"Horror, disbelief and profound sorrow" was how Virginia Tech President Charles Steger described the Blacksburg community's reaction to what is the deadliest shooting incident in the nation's history. The school now faces what Steger called a "long and difficult road" to recovery after two shootings yesterday morning resulted in at least 33 fatalities, including that of a gunman, and about 30 injuries.
The first shooting occurred at about 7:15 a.m. on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, resulting in two confirmed deaths. One of the victims has now been identified as one of the dorm's resident advisors.
Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum cited evidence that a domestic dispute led to the first shooting.
As of press time, police had questioned a person of interest who knew one victim and was potentially involved in the first shooting; however, police had not taken the individual into custody.
After the first incident, Virginia Tech officials issued two e-mails informing students that there had been a shooting. The first e-mail was sent at 9:26 a.m. and stated that a shooting incident had occurred at West Ambler Johnston. The second e-mail followed at 9:50 a.m. and alerted the community that there was a gunman loose on the campus. Students and faculty were urged to remain inside and away from windows.
As these e-mails were sent, the second shooting began in Norris Hall, ultimately leaving at least 31 dead, including the gunman.
Virginia Tech sophomores Trey Perkins and Derek O'Dell said in a televised interview with Brian Williams the shooter entered their German class, shot their professor and opened fire on students.
Perkins, one of the few students not shot, said the shooter fired for about a minute and a half as students used desks to shield themselves from the fire.
O'Dell, who was shot in the arm, described the shooter as "an Asian male, about six-feet tall."
"I think we're both still in shock," O'Dell said. "It's amazing that we were saved."
Shortly after the second shooting, Virginia Tech students received a third e-mail at 10:16 a.m. announcing that classes were canceled and that outside persons were not to come on campus. Students were also urged to "lock their doors and stay away from windows." A fourth e-mail at 10:52 a.m. notified the community of the second shooting in Norris Hall with multiple victims. At that point, police were on the scene and a suspect had been detained, but police continued to search for a second shooter.
Bodies were later found at different locations throughout Norris Hall, and doors to the building were chained when police arrived on the scene, Flinchum said, noting that this was "unusual."
According to Flinchum, the campus did not go on lockdown until the shooting in Norris Hall took place because officials believed the dormitory shooting to be an isolated incident.
Fifteen victims are being treated at hospitals in the Roanoke and New River Valley area. Officials confirmed reports of some individuals jumping out of windows to avoid facing fire.
Officials declined to release the Norris Hall gunman's identity. Police continue to investigate whether a different gunman was involved in the dormitory shooting. Steger said an investigation remains underway to determine whether or not the two shootings are connected.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, currently flying back from an Asian trade mission in Tokyo, declared a state of emergency earlier yesterday to help organize the flow of assistance into Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech is currently receiving assistance from state police, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, local jurisdictions and the Red Cross, according to Steger.
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke from the White House earlier today, saying he was "horrified" by the shootings and promising to "do everything possible" for the victims. Media officials have reported that President Bush may travel to Virginia Tech today.
Virginia Tech classes are canceled today and the university will hold a memorial service at 2 p.m. today at Cassell Coliseum.
"I cannot begin to covey my own personal sense of loss over this senseless and incomprehensible, heinous act," Steger said at an earlier press conference. "Today the university was struck with a tragedy we consider of monumental proportions."