Death of Only Child Lu Lingzi Shattered Parents' Dreams

PHOTO: This picture provided by Darson Li, shows Lingzi Lu, a Boston University graduate student who was identified as the third victim of the Boston Marathon bombings which occurred on April 15, 2013.
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Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi, the third victim to die in the marathon bombings, was the embodiment of her parents' highest hopes, a daughter born under China's one-child policy.

The ambitious 23-year-old was studying mathematics and statistics, and was at the marathon with friends to cheer on runners near the finish line when she was killed, according to Boston University. On her Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter, she extolled the virtues of American life -- blueberry waffles, Godiva dark chocolate, and ice cream.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Boston Marathon Explosion

In a telephone interview with ABC News, Lingzi's father described the death of their only child as a "dagger in our hearts." Initially, the family did not want to publicly disclose the name of their daughter, but later authorized Boston University to do so.

READ: Pain of Boston Bombing Ripples All the Way to China

"If you only have one kid to fall back on, the idea of losing that child would make you bereft," said Toni Falbo, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who specializes in Chinese families. "If you have two or three kids, and one dies, you have a reason to carry on and continue with your life.

"The parents must be utterly devastated and feel helpless, even more so, because they are so far away," she said.

Lingzi's father said he is in the process of obtaining a visa so he can travel to the United States to claim his daughter's body. He spoke of the pride he has felt in his daughter's accomplishments.

The family is from Shenyang in northeast, one of the largest cities in China. Lingzi attended the prestigious Northeast Yucai School then studied at Beijing Institute of Technology, both on scholarship. The family had saved their income so their daughter could study at Boston University, where the tuition for a graduate degree in mathematical finance is a staggering $60,888.

American universities, especially the most competitive institutions -- many of them in Boston -- have been a growing magnet for Chinese students. Last year, 194,000 obtained visas for higher education in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education.

For Chinese parents who invest so much of their emotion and earnings in the academic success of their children, Lingzi's death was not just the end of a lifelong dream, but the family's legacy.

"With a daughter, they would have expected [Lingzi] to be their caretaker," said Falbo, who has studied the one-child policy. "That's their Social Security."

"Everyone is devastated by the loss of a child, but this is like pulling the rug out from under them, without any obvious sense of recovery."

China's one-child policy started in 1979, applying only to urban families, who represent the highest portion of the population.

The policy was first implemented to address overpopulation and to promote economic development, part of a "whole package of changes to amass clout and capability" in the world, according to Fablo.

"No one thinks it will be permanent -- that's a stupid idea," she said. "Having 2.1 children is a replacement level. Two to replace the parents, and .1 if a child gets sick and dies."

The strict law has applied only to urban areas, not in rural towns were parents typically had larger families.

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