- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Aaron Noble said he saw people running out of Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall with their hands up as police cars swarmed the campus at about 10 a.m.

“I started walking down that way and several policemen said, ‘You can’t go down there. Shots have been fired. There is a situation. Go back to your dorms,’ ” said Mr. Noble, of Knoxville, Tenn.

Police cars blocked the entrances to the main campus, and students wandered around somewhat dumbfounded, waiting to hear news about their friends after the most deadly shooting rampage in American history.

Markeith Banner, 19, from the District, said he was waiting to hear whether a friend was alive.

“They’re not releasing the names and one of the friends we are cool with, we haven’t gotten in contact with him,” he said. “Until the names come back, we can’t say what has happened.”

For freshman Nathan Chau, the several hours after the rampage were “surreal,” as students hunkered down in classrooms, dormitories and off-campus residences trying to piece together what happened from university announcements and live news reports.

“For the most part, from what I’ve heard, most people are in shock,” said Mr. Chau, 19. “No one in college ever feels like these things can happen to you.”

The Chantilly resident said he was asleep in his sixth-floor room of West Ambler Johnston Hall when the first shooting occurred two floors below shortly after 7 a.m. A male resident adviser and a woman were killed in the co-ed dormitory.

“No one in our hall heard it,” he said. “My friend called me at 10 and woke me up and asked if I was OK because there was an e-mail sent out about a shooting in our building.”

Mr. Chau said the atmosphere grew more hectic when news of the second shooting in Norris Hall spread. A gunman killed 30 persons in Norris Hall before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“It was pretty normal until the second shooting, when a bunch of people who live in my hall came back and started talking about what they saw — the heavy police presence and stuff,” he said.

Sophomore Jarreau Williams said he started his day like any other, and even took an exam at 9 a.m. Mr. Williams, 19, first heard of the shooting as he ate breakfast in Dietrich Hall.

His cousin, a Virginia Tech junior who lives off campus, called to ask whether he was safe.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine — what’s going on?’ ” Mr. Williams said. “I went back to my room so I could turn on the news to see what was going on because I really had no idea.”

Since then, the Alexandria resident tried to stay calm, notify his family that he was OK and keep up with the latest developments.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “It’s just an unbelievable situation for any college. I’m sitting here in my room just trying to take everything in and be calm.”

The incident sent shock waves through the idyllic Blue Ridge Mountains, where sheep, cows and horses graze in the nearby fields.

At a nearby gas station, Ryan Dominick, a 19-year-old engineering student from Mississippi, shook his head in disbelief.

“I pray that I don’t know anyone” who died, Mr. Dominick said. “I’m staying away from campus as long as I can.”

Amy Wells, a student from Clarksville, Va., said it was a shame that one man could “put such a black mark on the school and the community.”

“It is terrible now that Tech is always going to be remembered for the shooting here,” she said.

Elaine Goss, a teacher at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton, received an emergency call yesterday morning. Her son, Alec Calhoun, had been in a classroom in Norris Hall when the shots were fired.

“All I heard when he called were the words ‘dorm,’ ‘shooting,’ ‘exit door’ and ‘window,’ ” Mrs. Goss said. “It’s been the longest day of my life.”

At about 8:30 last night, Alec saw his parents for the first time, wrapping his arms around them in front of a throng of reporters near the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center — just out of view from where the shootings occurred earlier in the day.

It looked as if the day had taken its toll on the student. He was obviously shaken. His voice wavered. His chin quivered.

“I still just kind of wonder how could this happen,” he said, pausing to clear his throat. “I am expecting to wake up and think this has all been some kind of dream and that none of this happened and this is all some type of terrible nightmare.”

• Natasha Altamirano contributed to this report.

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