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Campus Attempts to Deal with Shooting Aftermath

April 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Flags on Virginia Tech’s campus flew at half-staff this morning, as students set up memorials to the dead. About a mile from campus, there was encouraging news at the Montgomery Regional Hospital. Many of the more than 25 injured were taken there. The hospital CEO gave an update on how the victims were doing.

SCOTT HILL, CEO, Montgomery Regional Hospital: Twelve of the patients from yesterday’s shooting remain at two area hospitals, including Montgomery Regional Hospital and Lewis-Gale Medical Center. All are in stable condition.

We have nine patients here at Montgomery Regional Hospital; three of those were critical last night. They’ve been upgraded to stable as of this morning.

And at Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem, they have three patients remaining. All are in stable condition. One’s expected to be discharged today.

KWAME HOLMAN: On campus, students who witnessed and survived yesterday’s attacks told reporters their stories.

ALEC CALHOUN, Virginia Tech Student: We heard it in the classroom next to us. It sounded kind of like an enormous hammer just over and over again, every one or two seconds. And then we heard the screams and realized what was happening.

JOURNALIST: Josh, what were you doing, trying to get behind desks, under desks or anything?

JOSH WARGO, Virginia Tech Student: At first, everyone just got up in order to get out of there. Someone went for the door. It sounded like shots were coming down the hallway.

JOURNALIST: And you were on the second story, so you went to kick out the windows to jump to safety. And your professor, he was trying to bar the door, is that correct?

RICHARD MALLALIEU, Virginia Tech Student: He was at least standing guard by the door, the whole time I remember. That’s the last place I saw him.

JOURNALIST: And then, when you started jumping out of the window, Alec, what was happening?

ALEC CALHOUN: Well, I think I was actually the last to jump. The two people behind me actually got shot, so it’s really lucky that I got out to start with. Someone on the other side of the room had ripped the screens off and kicked the windows open. They’re pretty old.

And so I could see the people jump in front of me, and a couple of people broke ankles, legs. So I aimed for a bush, and I hit the bush first and then the ground, so I ended up OK.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, law enforcement officials detailed yesterday’s scene at a press conference.

COL. STEVE FLAHERTY, Superintendent, Virginia State Police: We’ve had dozens and dozens of investigators, special agents, from various agencies, detectives from various agencies that have been working around the clock on a horrific crime scene.

You all have reported that this is the most horrific incident that’s occurred on a college campus in our country, and the scene certainly bore that out.

What went on during that incident certainly caused tremendous chaos and panic in Norris Hall. As a result, it’s greatly complicated our being able to process the scene, if you can imagine. At the crime scene, personal effects were strewn about the entire second floor at Norris Hall, so it made it much more difficult for us to identify students and faculty members that were victims.

Victims were found in at least four classrooms, as well as the stairwell. We know that there were a number of heroic events that took place, students and faculty alike.

Within minutes of this tragedy unfolding, the gunman was discovered among several of the victims in one of the classrooms. He had taken his own life.

Now, I want to further explore just a bit this idea of additional shooters or accomplices or whatnot. What has just been reported to you is that the ballistics test says that one of the weapons used in Norris Hall was also used in the AJW shooting.

We have not — the evidence has not led us to where we can say with all certainty that the same shooter was involved at both instances, so we are now exploring that evidence and trying to make that trail. It’s certainly reasonable for us to assume that Cho was the shooter in both places, but we don’t have the evidence to take us there at this particular point in time.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the fact that many names of victims have been reported in the press, an official list of those who died won’t come until later.

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM: The names of the 32 deceased students and faculty will be released once all victims are positively identified and next of kin are notified.

KWAME HOLMAN: The medical examiner said that could take several days. The university’s president, who has faced some criticism for the handling of the shootings, also spoke at this morning’s press conference.

Campus response

CHARLES STEGER, Virginia Tech President: We will close Norris Hall for the remainder of the semester. Staff are currently working to arrange alternative locations for the classrooms and for faculty offices. Counseling and other resources are available for students, faculty and staff.

KWAME HOLMAN: The shooting at Norris Hall killed 30 people, two hours after the first shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall. Students were not notified about the first shooting until the second already was underway.

JOSH MARSHALL, Secretary of Public Safety, Virginia: Yesterday morning, President Steger and his staff and Chief Flinchum and law enforcement made the right decisions based on the best information that they had available at the time. Our priority needs to be and our focus needs to remain on the ongoing criminal investigation and, most importantly, on dealing with the needs of the victims and their families and the students here at Virginia Tech.

KWAME HOLMAN: But some students remained unsure.

MELANIE SWIFT, Virginia Tech Student: Virginia Tech has always been such a safe campus. I've never felt danger at all, so I've never worried for a lack of security. I think the school should have notified us after the 7:00 shooting. I know I wouldn't have come to campus, if I would have known.

KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, two students told the NewsHour's Tom Bearden that some of the anger many expressed yesterday was dissipating. Shamus Williams is a junior communications major.

