- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Virginia Tech campus was brought to a panicked standstill Thursday as police investigated a report that a possible gunman had been spotted walking across school grounds.

Three middle school students attending a three-day leadership camp at the university reported at about 9 a.m. seeing a white man carrying what could have been a handgun “covered by a cloth or covering.”

The report sparked a widespread manhunt that drew officers from nearby jurisdictions and the Virginia State Police to the Blacksburg, Va., campus, which in 2007 was the scene of the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history.

By midafternoon, Virginia Tech campus police had lifted the alert to stay inside and behind locked doors, but Chief Wendell Flinchum said there would be a “large police presence” on the campus Thursday night and summer classes were canceled for the remainder of the day.

Chief Flinchum credited the teens, who were part of the D.C.-based Higher Achievement Program, for reporting the incident.

“They gave us good descriptions,” he said, which persuaded the police to deem the sighting a legitimate threat and begin a manhunt.

The students described a man wearing a blue-and-white, vertical-striped shirt, gray shorts and brown sandals, with no facial hair or glasses.

Shortly after the report, the school posted an online alert that stated “a person with a gun” was seen near the university’s Dietrick Hall dining center.

Chief Flinchum told reporters during a morning news conference that a handful of people had been stopped and questioned, but no one was in custody.

“These are never easy,” Chief Flinchum said of the alert. He said a few thousand people were on campus at the university, which is in summer session.

On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-hui Cho fatally shot 32 students and teachers before killing himself.

The U.S. Department of Education in March fined the school $55,000 for failing to quickly notify students of the shooting threat.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said the university sent out email updates on Thursday’s search along with continually updated messages on Facebook, Twitter, and the police and school’s websites.

“I don’t think there was anyone in the nation who didn’t know about this,” Mr. Hincker said.

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