so sad,” says Cynthia Burrell, a neighbor of Marc and Maria Bernard, a husband and wife from Haiti who were among the victims. “They came here to be safe and this is what happens.”

In some cases husbands and wives were in class together. Long Huynh and his wife, Lan Ho, 39, came from Vietnam two years ago. As the carnage began, Huynh threw himself on top of Ho in a desperate effort to protect her. The gunman shot him three times, but one of the bullets passed through his elbow and killed Ho. (Huynh survived.) The Bernards, who left behind a son, 12, and a daughter, 6, were even more unlucky. They had been living in Binghamton for about a year, but in that short time Maria, who worked at a McDonald’s, and Marc, who had been laid off four months ago, had charmed the neighbors in their apartment complex with their good cheer. “They wanted a better life and they always had a smile,” building manager Leroy Jackson says. “The whole family would walk together to the market with their cart. It was like a daily family outing.”

For all, there were countless tiny rituals that would never be repeated. Days after the slaughter, Omri Yigal, 53, contemplated his own loss, the moments he would never share again with his beloved Doris, 53, who arose each morning at the crack of dawn to make him oatmeal. He described how the last he saw of his wife had been when she crept into the bedroom that morning to kiss him goodbye before she hurried off to class. To him the loss was shatteringly complete, even down to the oatmeal she would never prepare for him again. “I made it myself today,” he said. “I had to.” And then he began to cry.

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