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Student killer leaves 33 dead at Virginia Tech

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April 17, 2007

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Virginia Tech’s president said Tuesday that a student was the gunman in at least the second of the two campus attacks that claimed 33 lives to become the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Though he did not explicitly say the student was also the gunman in the first shooting, he said he did not believe there was another shooter at large.

Two hours after two people were killed at a dormitory Monday, 30 more people were killed at a campus building by a gunman who finally killed himself with a shot to his head.

“We do know that he was an Asian male — this is the second incident — an Asian man who was a resident in one of our dormitories,” university president Charles Steger said in an interview with CNN, confirming for the first time that the killer was a student.

Steger also defended the university’s delay in warning students after the first shooting. Some students said their first notice came in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m., after the second shooting had begun.

Steger said the university was trying to notify students who were already on-campus, not those who were commuting in.

“We warned the students that we thought were immediately impacted,” he told CNN. “We felt that confining them to the classroom was how to keep them safest.”

He said investigators did not know there was a shooter loose on campus in the interval between the two shootings because the first could have been a murder-suicide.

Two students told NBC’s “Today” show they were unaware of the dorm shooting when they reported to a German class where the gunman later opened fire.

Derek O’Dell, his arm in a cast after being shot, described a shooter who fired away in “eerily silence” with “no specific target — just taking out anybody he could.”

After the gunman left the room, students could hear him shooting other people down the hall. O’Dell said he and other students barricaded the door so the shooter couldn’t get back in — though he later tried.

“After he couldn’t get the door open he tried shooting it open… but the gunshots were blunted by the door,” O’Dell said.

The slayings left people of this once-peaceful mountain town and the university at its heart praying for the victims of the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history, struggling to find order in a tragedy of such unspeakable horror it defies reason.

“For Ryan and Emily and for those whose names we do not know,” one woman pleaded in a church service Monday night.

Another mourner added: “For parents near and far who wonder at a time like this, ‘Is my child safe?'”

That question promises to haunt Blacksburg long after Monday’s attacks. Investigators offered no motive, and the gunman’s name was not immediately released.

The shooting began about 7:15 a.m. on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston, a high-rise coed dormitory where two people died.

Police were still investigating around 9:15 a.m., when a gunman wielding two handguns and carrying multiple clips of ammunition stormed Norris Hall, a classroom building a half-mile away on the other side of the 2,600-acre campus.

At least 15 people were hurt in the second attack, some seriously. Many found themselves trapped after someone, apparently the shooter, chained and locked Norris Hall doors from the inside.

Students jumped from windows, and students and faculty carried away some of the wounded without waiting for ambulances to arrive.

SWAT team members with helmets, flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed over the campus. A student used his cell-phone camera to record the sound of bullets echoing through a stone building.

Inside Norris, the attack began with a thunderous sound from Room 206 — “what sounded like an enormous hammer,” said Alec Calhoun, a 20-year-old junior who was in a solid mechanics lecture in a classroom next door.

Screams followed an instant later, and the banging continued. When students realized the sounds were gunshots, Calhoun said, he started flipping over desks to make hiding places. Others dashed to the windows of the second-floor classroom, kicking out the screens and jumping from the ledge of Room 204, he said.

“I must’ve been the eighth or ninth person who jumped, and I think I was the last,” said Calhoun, of Waynesboro, Va. He landed in a bush and ran.

Calhoun said that the two students behind him were shot, but that he believed they survived. Just before he climbed out the window, Calhoun said, he turned to look at his professor, who had stayed behind, apparently to prevent the gunman from opening the door.

The instructor was killed, Calhoun said.

Erin Sheehan, who was in the German class next door to Calhoun’s class, told the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, that she was one of only four of about two dozen people in the class to walk out of the room. The rest were dead or wounded, she said.

She said the gunman “was just a normal-looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout-type outfit. He wore a tan button-up vest, and this black vest, maybe it was for ammo or something.”

The gunman first shot the professor in the head and then fired on the class, another student, Trey Perkins, told The Washington Post. The gunman was about 19 years old and had a “very serious but very calm look on his face,” he said.

