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Virginia Tech Shooting: "An Unfolding Nightmare"

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Off of football to lament campus horror this morning in Blacksburg:

At least 29 people are dead in what may be the biggest mass killing on a college campus in American history -- and the death toll may rise.

Police at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., said that the shootings happened at a dormitory and a classroom on opposite sides of the university campus.

Law enforcement sources tell ABC News the shooting may have been set off by an off-campus incident.

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said that one person was killed in the first shooting, which occurred just after 7 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston Hall, a large dormitory. Flinchum said that at least 20 more people were killed at Norris Hall, an academic building.

MSNBC and Headline News are still reporting 22 dead rather than 29 at the moment - the number is fluctuating. The killer apparently took two hours off in between rounds of shooting, then shot himself. A student on MSNBC now said the man entered a classroom and silently emptied a round, hit possibly a dozen people, "random shooting." Pictures here from Reuters, via Sister Toldjah. Video at MSNBC.com.

Update [2007-4-16 14:42:39 by SMQ]: MSNBC has not moved its death toll from 22, but FOX is currently reporting 32 dead and running this banner on television" "REPORT: Gunman looking for girlfriend lined up and shot students." Please don't let this be about a girl.

Update [2007-4-16 14:42:39 by SMQ]: MSNBC reporter says the gunman had two handguns, one a .22 caliber, and may have chained the doors of classrooms to keep anyone from escaping. This is not confirmed, but being investigated. There are reports of students jumping from windows. Very good question by Bill Hemmer on FOX: what happened after the initial round of shootings? Apparently he "faded back into the campus" with handguns concealed, something an NYPD expert tells Hemmer would be "very easy to do" without being noticed at all amid the chaos. FOX is also following up ABC's earlier report that Tech was shut down last week by a pair of bomb threats.

Update [2007-4-16 14:42:39 by SMQ]: "Security Analyst" Mike Brooks tells Headline News "the two-hour gap is something that really bothers me," and thinks the volume of ammunition indicates premeditation – last week's bomb threats, possibly, were an attempt to test the responsiveness of the university's police and trauma response? That seems more likely to be a random coincidence to me, but I do agree when Brooks says "This has to be more than a boyfriend-girlfriend thing." Doesn't it? The Associated Press has revised its death toll to thirty-one. President Bush speaks at 3:15 Central Time. What could he say? Campus police chief says in a press conference earlier that authorities believe it was one gunman, deceased, still investigating whether his death was suicide or in a shootout with police. President Charles Steger at the same news conference: "We should point out we have no evidence these two [shootings] are related." That is the assumption everywhere, but police "are making no assumptions."

Update [2007-4-16 15:28:43 by SMQ]: A student tells Headline News she heard rumors about the first shooting but just went to class - she said the university sent an e-mail about the one person confirmed killed in the earlier shooting around 9 a.m. Major rumors flying around: it began as an argument in a dorm, and a resident assistant trying to break up the fight was the first victim, along with the girlfriend. A student speaking to FOX says the university sent three e-mails notifying of cancelled classes and lockdown; an analyst on MSNBC: "I think what we're going to find is this young man was very focused in what he was going to do...the planning that was there indicates to me that he didn't wake up this morning and think 'I'm going to commit the worst incident of mass murder in U.S. history'...there should have been some behavioral indicators..." Some reports are beginning to call this the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Anywhere.

Update [2007-4-16 15:28:43 by SMQ]: Here is a blow-by-blow story on the escaped convict who killed a hospital security guard and a deputy sheriff in Blacksburg and forced the evacuation of the Virginia Tech campus during a manhunt last August.

Update [2007-4-16 15:28:43 by SMQ]: Web servers are down at the Tech student paper, The Collegiate Times, but the staff is tracking events blog-style at its host server, collegemedia.com. This is the entry for 11:57 a.m.:

Three people were escorted out of Norris Hall in handcuffs by police. The three were then unhandcuffed and canine teams were sent into Norris Hall.
Three people in handcuffs? I haven't heard that anywhere else. Collegiate Times also provides a map of the shootings.

MSNBC, meanwhile, reports 17 people are in Montgomery Regional Hospital with gunshot wounds. Four are in surgery.

