- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A gunman yesterday killed 30 persons in a Virginia Tech classroom building before killing himself about two hours after two persons were found fatally shot in a school dormitory.

University officials said in a press conference last night that they’re still investigating whether the two incidents are related.

Officials could not say last night whether the same person was the shooter in both incidents.

Two persons — one male and one female — were found dead in a dorm room in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a co-ed dormitory that houses about 900 people, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.

The man was identified last night as Ryan Clark, 22, of Martinez, Ga., near Augusta, a resident assistant at the dorm. Mr. Clark, who had been at the school since 2002, had completed his course work and was set to walk across the graduation stage next month with bachelor’s degrees in psychology, biology and English, his twin brother said last night.

An additional 31 persons, including a gunman, were killed in the academic building Norris Hall, Chief Flinchum said. He said some of those killed were university staff members.

Officials still are identifying victims and notifying next of kin, said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, adding that no names will be released until that is completed, possibly sometime today.

Mr. Steger said that at least two doors to the classroom building had been chained from the inside and that when police entered the building, they heard the sound of gunfire.

Victims were found in different rooms on the second floor of the building. Officials said rescue efforts were complicated by high winds that prevented helicopters from being used to transport the injured. The gunman was not identified, but law-enforcement officials said last night that he was a 24-year-old Asian in the U.S. on a student visa.

Other law-enforcement sources said that the gunman was carrying two 9mm pistols and several fully loaded magazines and that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Police said the body had no identification on it, and it was not known whether the gunman was a student at Virginia Tech. Investigators did not offer a motive for the shootings.

At least 15 persons were being treated at area hospitals for gunshot wounds and injuries sustained from jumping out of windows to escape, Chief Flinchum said. The Blacksburg school’s first public announcement about the incidents came in the form of an e-mail just before 9:30 a.m. informing students about the first shooting. The e-mail was sent more than two hours after the shooting occurred and just as the second shooting began.

Mr. Steger said police identified a person of interest in the first shooting and had located the person and were interviewing him when they received reports of the second shooting.

He said last night that the person was not a student and was still a person of interest in the investigation, but he also said police did not think another gunman was still on the loose.

Mr. Steger called the incidents “a tragedy of monumental proportions” and defended the university’s response, saying authorities “decided what the best course of action was” based on information available at the time. “You don’t have hours to reflect on it,” Mr. Steger said. University police responded to a 911 call at 7:15 a.m. about an incident, possibly a domestic dispute, at West Ambler Johnston Hall, which immediately was shut down. Investigations “led us to make the decision that it was an isolated event,” Chief Flinchum said.

The university issued an e-mail shortly before 10 a.m. warning students that a gunman was loose on campus and to stay inside, and another at about 10:20 a.m. canceling classes and repeating the warning to stay inside and away from windows. The university first notified students of the Norris Hall shooting in an e-mail just before 11 a.m. — an hour and a half after it occurred.

Engineering student Tyler Shillig, 21, said he was walking across from Norris Hall to meet his brother so they could leave campus after hearing about the dormitory shooting. “Then I saw police officers with assault rifles and they ran inside Norris and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do,” he said in a phone interview.

“I was standing there. Then I saw a person coming out holding his arm bleeding. He was carrying his arm like he was shot. That’s when I realized I was in the middle of a battle zone.” Another police officer, who was helping an older man who had been shot, told Mr. Shillig and other students to run.

“He said, ‘Run! Run! Now’s the time to run, don’t slow down.’ ”

Alec Calhoun, 24, said he was in his solid mechanics class in Room 204 of Norris Hall, when he heard something that sounded like “an enormous hammer.”

“We thought it was some sort of heavy construction, but the screams told us it was something much different,” said Mr. Calhoun, a junior from Waynesboro, Va. His professor tried to hold the door shut. He started flipping over desks for protection. Others ripped off the window screens and kicked out the windows.

“They started jumping,” he said. From the sound of the first bang, only a minute had passed. He was the eighth or ninth person to jump. “I could see the people before me jump and obviously get hurt when they landed,” he said. “There were bushes around so I decided that I would try to jump in the bush. So I hit the bush and then kind of rebounded and landed on my back.” The gunman, he said, must have rushed the room just as he jumped because the two persons behind him — who, as of last night, were at the hospital — were shot.

“I barely got out in time,” he said. He got up and ran to hide inside a nearby building. Erin Sheehan, a student in a German class in Norris Hall, told CNN that she saw the man look into her classroom a few times during her class and that he later returned and opened fire.

“He just stepped within 5 feet of the door and just started firing,” she said. “He seemed very thorough about it.” Miss Sheehan said the man left for about 30 seconds before returning to the doorway and firing again.

“He came and tried to force himself another three times and then started shooting through the door,” she said. Virginia Tech police are leading the investigation and have received assistance from local police departments, Virginia State Police, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the American Red Cross, Chief Flinchum said.

Police said there had been bomb threats on campus in the past two weeks, but authorities have not determined a link to the shootings.

A bomb threat closed three buildings Friday and forced officials to cancel classes in those buildings. “It’s a possibility we are exploring,” Chief Flinchum said of any connection between the incidents.

The university canceled classes for today and has planned a convocation ceremony at 2 p.m. at the university’s Cassell Coliseum so the community can come together. Family members seeking more information can call the Dean of Students Office at 800/533-1144. “It’s going to be a long, difficult road,” Mr. Steger said.

The rampage marks the second time in less than a year that the 2,600-acre campus was closed because of a shooting.

Classes were canceled the first day of the semester in August when an inmate escaped from a nearby hospital and fled to the Tech area. A hospital security guard had been fatally shot, and a sheriff’s deputy involved in the manhunt was killed on a trail just off campus. William C. Morva faces capital murder charges.

Since that time, university officials have worked to “provide people with a secure communication channel” in order to provide accurate information, Mr. Steger said. He added that university officials determine whether to lock down the campus with the safety of all students in mind.

More than half of the school’s 26,000 students live off campus, meaning thousands are in transit before the 8 a.m. start of classes, Mr. Steger said. “Where will they be out of harm’s way?” he said.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said the bureau dispatched investigators and evidence response team members from its Richmond and Roanoke field offices to the university.

Federal officials said they have no reason to suspect terrorist activity. “There is, of course, an ongoing investigation, but there is no indication of a terror nexus at this time,” said William Knocke, Homeland Security Department spokesman.

President Bush expressed his condolences during a televised statement yesterday afternoon and offered federal resources to the university, should they be needed.

“Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning,” Mr. Bush said. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom in every American community. … We hold the victims in our hearts, we lift them up in our prayers and we ask a loving God to comfort those who are suffering today.”

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency in the commonwealth and urged residents to pray for the victims and their families. “It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale,” said Mr. Kaine, who plans to attend today’s convocation ceremony.

Before yesterday, 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 fatally shot 23 persons, then himself.

The killings took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High blood bath 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 persons before he was killed by police.

The National Capital Region chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association posted a short statement on its Web site, www.novahokie.org, yesterday saying it was working with the school and the city of Blacksburg to find ways to assist in the crisis. According to the chapter’s Web site, it is the school’s largest alumni association with 25,000 members.

• Seth McLaughlin in Blacksburg, Va.; Jerry Seper, Jim McElhatton, Audrey Hudson and David C. Lipscomb contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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