“Everyone hit the floor at that moment,” said Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va., a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “And the shots seemed like it lasted forever.”

At an evening news conference, Police Chief Wendell Flinchum refused to dismiss the possibility that a co-conspirator or second shooter was involved. He said police had interviewed a male who was a “person of interest” in the dorm shooting and who knew one of the victims, but he declined to give details.

“I’m not saying there’s a gunman on the loose,” Flinchum said. Ballistics tests will help explain what happened, he said.

Some students bitterly complained that the first e-mail warning arrived more than two hours after the first shots.

“I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident,” said Billy Bason, 18, who lives on the seventh floor of the dorm.

Steger emphasized that the university closed off the dorm after the first attack and decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to spread the word, but said that with 11,000 people driving onto campus first thing in the morning, it was difficult to get the word out.

He said that before the e-mail was sent, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

“We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it,” Steger said.

The 9:26 e-mail had few details: “A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating.”

Until Monday, the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard plowed his pickup truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

The massacre Monday took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High bloodbath near Littleton, Colo. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

Previously, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16 people before he was shot to death by police.

Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech is nestled in southwestern Virginia, about 160 miles west of Richmond. With more than 25,000 full-time students, it has the state’s largest full-time student population. The school is best known for its engineering school and its powerhouse Hokies football team.

Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks but that they had not determined whether they were linked to the shootings.

It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of gunfire.

Last August, the opening day of classes was canceled when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff’s deputy was killed just off campus. The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.

Among the dead were professors Liviu Librescu and Kevin Granata, said Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department.

Librescu, an Israeli, was born in Romania and was known internationally for his research in aeronautical engineering, Puri wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Granata and his students researched muscle and reflex response and robotics. Puri called him one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy.

Also killed was Ryan Clark, a student from Martinez, Ga., who had several majors and carried a 4.0 grade-point average, said Vernon Collins, coroner in Columbia County, Ga.

His friend Gregory Walton, a 25-year-old who graduated last year, said he feared the nightmare had just begun.

“I knew when the number was so large that I would know at least one person on that list,” said Walton, a banquet manager. “I don’t want to look at that list. I don’t want to.

“It’s just, it’s going to be horrible, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

–ADAM GELLER

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

16 Responses to Student killer leaves 33 dead at Virginia Tech

  1. yarply

    April 17, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    It is astounding that in a state which has a right to carry law, that, as they waited for the police to protect them none of the students could stop the assailant as he shot his way through their classmates.
    How could this happen? Well, one cause may have been, a bill which was defeated in the Virginia legislature to enable those with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns at school. But I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on their campus. Just think,, If just one student had been able to respond, the death toll may have been MUCH less. Tell me, Honestly. If you was in that class and someone started shooting in there, would you wish you had a way to respond?
    The answer some would say is we as a country should disarm, but the facts are that criminals won’t disarm, while regular law abiding people would, thus leaving the regular law abiding citizen helpless and unable to save themselves and the ones they love.
    Isn’t it interesting that Utah and Oregon are the only two states that allows faculty to carry guns on campus. And isn’t it interesting that you haven’t read about any school or university shootings in Utah or Oregon?

    Criminals don’t like having their supposed victims shooting back at them.

  2. Warren

    April 17, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    This killing spree was a horrible tragedy.

    But look at this another way. Consider that this doesn’t happen very often. The population of the United States is 300,000,000+. Once every few years one person in three hundred million is sufficiently emotionally disturbed to commit mass murder. Whether he or she uses a bomb or fire or guns or chemicals or some other creative destruction isn’t the point. There are plenty of opportunities and means for any one of us to do this kind of thing. But we don’t. That only one deranged soul in three hundred million does something like this every few years I think speaks to what a remarkably civilized society we really are.

    Yes, this was a tragedy. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those close to the situation.

  3. Mark Pogue

    April 17, 2007 at 9:41 pm

  4. SEAL

    April 18, 2007 at 1:40 am

    That is the most intelligent on point thing anyone has said, so far.

