Virginia Tech newspaper Blacksburg
BLACKSBURG, Va., April 16 - An outburst of gunfire at a Virginia Tech dormitory, followed two hours later by a ruthless string of attacks at a classroom building, killed 32 students, faculty and staff and left about 30 others injured yesterday in the deadliest shooting rampage in the nation's history.
The shooter, whose name was not released last night, wore bluejeans, a blue jacket and a vest holding ammunition, witnesses said. He carried a 9mm semiautomatic and a .22-caliber handgun, both with the serial numbers obliterated, federal law enforcement officials said. Witnesses described the shooter as a young man of Asian descent - a silent killer who was calm and showed no expression as he pursued and shot his victims. He killed himself as police closed in.
He had left two dead at the dormitory and 30 more at a science and engineering building, where he executed people taking and teaching classes after chaining some doors shut behind him. At one point, he shot at a custodian who was helping a victim. Witnesses described scenes of chaos and grief, with students jumping from second-story windows to escape gunfire and others blocking their classroom doors to keep the gunman away.
Even before anyone knew who the gunman was or why he did what he did, the campus community in Southwest Virginia began questioning whether most of the deaths could have been prevented. They wondered why the campus was not shut down after the first shooting.
The enormity of the event brought almost immediate expressions of condolences from President Bush, both houses of Congress and across the world.
"I'm really at a loss for words to explain or to understand the carnage that has visited our campus, " said Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech, one of the state's largest and most prestigious universities.
The rampage began as much of the campus was just waking up. A man walked into a freshman coed dorm at 7:15 a.m. and fatally shot a young woman and a resident adviser.
Based on witness interviews, police thought it was an isolated domestic case and chose not to take any drastic campus-wide security measures, university officials said. But about 9:45 a.m., a man entered a classroom building and started walking into classrooms and shooting faculty members and students with the two handguns. Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said investigators were not certain that the same man committed both shootings. But several law enforcement sources said he did.
As police entered Norris Hall, an engineering and science building, shortly before 10 a.m., the man shot and killed himself before officers could confront him. One witness said the gunman was "around 19" and was "very serious but [with] a very calm look on his face."
"He knew exactly what he was doing, " said the witness, Trey Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va. He said he watched the man enter his classroom and shoot Perkins's professor in the head. "I have no idea why he did what he decided to do. I just can't say how lucky I am to have made it."
The university canceled classes yesterday and today and set up counseling for the grief-stricken campus. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who had just arrived in Japan on a trade mission, immediately flew back to Virginia. He was expected to attend a vigil today.
"We've been devastated as the death toll has been rising, " said Payton Baran, 20, of Bethesda, who is a junior majoring in finance. "I've been calling everyone I know, and everyone I talk to is pretty much in tears. It's really, really depressing."