TOPICS > Education

Shooting at Virginia Tech Deadliest in U.S. History

April 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: The day began with an emergency call to police just after 7:00 a.m. reported shots fired at a residence hall on the Virginia Tech campus. West Ambler Johnston Hall is a co-ed dormitory that houses 895 students at Virginia Tech, a 135-year-old land grant school in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, some 250 miles from Washington, D.C.

Two people were killed in the dorm. More than two hours later, and while the campus was supposedly under lockdown, the shooting began again in an engineering building, Norris Hall, on the other side of the sprawling 2,600-acre campus.

A student witness outside the building, using a cell phone video camera to tape the scene, recorded a hail of gunshots. Late this afternoon, Virginia Tech’s President Charles Steger and University Police Chief W.R. Flinchum spoke to reporters.

CHARLES STEGER, President, Virginia Tech: I want to repeat my horror and disbelief and profound sorrow at the events of today. People from around the world have expressed their shock and their sorrow and endless sadness that has transpired.

I’m really at a loss for words to explain or to understand the carnage that has visited our campus. I know no other way to speak about this than to tell you what we know. And let me do that now.

It is now confirmed that we have 31 deaths from the Norris Hall, including the gunman; 15 other victims are being treated at local hospitals in the Roanoke and New River valleys. There are two confirmed deaths from the shooting in Ambler Johnston dormitory, in addition to the 31 at Norris Hall.

We have not confirmed the identity of the gunman, because he carried no identification on his person. And we are in the process of attempting that identification.

Norris Hall is a tragic and a sorrowful crime scene, and we are in the process of identifying victims and in the process of notifying next of kin.

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM, Virginia Tech Police Department: The information we had on the first incident led us to make the decision that it was an isolated event to that building, and the decision was made not to cancel classes at that time. We had information from witnesses and the evidence at the scene that led us to believe the shooter was no longer in the building and more than likely off-campus.

JOURNALIST: More than likely. Why?

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM: I’m not going to release that at this time.

JOURNALIST: Could you tell us if you believe that the shooter was, in fact, a student here?

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM: From the first incident? We do not know at this point.

JOURNALIST: From either incident.

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM: We do not know at this point.

JEFFREY BROWN: Back in Washington, congressional leaders led moments of silence in memory of the dead. In the House…

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: And we ask for a moment of silence to be observed in this body. Would we all please rise to observe the moment of silence?

JEFFREY BROWN: … and in the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: I’ll offer my condolences for this unspeakable tragedy to which the majority leader has been referring and join him in calling for a moment of silence.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Bush addressed the nation late this afternoon.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community.

Today, our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones at Virginia Tech. 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.

JEFFREY BROWN: Classes at Virginia Tech have been canceled through Tuesday, and a convocation ceremony will be held in memory of today’s victims.

Gunmen's identity not released

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more on this day's events, we turn to Lindsey Nair, who's covering the story for the Roanoke Times. I spoke to her a short time ago.

Lindsey Nair, it sounds like there's still some question about whether these two incidences are related and whether there was, in fact, only one gunman. What can you tell us about that?

LINDSEY NAIR, Roanoke Times: Well, you're right about that. The officials are still saying that there were two shootings that they consider separate at this time, just in terms of their investigation, so they have not confirmed whether they are related or not.

And I just don't know for sure why, but my impression is that they -- it's just too early in the investigation for them to feel comfortable linking the two of them. Again, you already know, I'm sure, that there were about two hours that passed between the two incidents, so I'm guessing there's still a lot of piecing together to be done, you know, in terms of what happened during that time frame.

JEFFREY BROWN: Have your reporters learned any more about the identity of the gunman who did kill himself?

LINDSEY NAIR: We don't have a name for that individual. We do know that he obviously was a male. They're not even saying yet whether he was a student at Virginia Tech or not. There have been some reports that he had a girlfriend or an ex-girlfriend on campus and that that might have been a motive of sorts for what happened today.

Somebody at the press conference earlier asked whether one of the individuals who was shot and killed in the first incident was the suspect's girlfriend. And the police chief replied that it was not, so that is still up for interpretation.

Two-hour gap between shootings

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the two-hour gap that you referred to between the two shootings, what is known about what was going on, on campus at that time? For example, were students warned about the first shooting?

