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Police on scene of shooting Photo: AP
Police on scene of shooting Photo: AP
 
 

Gunman kills 32 at Virginia Tech

Gunman opens fire in Virginia Tech dormitory and then in classroom across campus two hours later Monday, killing 32 people in deadliest shooting rampage in US history. Gunman commits suicide, bringing death toll to 33

Associated Press
Published: 04.17.07, 00:57 / Israel News

A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dormitory and then in a classroom across campus two hours later Monday, killing 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in US history. The gunman committed suicide, bringing the death toll to 33.

 

Students said there were no public-address announcements or other warnings on campus until an e-mail more than two hours after the first shooting - around the time the gunman struck again.

 

The Israeli embassy in the United States located all of the Israeli students and lecturers in the university and has reported that none were injured.

 

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus.

 

"We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur," he said.

 

He defended the university's handling of the tragedy, saying, "We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it."

 

Investigators offered no motive for the attack. The gunman's name was not immediately released, and it was not known if he was a student.

 

The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus, with witnesses reporting students jumping out classroom windows to escape the gunfire.

Students and faculty members carried out some of the wounded themselves, without waiting for ambulances to arrive. A police commando unit with flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed the campus.

 

"Schools should be places of safety, sanctuary and learning," President George W. Bush said Monday afternoon. "When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom in every American community."

 

The bloodbath took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m.  at West Ambler Johnston, a coed residence hall that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.

 

Two people were killed in a dormitory room, and 31 others were killed in the engineering building, including the gunman, police said.

 

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," Steger said. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."

 

Steger said the university decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to notify members of the university, but with 11,000 people driving onto campus in the morning, it was difficult to reach everyone. He said that before the e-mail went out, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms to notify them and sent people to knock on doors to spread the word.

 

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum would not say how many weapons the gunman carried. But a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was incomplete, said the gunman had two pistols and multiple clips of ammunition.

 

Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building.

 

Some students bitterly questioned why the gunman was able to strike a second time.

 

"What happened today, this was ridiculous," student Jason Piatt told CNN. "While they send out that e-mail, 20 more people got killed."

 

Students and Laura Wedin, a student programs manager at Virginia Tech, said the first notification they got of the shootings came in an e-mail at 9:26 A.M. (1326 GMT), more than two hours after the first shooting.

 

The e-mail had few details. It said: "A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating." The message warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.

 

"We were kept in the dark a lot about exactly what was going on," said Andrew Capers Thompson, a 22-year-old graduate student.

 

At least 26 people were being treated at three area hospitals for gunshot wounds and other injuries, authorities said. Their exact conditions were not disclosed, but at least one was sent to a trauma center and six were in surgery, authorities said.

 

Before Monday, the deadliest campus shooting in US history took place in 1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck of a clock tower and opened fire. He killed 16 people before he was gunned down by police.

 

Previously, the deadliest mass shooting in US history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard drove his pickup into a Luby's Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself. All entrances to the campus were closed Monday, and classes canceled through Tuesday. A convocation was planned for Tuesday at the school's basketball arena.

 

Aimee Kanode, a first-year student, said the shooting happened on the 4th floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, one floor above her room. The resident assistant in Kanode's dormitory knocked on her door about 8 a.m. to tell students to stay put.

 

"They had us under lockdown," Kanode said. "They temporarily lifted the lockdown, the gunman shot again." Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks, but said they have not determined a link to the shootings.

 

It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting.

 

In August 2006, the opening day of classes was canceled and the campus closed when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff's deputy involved in the manhunt was killed on a trail just off campus.

 

The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.

 

Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report

 

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