SHAMUS WILLIAMS, Virginia Tech Student: I myself, for one, was a little upset. I've definitely heard people, you know, when I was in lockdown with my class and some of my roommates and stuff that were upset. But I think most people realize that it's really a tough situation and that, you know, it's tough to place blame at a time like this when we really should be grieving and, you know, celebrating the lives of these people that were lost.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jennie Tal is a senior communications major from Stafford, Virginia.

JENNIE TAL, Virginia Tech Student: ... increasing security for a little bit for a few days will make people feel better, but to increase security substantially to make it anything similar to a big city or an airport or anything, it's just going to -- I think it would be very detrimental to moving forward.

I think, if you're going to put police everywhere for the rest of the year or for next year, it will make people afraid to be here. And we don't need people afraid to be here. A lot of people feel safe here. This is home here. And I think a lot of people still feel safe, even after this. They feel scared, but I don't think they feel like this is going to be something that reoccurs.

KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, thousands of students and faculty stood in line for some two hours, trying to get into a sports arena for a convocation, the university's first official gathering since the shootings.

That venue filled quickly, and the overflow crowd was diverted to the university's football stadium nearby, where people were able to view the ceremony on the scoreboard screen.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone, and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Governor Tim Kaine, who was in Tokyo when the shooting occurred, returned to Virginia to attend the ceremony alongside President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

Detailing the news conference

JIM LEHRER: Late this afternoon, authorities in Blacksburg held another news conference, and NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden was there for that one, and he joins us now.

Tom, several questions. First of all, who was at the news conference?

TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: Well, speaking at the news conference were Governor Tim Kaine that you just saw in the tape briefly a moment ago and Steven Flaherty, who is the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, along with about 35 television cameras from all over the planet and at least 75 satellite trucks that I can see surrounding me here.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, did the governor or anybody say anything more about the problems involving the time lag, the two hours between the first shots, the first killings of the two people, and then the 30 later?

TOM BEARDEN: The governor was asked about that. And his response was that he is appointing a special commission, an independent law enforcement review, as he termed it, to investigate the reactions of everyone, from law enforcement to the university administration to notification of students. He was asked several questions about that and declined to answer in any detail, saying he would wait for the results of that.

JIM LEHRER: And Superintendent Flaherty didn't add anything to that, as well, right?

TOM BEARDEN: He did not. What he had to say, basically, was that they were following the leads on the two weapons that had been recovered from the shooting scene, and they were also looking into some documents. They had executed a search warrant on student Cho's dormitory room. They found documents there, and they were investigating those.

Cho's note

IM LEHRER: On the documents, Marc Fisher of the Washington Post told Ray Suarez earlier this evening that his reporting indicated that there was a rambling note found that Cho had written. Is that considered a suicide note by everybody?

TOM BEARDEN: Flaherty said no, but he wasn't -- he didn't absolutely rule out the possibility. But it was a strong indication from him, at least from my perspective, that that was not a suicide note.

There were other questions about writings, specifically a question about whether he had written about things like chainsaws and action figures. The superintendent said he had no information on that and said that was unlikely.

JIM LEHRER: Say again, Tom, as to where this note was found. Was it found in his dormitory room or at his home in Centerville?

TOM BEARDEN: I believe it was his campus dormitory room. That's at least the writings that Superintendent Flaherty was referring to.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. What remains to be known for establishing that Cho is the shooter in both of these events? Why are they still saying we're not sure?

TOM BEARDEN: It may be a matter of simply making absolutely sure that they positively identify who did the shooting at the first, at the dormitory where the student and the resident adviser were killed.

The superintendent has said twice today, first at the morning briefing and at the briefing this afternoon, that they have no evidence that there is any accomplice involved in this -- and they know that at least one of the guns was involved in both shootings -- no evidence that Cho had an accomplice, but they said they could not positively say, at this point, pending further investigation, whether he was involved at the first shooting.

Continuing the investigation

JIM LEHRER: Who or what organization is in charge of the investigation now, Tom?

TOM BEARDEN: No one at this point. The governor was asked who he might appoint, and he declined to do so. He said he needed to talk to the people he had in mind to get their permission first.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the governor was asked about guns on campus and guns in Virginia? What did he say about that?

TOM BEARDEN: He was asked a couple of questions about that. And one particular response he had was probably the most emotional thing he said at this particular briefing. He said that he had nothing but loathing for anyone who tries to use this tragedy just 24 hours after it occurs as a political hobbyhorse. That was in response to a question about gun laws.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Tom, he also was asked, I guess both of them were asked about this rumor going around that Cho's parents had, in fact, reacted in a suicide way to what their son had done. They put that down, too, did they not, rather squarely?

TOM BEARDEN: Actually, neither the governor nor the superintendent did, but the P.R. representative for the university said quite emphatically that they had not committed suicide.

JIM LEHRER: OK. So is there anything else that you heard in the news conference -- you've heard everything we've reported up to until now -- that you heard in the news conference that we need to know about?

TOM BEARDEN: No, sir, I don't think so. The key I think at this point is the fact that the governor is going to appoint this independent review to raise all the questions, to address the questions that have been raised here on the campus and elsewhere, about whether or not the response was adequate and timely.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Tom, thank you very much.

TOM BEARDEN: You're welcome.