BLACKSBURG, Virginia – Students and faculty at Virginia Tech University were in shock Monday after a gunman shot and killed at least 32 people and injured 21 during the most deadly shooting spree in U.S. history.
Federal law enforcement officials told FOX News that the 32 dead includes the shooter. Police at the campus in Blacksburg, Va., said there was only one shooter responsible for the two shootings, which occurred about two hours apart from each other.
But there are still many questions left unanswered, including who the shooter was, whether he was a student, why no one saw or stopped him in between shootings, and why he decided to launch the killing spree.
“The university was struck today with a tragedy of monumental proportions,” Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said during a press conference shortly after noon. “The university is shocked and horrified that this would befall our campus … I cannot begin to convey my own personal sense of loss over this senselessness of such an incomprehensible and heinous act.”
Steger said school officials are notifying victims’ next of kin, and state police and the FBI are still investigating the various crime scenes. They are still trying to identify all the victims. The university will set up counseling centers for students and faculty.
The Web site for the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times, reported that police have recovered two 9mm handguns. That report was not yet confirmed by FOX News.
At 7:15 a.m. Monday, a 911 call came in to the campus police department concerning an incident at West Ambler Johnston, a residence hall, and that there were multiple shooting victims. While that investigation was underway, a second shooting was reported in Norris Hall, located at the opposite end of the 2,600-acre campus.
Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said at least one person was killed at West Ambler Johnston but several others were injured in that shooting. The others were killed in Norris Hall, Flinchum said.
Virginia Tech is planning a 4 p.m. EDT press conference.
Flinchum said the Norris Hall gunman was dead, but wouldn’t say whether the shooter killed himself.
Junior David Jenkins told FOX News he heard screaming in his dorm inside West Ambler Johnston residence hall Monday morning, but didn’t know what it was. He later heard from other residents that there was a gunman in the building. Jenkins later heard of the mass shootings at Norris Hall.
“From what I heard, he chained up some of the doors so people couldn’t get in and he basically was just going to every classroom trying to get in, and just started shooting inside classrooms,” Jenkins said.
One of his friends was in a Norris classroom targeted by the gunman, Jenkins said.
“He was very fortunate,” Jenkins said. “He said every single person in the room was shot, killed and was in the ground. He laid on the ground with everyone … he played dead and he was OK.”
Victims were being treated at Montgomery Regional Hospital and Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg with gunshot wounds and other injuries.
President Bush was “horrified” of news of shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The White House is monitoring the incident. Local NBC affiliate WSLS reported that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was heading for a meeting in Tokyo, Japan, for a two-week trade mission, is now returning to the United States. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both held a moment of silence.
Last August, the campus was closed when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard and a sheriff’s deputy involved in a massive manhunt. The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.
On April 13, the campus closed three of its academic halls after they received a letter stating that explosive devices were in the building. Classes were canceled for the remainder of the day. A bomb threat was also made against Torgerson Hall on April 2. A $5,000 reward has been offered for any information on those threats.
“For some reason, this just seemed a little different … it was more than just a sick joke someone was playing,” one student told FOX News about those bomb threats.
There is no connection so far between the bomb threats and Monday’s shooting.
Student Daniel Smith was walking across field heading toward Norris Hall with his girlfriend when he heard yelling, then a police officer whisked they pair off to a patrol car to safety.
“We weren’t quite sure but we did see police taking out people who were heavily hurt,” Smith said.
Smith, along with other students, said it was scary enough having a gunman roaming campus on the first day of classes last year, but between that, recent bomb threats and Monday’s shooting, it’s almost too much to take in.
“I never thought it could actually happen, at a big school like this but a small community. Growing up with columbine and 9/11, it hits you in the hurt but I’ve never felt this before,” said Smith, an engineering student. “I’m scared to see the list [of the dead victims] when that list comes out, because I’m bound to know some students on there … it’s tearing at me. I’ve never had a big loss before, this is terrible.”
Virginia Tech student Blake Harrison said he was on his way to class near Norris Hall when he saw chaos.
“This teacher comes flying out of Norris, he’s bleeding from his arm or his shoulder … all these students were coming out of Norris trying to take shelter in Randolph [Hall]. All these kids were freaked out,” Harrison said.
The students and faculty were barricading themselves in their classrooms after what one person described as an Asian male wearing a vest opened fire.
The shooter was “wearing a vest covered in clips was just unloading on their door, going from classroom to classroom … they said it never seemed like it was going to stop and there was just blood all over,” Harrison said.
Matt Merone, a campus senior, was on his way to campus Monday morning when he saw a police officer grab a male student who was bleeding from his stomach area, and put him in a police vehicle, presumably en route to a hospital. Other students were seen jumping out windows to escape the gunman.
Student Amanda Johnson was walking between Norris and Randolph halls around 9:45 a.m. when she heard six shots fired.
“I’ve been target shooting since I was a little kid so I knew what the sounds were,” said Johnson, who saw a male student jump out of a Norris Hall window to escape.
“It just seemed like students were trying to figure out any way to get out of that building as soon as possible,” added student Mike O’Brien.
Many students didn’t check their e-mail before heading to class Monday, so they didn’t read the school’s warnings about the first shooting. Those who did check their e-mail said they stayed put.
“There are police driving throughout the neighborhoods with a loudspeaker saying, ‘this is an emergency, everyone stay inside, we’re looking for suspicious activity,” said Brittany Sammon, a senior Virginia Tech student staying at an apartment off campus. “There’s no one outside at all, there’s no traffic, there’s nothing … everyone’s doing what they said.”
The FBI joined police on the scene to investigate. Agency spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no immediate evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, “but all avenues will be explored.”
Senior official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told FOX News that agency’s response to the Virginia Tech incident was “immediate,” and the bureau is making all of its local and national resources, including its crimes lab, available to the Virginia State Police.
Ten ATF agents are now on the Virginia Tech campus assisting with weapons identification. They are collecting shell casings and running some preliminary tests on scene. Once the weapon has been identified, they will begin an “urgent trace” to determine its origins – where it came from, to whom it was registered, and its history of ownership. All material will be sent to the ATF’s national crime lab in Maryland.
The ATF is also assisting with “forensic mapping” of the crime scene – a painstaking process employed by investigators that ‘maps out’ the scene and incident in minute detail.
Former FBI Director Bill Gavin said if reports that the shooter chained the doors to Norris Hall are true, that is “definite proof of premeditation,” as is the number of magazines and rounds of ammunition he apparently had.
“He didn’t take that just to shoot one particular person,” Gavin said. “He had to have something going on there that said he was going to shoot a whole bunch of people at the same time.”
All classes were canceled for Monday and Tuesday but campus will open at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday. Faculty and staff on certain parts of campus were told to go home.
Families wishing to reunite with students are suggested to meet at the Inn at Virginia Tech. School officials are making plans for a convocation Tuesday at noon at Cassell Coliseum.
Virginia Tech has the largest full-time student population in Virginia, with more than 25,000 students. It consists of eight colleges and graduate school and offers 60 bachelor’s degree programs and 140 master’s and doctoral degree programs.
The main campus includes more than 100 buildings located on 2,600 acres, and includes an airport.