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Virginia Tech: 2 dead in shooting on campus

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Virginia Tech police officer was fatally shot during a traffic stop by a gunman who apparently then killed himself, sparking a lockdown and a massive police response eerily reminiscent of the April 2007 campus shooting spree that was the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

Police, who have not established a motive for the shooting and have not officially confirmed it was a murder-suicide, said the incident began about 12:15 p.m. on the Blacksburg campus.

Witnesses told police they saw a person, who was not the person pulled over during the traffic stop, "approach the officer, fire a weapon at the officer and leave the scene," said Maj. Gene Deisinger, deputy chief of the Virginia Tech Police Department.

The shooter was seen heading out of the parking lot near the basketball arena and football stadium on foot toward another parking lot about a quarter mile away. There, police said officers saw a man acting suspiciously and began to radio in a report.

"By the time they turned around, that person was deceased," Maj. Deisinger said, adding that officers did not shoot the man but providing no details.

A gun was recovered near the man's body. Earlier in the day, officials had described the shooter as a white man wearing gray sweat pants, a gray hat with a neon-green brim, a maroon hoodie and carrying a backpack. The man found dead in the parking lot was white.

The account seemed to indicate that the second person found dead was the shooter and that he had committed suicide, but police stopped short of confirming that, saying only that the investigation was ongoing and inviting reporters to "read between the lines." The Associated Press, citing law-enforcement sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the dead man was the gunman.

"I think investigators feel confident that we've located the person," Virginia State Police Sgt. Robert Carpentieri said, suggesting that reporters "read between the lines."

In a conference call Thursday night with Gov. Bob McDonnell and other state officials, Richard Jenkins with the Virginia State Police also would not confirm that the second victim was the shooter but said the man was recorded on surveillance video from the slain officer's dashboard camera at the scene with the weapon believed to have been used in the shooting.

The officer was identified as Deriek W. Crouse, 39, of Christiansburg, a 4-year-veteran of the campus police department.

Shortly after the first shooting was reported, officials sent out text and email alerts to the campus of about 30,000 students, warning people to stay indoors. Heavily armed police officers descended on the campus and scrambled to investigate tips about suspicious activity and possible sounds of additional gunfire that flooded in after the initial reports.

The scene resembled images from the April 2007 morning when police swarmed the campus after Virginia Tech student Seung-hui Cho fatally shot 32 students and teachers before killing himself.

"This brings back some very difficult memories of the past," university President Charles W. Steger said of Thursday's incident.

Freshman Kat Rouse, an 18-year-old architecture major, was among those who ended up on lockdown.

"In the beginning, it was more of an annoyance," Ms. Rouse said. "We all have finals and need to study. When it was confirmed a police officer had died and another person was found dead, I started to worry."

The campus was less active Thursday than normal as the university honored Reading Day, a one-day break between the end of classes and final exams. But the effect of the lockdown on everyday activity was eerily palpable, said J.D. Anderson, 20, a junior accounting major.

"Usually people would be outside walking to and from dining halls. It was literally just nothing," Mr. Anderson said, describing his drive from off campus to pick up his sister from her dorm.

Among those who were absent from campus Thursday was Virginia Tech's police chief Wendell Flinchum. He and several other officials were testifying in Washington, appealing a fine imposed in the wake of the 2007 shootings.

The U.S. Department of Education in March fined the school $55,000 for failing to quickly notify students of the shooting threat. The university has defended its 2007 actions and argued that the department is holding the school to standards put in place after the massacre.

Officials in Blacksburg said they were pleased with the way information was disseminated about Thursday's shootings.

"Our technology worked perfectly well. We're very pleased with the notification that occurred today," Mr. Steger said.

On campus Thursday night — when a candlelight vigil was planned — the mood was somber but resilient.

"We're just trying to stay strong and get through it because I'm sure we're going to get a lot of criticism, especially with this happening after 2007," said Jessica Wilson, 18, a freshman biology major.

Ms. Wilson said she still felt safe on campus because the school handled the alert quickly.

"If they had done anything differently, I wouldn't feel safe," she said. "But the way they were really prepared definitely comforted me."

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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