    Every time something like this happens the comments are always the same old “should we or shouldn’t we allow guns.” It’s a waste of time since the constitution gives everyone the right to bear arms. Until the constitution is changed that is the way it will be.

    A gun never killed anyone. People kill people. I live in a “country” area where everyone has guns. Lots of them. Personally, I have enough firepower to stop a small revolution. But then, I’m a SEAL, ret., and legal. I’m not going to go out and kill half the town and neither are my neighbors. Guns are not the motivation. This guy went out and bought the guns because he was already motivated to kill. If he could not have bought guns he would have found another way. He did the killing, not the guns.

  5. Sandy Price

    April 17, 2007 at 7:38 am

    The shooter was a student at the College and bought his weapons on Friday apparently without a background check. But it will be okay as President Bush and the first lady will visit the campus. They will pray.

  6. gene

    April 17, 2007 at 9:12 am

    God what horror those young people faced and to think what suffering will come out of this tragedy. Reminds me of mabe what the families of over 3 thousnad (DEAD) US soldiers have to face daily. And then consider the 20 thousand plus that have been injured, some horribly disfirgured for life. And just for fun, through in the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people (they are human you no with families) and we have a horrific mess that for many has become “literally” a living hell.

    When bush and his neocon buddies started this (illegal) war based on nothing but lies against those terroist who are swarming our beaches everyday now (right) it was as if the door to hell itself was open..this country is sick in so many ways now that I see no other solution other than a direct intervention from God (hello) himself.

    Today I will grieve with the families and those who were hurt. I am sorry this happen not that it helps much but I truely am.

  7. anthny

    April 17, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Another sad day in the US, why this happened we will never know. Could it have been avoided? Could there have been more gun control?
    These questions will have to be answered at a later date.
    Because now the mourning shall begin…..

  8. Sandy Price

    April 17, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Controlling guns is not the answer. Having a gun in the hands of someone else could have prevented the death of 30 people. That campus was wide open for anyone who wanted to show violence. Our borders are wide open for the violence. Nobody’s home in the government.

  9. drich291

    April 17, 2007 at 10:31 am

    A policeman that was interviewed said that students having concealed weapons would be a problem. If he came around a corner in Norris Hall and saw someone with a weapon he would have no choice but to assume they were the shooter. More guns in a chaotic situation is a recipe for disaster.

    Further, the price we pay for the “sportsmen” having their guns is this kind of tragedy. Someone else pays with their life for the privilege of some to have guns.

  10. Steve Horn

    April 18, 2007 at 8:14 am

    This is the price we pay for sportsmen having guns? Yeah – right – most criminals purchase guns from regular dealers, submit to the background check, register their purchases with the government and apply for carry permits (with even more strict background checks) should they want to carry a gun for their own protection – right.

    The mayor of Nagasaki was critically wounded by a gunshot today – Japan has the most strict gun laws that I know of – I’ll betcha the handgun used by the shooter wasn’t registered.

    Thieves and criminals will get weapons – don’t make this into another misguided attempt to further strip my rights as an American. Isn’t it bad enough that we can’t speak without concern for our jobs or freedom? That we cannot write open critiques of our “leaders” without concern for being on some list in DC?

    Add onto this that the shooter wasn’t an American citizen – so don’t blame it on American culture. Put the blame where it belongs – one whacked out student who wanted to kill himself but for some reason we’ll now never know, decided it’d be more elegant to take over thirty innocent lives with him.

    Edit: I mentioned that the shooter was a non-resident legal alien – I was incorrect – he is a resident legal alien – still not an American citizen – but that does have a bearing on his legal right to purchase firearms in Virginia.

  11. Wayne K Dolik

    April 17, 2007 at 11:52 am

    My gut reaction to this “event” raises more questions than a call for gun control. Of course, there are those kinds that prefer to have their government make all of their decisions and thus loose all their civil liberties in the process. We have seen the demise of many recently. I have frequently told close friends, the guns would be next, if we are turning towards fascism.