LINDSEY NAIR: I think that's going to be one of the lingering questions for a day or two. What we know is that the first 911 call came in around 7:15 and that the police were on scene at the dormitory investigating that shooting, that they knew they had a couple of fatalities there.

What they had said, without really elaborating much, was that there was a possibility, they thought, that that was a domestic-type shooting and that it was an isolated event. The information they had was that it was an isolated event.

And they also had some information that made them believe that the shooter that was off-campus and even perhaps on his way out of state. They didn't elaborate on what made them think that, but the interpretation would be that they considered it an isolated incident and really didn't see the need to shut campus down.

Students were notified that there was a shooting, but one fact that we'd heard was that the e-mails took, you know, a couple hours to go out to students.

JEFFREY BROWN: And then the second shooting, where many more people were killed, what did you learn from the briefing today or from your reporters in the field?

LINDSEY NAIR: The second shooting, we've learned that there were more than 30 fatalities in that shooting in Norris. Norris is an engineering dormitory. At least one of those dead, I believe, was a faculty member.

They had said that -- there had been some reports that the gunman may have locked himself in the dormitory, but police have not confirmed that. You know, some reports that he may have somehow chained or locked the doors from inside and the police were not able to get in. There were some questions about that asked at the press conference, and the police chief declined to say for sure if that had happened.

You know, from what we're told, the shooter did die inside Norris. And there was no shootout between the police and the shooter. So they also said that there was not just one room where the crime scene in Norris was, that there were fatalities scattered around the building. But they declined to say specifically, you know, how widespread it was inside that building.

JEFFREY BROWN: One last thing. There were reports in the last week or so of several bomb threats there on the campus. What's known about those? Is there any sense of a link between those and today's shootings?

LINDSEY NAIR: I've heard over and over again today that there is speculation that there's a link. Officials have said that they are considering the possibility that there is a link, but they haven't said whether they know for sure. So I know that, you know, it's, if nothing else, a strange coincidence that that happened then.

Of course, you probably already know this is the second shooting, you know, that affected Tech in Blacksburg over the past year or so. So that, the bomb threats, and now this is obviously a very disturbing chain of events.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Lindsey Nair of the Roanoke Times, thanks very much.

LINDSEY NAIR: Thank you.

Campus reaction

JEFFREY BROWN: And some reaction now from campus. For that, we turn to Kevin Anderson, a Virginia Tech student and the associate news editor for the school's newspaper, the Collegiate Times.

Kevin, first, this two-hour gap between shootings, did the students that you've talked to today know about the first shooting?

KEVIN ANDERSON, Collegiate Times: Yes, they did. I mean, I woke up around, you know, the time that the second shooting happened, but I had woken up to several IMs from some of my friends -- or instant messages on AOL stating that there had been a shooting in West A.J., or West Ambler Johnston. But most of the people did know, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: So I know you've been collecting stories and talking to students there today. Was it a chaotic situation? Was it a normal situation? How would you describe it?

KEVIN ANDERSON: It was extremely chaotic. And it was very orderly chaos, I mean, if you could say that. But everyone, you know, they realized what was going on. They cooperated well with everyone. There wasn't any sort of, you know, panic or anything like that.

People just, you know, agreed with the safety precautions that the police made for the campus, and they followed everything very well. I mean, it's chaotic in the sense that people want to know what's going on and they can't know, but then, in the same sense, it's very orderly.

A 'solemn mood'

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I mentioned those two hours between shootings. Are there questions now -- people you're talking to there -- about the warning system, about whether people were told enough and had time to get off campus or something more could have been done?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, the reason behind this -- the way I look at it is that the West Ambler Johnston shootings were an isolated event that had nothing to do with the rest of the campus. I mean, the building holds 800, almost 900 students.

So the university was right in shutting down or in locking down the building. And security guards and officers and things like that were present at the building at the time, I mean, as soon as the report was made that there was a shooting in the building.

However, because, you know, they thought that the shooter had stayed in the building, it didn't seem that they needed to lock down the rest of the school.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Kevin, what's the mood there now among students?

KEVIN ANDERSON: I mean, I would have to say it's a solemn mood. I mean, everyone has been, you know, touched by, you know, what's going on here. But, you know, all in all, it's very solemn, very quiet.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Kevin Anderson of the Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech, thanks very much.