Update [2007-4-16 15:58:30 by SMQ]: CNN has a video from a student just outside of Norris Hall, site of the second shooting, which is not of much visual interest (to me; an expert may see something I don't), but you can clearly hear a very quick succession of shots and some shouting from what I assume are police around the building. There are a lot of shots, and they don't stop throughout the 20 seconds or so before the video cuts off.

Update [2007-4-16 16:16:8 by SMQ]: Should have known any video on CNN will be somewhere online first. The one mentioned above is here, along with an eyewitness report from a professor here. Photos of the commotion here and here.

Update [2007-4-16 17:27:2 by SMQ]: MSNBC just indicated police have told some sources the shooter did in fact shoot himself, which along with the fact that he had no cell phone and was not carrying ID is making him very difficult to identify. In the meantime, the institutional drumbeat here is becoming clear: the campus should have been on lockdown earlier, students should have been notified earlier, procedures should have been in place, classrooms should have been empty. Tech officials are beginning a press conference, and these are the questions they're going to have to answer. What was up in the two hours after the first student was reported killed in the dorm? Why were people still going about their business with no idea what had happened, and with the shooter still at large? Hurricanes, riots, shootings, you can't escape the secondary response/preparation blame game.


(Via Collegiate Times).
- - -
Press conference: two confirmed deaths at the dorm, rather than one, apparently both in the same room. One male, one female. Thirty-one dead at Norris Hall later in the morning, according to President Steger. The shooter has not been identified. No names released until Tuesday at least. Investigation continues into whether there is a connection between the first and second incidents - this has not been decided. No one aside from the university president has suggested the shootings may not be the work of the same assailant. Still, the police seem to be tacitly assuming this, because they are not looking for anyone else or suggesting there was anyone else.

Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum: Information indicated the first shooting was a singular incident, and there was no need to shut down classes. Seger adds that incident was thought to be "domestic in nature" and there was evidence the suspect may have left campus. This is pretty key, the thought the shooting was isolated, and the decision that classes would be the safest place for students. Flinchum's answers to follow-up questions indicate witnesses really only said he left the building, though – asked why it was thought the shooter had "more than likely" left campus, he only said "we're not releasing that information." The chief does confirm the gunman took his own life. Bodies found in "different locations" in Norris Hall, some of the doors were chained, which is pretty sadistic.

No one is in custody or was ever in custody after the first shooting. Police are not looking for any other shooters. Some reporter asks why no one fought back, reasoning, "If I'm going to die, I'm going to do it fighting." What a weird question. They refuse to describe the shooter in any way beyond "male."

Asked about the possible effectiveness of a lockdown, Flinchum says, "You can second guess all day." They will, chief. Asked to outline the lockdown policy, someone else (whose name and title I don't catch; seems to be the P.R. guy) is very standoffish about the answer. Steger takes over pretty quickly for him. Under some heat, he does eventually say the university has practiced procedures for all kinds of emergencies, but there is no elaboration on how that was applied in the real situation this morning. Thirty-six thousand e-mails were sent out at once.

Another press conference is set for tonight at 7:30 Eastern.

Update [2007-4-16 18:14:46 by SMQ]: Associate professor Scott Hendricks was apparently in Norris Hall - he just told NPR's "All Things Considered" he was directly above the shooting and decided to remain in his office until police broke his door down about an hour later - said the shooting went on "for a good half hour."

Update [2007-4-17 0:0:33 by SMQ]: Very late addition here, but check out this eerie video from inside a campus building by a pair of Swedish students visiting Virginia Tech. Students gather and watch emergency response teams at work.

Videos are finally popping up tonight at YouTube, too, but seem to consist so far solely of TV news clips.

Update [2007-4-17 9:48:27 by SMQ]: Authorities in a press conference have identified a suspect: Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old South Korean citizen in school in Virginia as a legal resident alien. The university says he had established residency in Centerville, Va. Ballistics confirmed the same gun was used in both of Monday's shootings, but the obvious assumption that Seung-Hui was the gunman in both cases is not yet official line. No other questions answered. No motive. Let the Google, directory and Facebook searches again.