    Was the shooter a patsy? Who were his handlers? We need a thorough honest investigation into these shooters connections. I am greatly troubled by the scale of this and the timing of it as well. Let us not be to quick to judge without the facts.

    Events have happened in Scotland and Australia. The end result was the confiscation of all firearms.The event in Scotland was possibly staged.

  12. Curlybird

    April 17, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    My heart goes out to all those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy. There were so many lives needlessly cut short by the actions of this lone gunman and I hope that everyone is able to eventually find peace in regards to this tragedy.

    What we need now are answers. First and foremost, is why this young man, described as a loner, went on the rampage to begin with. His actions and his very demeanor are those of one that has been programmed to do such a callous act by handlers. He was not himself, but had an alternate personality activated that did the act on command from his handlers. I cannot think otherwise as a normal person would not act in this way.

    Let’s see what comes out in the next few days and weeks as to courses of action offered to prevent these atrocities from occurring. I’ll bet gun control is a major offering. I’m no lover of guns, but someone with a cool head and a handgun in one of the classrooms could have taken the shooter out in a heartbeat and would not have become a target for law enforcement as they would have had enough sense to put the gun away afterwards.

    An event of this magnitude engenders fear into the hearts of many and that is exactly what the shooter’s handlers want. Fearful people cannot think clearly and can easily be lead to a solution that will not prove beneficial for them, but sounds good at the moment. The bottom line is to ask “Who benefits” from this? Once that question is answered, we will know who is behind his handlers.

  13. Steve Horn

    April 18, 2007 at 8:14 am

    May I direct you to item 12 of the following link:

    http://www.vsp.state.va.us/Firearms_PurchaseEligibility.shtm

    As the shooter in this incident was a South Korean – a nonimmigrant alien – it would appear that he could not, legally, purchase a handgun in the state of Virginia – in other words – additional restrictions would have done NOTHING.

    Before you start to piss the rights of your fellow citizens away – in an attempt to have the government make life safe for you from the cradle to your old age – you may want to research what laws are already in place.

    I feel for the students at VT – I was on the Drexel campus in Philadelphia when the MOVE organization was on Powleton Ave (1977/78) – I was there when the gunfire broke out as they took pot-shots at the Philadelphia police – and some of us students who happened to be within view – additional registration requirements would have meant nothing to that gang of hoodlums – and it wouldn’t have stopped this whack job either.

    These events are already a tragedy – don’t compound it.

    Edit: I mentioned that the shooter was a non-resident legal alien – I was incorrect – he is a resident legal alien – still not an American citizen – but that does have a bearing on his legal right to purchase firearms in Virginia.

  14. Sandy Price

    April 17, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Nice comments.

  15. Steve Horn

    April 17, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    I feel that we need a considered, thoughtful approach to dealing wtih tragedy like this rather than an emotional approach, which brought us wonderful legislation like the patriot act.
    Those who would steal this nation from us would like nothing more than for us to be unable to defend ourselves. They’re already reading our mail and email, listening to our phone calls and tracking our travel patterns. Peace and security are not the result of weakness, but of personal and national strength.
    One need only look to Zimbabwe to see the result of allowing the government to strip the rights of the people. Interesting that the issues in Zimbabwe were first reported by “soldier of fortune” magazine over seven years ago – funny that the rest of the world is just waking up to it now.

  16. R. Kraemer

    April 17, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    The shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was a resident alien, not a non-immigrant alien as Steve attests. In Virginia it was legal for him, as a permanent resident, to purchase firearms, provided he could prove his residency. So the weapons were purchased legally, and the non-immigrant alien stipulation did not apply.

    I’m not saying I agree with the idea that we should make guns illegal, I’m just pointing out that the argument that it was already illegal for him to purchase them was mistaken. As Steve said, we need to consider this thoughtfully, and that means having our facts straight.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048534
    http://today.reuters.com/news/articleinvesting.aspx?type=bondsNews&storyID=2007-04-17T145327Z_01_N17413605_RTRIDST_0_USA-CRIME-SHOOTING-CHO.XML
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cho_Seung-hui