Teary-eyed, forlorn faces stared blankly into the distance, an illustration of the terrible grief the four families are going through after each of them lost a child in a stampede at Cochin University's annual tech festival a day ago.

Of the four persons who died, three -- Athul Thampi (23), Sara Thomas (19) and Ann Rifta Roy (20) -- were students of School of Engineering in Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and the fourth -- Palakkad-based Alwin -- an electrician who had ended up at the festival by chance.

For the parents of three students and Alwin, the news of their children's deaths came as a rude shock out of the blue when the names of those who died in the incident were flashed on TV channels.

In disbelief, the panic-stricken parents desperately tried to get in touch with their children over the phone, but to no avail.

While some made enquiries through relatives or friends to find out what happened, others received calls after some time delivering the tragic news to them.

"I saw my son's name flash on the news channel. I immediately called up a relative there (Kochi) to inquire. He told me that Alwin was at the festival and had died. Later I got a call from someone informing me about what happened," Alwin's father told a TV channel.

Alwin was an electrician by profession but was not getting good jobs, his father said. "He probably went to Kochi looking for a job. His sister lives there," he added, visibly grappling with the huge loss.

Similar was the situation of Sara's father, who was at home -- himself presently recovering from a snake bite after months-long treatment.

Belonging to Kozhikode district of the state, Sara was a second-year student at the Division of Electronics and Communication in the School of Engineering (SoE).

Her neighbour, a lady, remembers Sara Thomas as a bubbly and hardworking student.

"The news about her on TV came as a jolt. Efforts to get in touch with her were not successful. My daughter is working there (CUSAT). I called her to find out. She confirmed that Sara had died in the incident," the neighbour said.

"We send our children there to study, trusting them (universities/colleges) to take care of them," she said tearfully.

The same was the case with Athul Thampi and Ann Rifta Roy.

While Athul -- who hailed from Koothattukulam in Ernakulam district -- was a second-year student at the Division of Civil Engineering, SoE, Ann -- from North Paravur in the same district -- was a second year student at the Division of Electronics and Communication.

Athul, the youngest of two children, used to come home every Saturday, but this time he stayed back for the festival.

"On hearing the news on TV, we called his phone, but someone else picked it up and said the mobile was found lying on the ground," his father said.

After getting a polytechnic diploma, Athul had enrolled in a civil engineering course for further studies.

Ann was described by relatives and neighbours as the "princess" of her family, perhaps also because she played the role of a princess in several 'Chavittu Nadakams' -- a colourful Latin Christian classical art form which combines acting, singing, dancing and the steps of the Kerala martial art Kalaripayattu.

Just like her father, Ann was a good Chavittu Nadakam artist and teacher..

Hundreds of people arrived at the homes of the four deceased for a last glimpse and to pay tributes.

Sara's body was kept at her school in Thamarassery in Kozhikode district for friends and relatives to pay their last respects.

While Athul and Alwin were laid to rest by evening, the funeral of Sara would be held on Monday morning and that of Ann on Tuesday as her mother, who is in Italy, will reach here by then.

Meanwhile, the condition of two other injured students -- Sheba and Geethanjali -- continues to be critical, CUSAT said in a statement.

A Health department bulletin confirmed this and said that five others were in ICU and 35 were admitted in wards, undergoing treatment.

Besides them, 20 others were treated as out patients in various hospitals here, the bulletin said.

CUSAT, in its statement, said it would be organising a condolence meeting at 10 am on Monday, November 27, at the auditorium of the School of Management Studies, to mourn the demise of the students.

"All classes and examinations scheduled on November 27 have been postponed. The updated schedule of examinations will be intimated later," it said.

"The classes at School of Engineering, CUSAT are suspended for three days. The school will reopen for regular classes on Thursday, November 30," it added.

Following the tragic incident, state Industries Minister P Rajeev said that existing guidelines for big public events, including those in universities and colleges, would be revised and updated from time to time to prevent such accidents.

Four people were killed and 60 injured in the stampede that took place before renowned singer Nikita Gandhi was to perform at a musical festival in the open-air auditorium of CUSAT. 

(Except for the headline, this story, from a syndicated feed, has not been edited by staff)