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Virginia Tech campus
Authorities have identified a 23-year-old South Korean as the killer of up to 32 people at Virginia Tech, the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.
The man was a resident alien
enrolled as an undergrad student with an English major at Virginia Tech. His U.S. residence was established in Centreville, Va.
The gunman found dead yesterday by authorities from apparently self-inflicted wounds was described by an injured student to MSNBC as a college-aged Asian with a maroon hat and black leather jacket.
There were two separate shooting incidents on the Virginia campus, hours apart, but it is still unclear whether the same shooter was involved in all instances, officials said today. The first 9-1-1 call came at 7:15 a.m. from a residence hall where two people reportedly had been shot.
It took authorities more than two hours to notify the campus, by e-mail, of the first incident.
Asked yesterday by reporters to explain, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said initial information led officials to believe it was an isolated event and that the shooter had fled the campus. Only the residence hall, West Ambler Johnston, was locked down, he said.
University President Charles Steger defended his handling of the tragedy, saying he and other officials “had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur.”
“We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time,” he said. “You don’t have hours to reflect on it.”
Steger said it was difficult to inform everyone on campus, with about 11,000 people arriving in the morning.
A gunman was found dead at the scene of the second shooting, at Norris Hall, an engineering school building.
Two were killed at West Ambler Johnston and 31 died at Norris Hall, including the shooter.
Earlier yesterday, Steger said the grieving campus was quickly organizing a convocation of faculty, staff and students.
“Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” he said. “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 senseless of such an incomprehensible and heinous act.”
The deadliest U.S. campus shooting, until yesterday, took place at the University of Texas in 1966 when 16 people were killed by Charles Whitman, who opened fire from a clock tower. In 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students at Columbine High School near Denver.
But yesterday’s shooting was the deadliest mass shooting of any kind in U.S. history, a prominent criminologist told the Roanoke Times.
James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston said the death toll, which stands at 33, surpasses the 22 people killed in 1991 when a gunman opened fire at a cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.
ABC News reported Virginia Tech students and an employee say the first e-mail warning they got from the university came at 9:26 a.m. By that time, the gunman had struck again.
Another ABC News report said there were two separate bomb threats in the past two weeks at Virginia Tech that targeted engineering buildings.
The first was in early April and the second at the end of last week, which prompted evacuation of students and staff. The university had offered a $5,000 reward for information.
Officials said today they have no information to link the threats to yesterday’s attack.
The 2,600-acre campus in Blacksburg, in the western part of the state near West Virginia and Tennessee, has more than 28,000 full-time students.
Virginia Tech student Blake Harrison witnessed the chaos while on his way to a class near Norris Hall.
“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, according to Fox News.
The students and faculty were barricading themselves in their classrooms.
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.
The shooter had two handguns and several clips of ammunition, according to NBC News. Flinchum confirmed an earlier report that the shooter chained the doors of a classroom to make it almost impossible for the students to escape.
University officials have closed the campus for the week and directed families and students to meet at the Inn at Virginia Tech today.
Last August, classes were canceled on the opening day at Virginia Tech when an escaped gunman, William Morva, allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the campus area.
President Bush said he was “horrified” after hearing news of the shootings, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
“It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families and friends of these victims, and members of the extended Virginia Tech community.”