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Virginia Tech Shootings Leave 33 Dead
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Posted: Monday, 16 April 2007 4:54PM
Death Toll Rises At Least 33 Dead In Virginia Tech Massacre
A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, shot up a classroom across campus Monday, killing 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman committed suicide, bringing the death toll to 33.
WEB EXTRA VIDEO : Virginia Tech president Charles Steger says a gunman killed 32 people before killing himself; the gunman has not been identified.
Students complained that there were no public-address announcements or other warnings on campus after the first burst of gunfire. They said the first word they received from the university was an e-mail more than two hours into the rampage -- around the time the gunman struck again.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus.
"We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur," he said.
He defending the university's handling of the tragedy, saying:
"We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it."
Steger said the university decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means of notifying members of the university, but with 11,000 people driving onto campus first thing in the morning, it was difficult to get the word out to everyone.
Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum would not say how many weapons the gunman carried. But a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was incomplete, said that the gunman had two pistols and multiple clips of ammunition.
At least 26 others were injured in the shootings, police said.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives believe the gunman, described as a young Asian male, used two handguns in the shootings before taking his own life, sources tell CBS News. One official added that the gunman was "heavily armed and wearing a vest."
Investigators offered no motive for the attack but said they are trying to confirm if the gunman was looking for his girlfriend, CBS News reports. The gunman's name was not immediately released, and it was not known if he was a student.
“Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” said Steger. “The university is shocked and indeed horrified.”
The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus. Witnesses reporting students jumping out the windows of a classroom building to escape the gunfire. SWAT team members with helmets, flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed over the campus. Students and faculty members carried out some of the wounded themselves, without waiting for ambulances to arrive.
The massacre took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. EDT at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory that houses 895 people, and continuing at least two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away, authorities said.
Officials are confident there was one gunman and that the shootings were not part of a larger plot, CBS News reports. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no immediate evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, "but all avenues will be explored."
Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building.
Some students bitterly questioned why the gunman was able to strike a second time, two hours after the bloodshed began.
“What happened today, this was ridiculous,” student Jason Piatt told CNN. He said the first warning from the university of a shooting on campus came in an e-mail about two hours after the first deadly burst of gunfire. “While they're sending out that e-mail, 22 more people got killed,” Piatt said.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, “but all avenues will be explored.”
Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt an announcement by higher-ranking authorities, put the death toll at 31 earlier in the day.
At least 26 people were being treated at three area hospitals for gunshot wounds and other injuries, authorities said. Their exact conditions were not disclosed, but at least one was sent to a trauma center and six were in surgery, authorities said.
Up until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in 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 the Blue Ridge Mountains of 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.
The rampage took place on a brisk spring day, with snow flurries swirling around the campus. The campus is centered around the Drill Field, a grassy field where military cadets — who now represent a fraction of the student body — once practiced. The dorm and the classroom building are on opposites sides of the Drill Field.
A gasp could be heard at a campus news conference when Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum said at least 20 people had been killed. Previously, only one person was thought to have been killed.
Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began marking and recovering the large number of shell casings and will trace the weapon used, authorities said.
After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed, and classes were canceled through Tuesday. The university set up a meeting place for families to reunite with their children. It also made counselors available and planned an assembly for Tuesday at the basketball arena.
After the shooting began, students were told to stay inside away from the windows.
Aimee Kanode, a freshman from Martinsville, said the shooting happened on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, one floor above her room. Kanode's resident assistant knocked on her door about 8 a.m. to notify students to stay put.
Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks by authorities but said they have not determined a link to the shootings.
It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting.
Last August, the opening day of classes was canceled and the campus closed when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff's deputy involved in the manhunt was killed on a trail just off campus. The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.
President Bush said the mass shooting affects every student across the nation.
“Schools should be places of safety, sanctuary and learning,” Bush said. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom in every American community.”
Bush spoke with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Virginia Tech President Charles Steger.
“I told them that Laura and I and many across our nation are praying for the victims and all the members of university community that have been devastated by this terrible tragedy,” Bush said in the Diplomatic Room of the White House.
In the House, which returned Monday from a two-week recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., interrupted the proceedings to lead a moment of silence in remembrance.
“As the Virginia Tech community struggles with the mourning and questioning that is certain to follow, the continued prayers from this Congress are with the students, their families, the faculty and the staff at Virginia Tech,” Pelosi said.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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