"Families want an answer," said Camila Schreiner, a head of student government at the university's forestry engineering department. "Next week we go back to classes having lost many of our friends. We need an answer."
In the town's largest Catholic church, priests were doing double duty trying to comfort parishioners who waited quietly for their turn to speak privately in the pews or in the confessionals.
"We are on permanent call," said Father Nelson Luiz Pappis. People come for answers, but "a tragedy such as this one has no explanation."
What he offered were reminders. "For those who have faith, life doesn't end. We are in communion with those who have gone," he said. "And to keep on going, we look for solidarity with those who are here with us."
At the Federal University of Santa Maria, classrooms should have been bustling with students preparing for final exams. Instead, footsteps echoed Tuesday in the darkened hallways of the college, which lost 113 students, among them aspiring agronomists, veterinarians and forestry engineers.
Agronomy professor Toshio Nishijina threw up his hands in bewilderment as he walked among the deserted classrooms. "This should be full of students. This is always such a festive environment. It is so strange now," he said.
Some mourners tried to work through their grief by taking refuge in routine. Grasiele Melo Moreira was back at the counter selling jewelry in a small shop just around the corner from the nightclub where her best friend died.
She swallowed back tears as she described Patricia Pazzini Bairro, a friend with whom bonds were as tight as with family. Bairro had been her maid of honor, Moreira said. When Bairro's son, Gabriel, was born, she asked Moreira to be godmother.
Bairro and her husband, Vandelcork Marques Lara Junior, went into the club about 10 minutes before the fire to pick up her 18-year-old sister, Greicy. The teenager had gotten into college and was celebrating with her boyfriend. All died in the fire.
"Pat always took such good care of her sister," said Moreira, shaking her head at the senseless of it all. "She wanted to be sure she got home safe.
"Justice won't bring them back," she said. "But it can prevent other deaths."
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