At least 32 people were killed in two separate shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech university in Blacksburg on Monday morning (April 16), according to the school’s president. The unidentified gunman committed suicide after the rampage, bringing the death count to 33.
The Associated Press reports that the incident, which occurred four days before the eighth anniversary of the Columbine massacre, is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said police believe only one gunman was involved in the two incidents. CNN reports that at least 29 people were wounded, and in a second press conference held later Monday, Flinchum said 15 people were still being treated. At the same press conference, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said all the victims had not been identified and that their families were still being notified.
Flinchum said police have a “preliminary” identification for the shooter involved in the second incident, although he did not give any details. He added that a “person of interest” related to the first shooting had been identified but not charged with a crime. Flinchum also said police had recovered two weapons — 9mm and 22-caliber handguns — and that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was doing ballastics tests on them.
An eyewitness told Fox News that the suspected killer was chaining doors in one building as the shooting was going on. Various news outlets have described the shooter as a heavily armed Asian man in his 20s who reportedly said he was looking for his girlfriend as he lined up students and shot them.
“Some victims were shot in a classroom,” Flinchum added. MTV News was not able to reach the Virginia Tech Police Department for comment at press time.
According to Steger, the shootings began at about 7:15 a.m. on Monday at the West Ambler Johnston co-ed residence hall, which houses 895 people, and continued about two hours later inside Norris Hall, which houses the College of Engineering.
Virginia Tech students told MTV News they have learned that the first shooting occurred at a residence hall and involved either the girlfriend of the shooter or her roommate, as well as a resident assistant.
(For more on students’ reaction to and reporting on the incident, see “Gunshots ‘Sounded Like A Hammer’: Virginia Tech Students Speak About Shootings” and “Virginia Tech Students Tell Their Stories Online Through Blogs, Photos, Video.” )
CNN reports that the campus-wide alert wasn’t made until 9:29 a.m., 15 minutes before the second shooting began to occur at Norris Hall. According to Flinchum, more than one location inside Norris Hall was involved in the shooting. Police have claimed they thought the dorm incident was an isolated matter, but Flinchum said they’re still trying to determine the connection between the two shootings.
Steger said the university is closed Monday but will reopen on Tuesday at 8 a.m. to begin the “healing process.” He noted classes will be suspended on Tuesday. “Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” he said, soon after the shootings. “The university is shocked and indeed horrified that this would befall us.”
CNN reports that President Bush is “horrified” by the incident. Both houses of Congress observed a moment of silence over the incident.
The shooting prompted the second shooting-related closure of the school in less than a year. In August, the first day of classes was canceled and the campus was locked down after an escaped inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the school’s grounds; William Morva, the accused gunman, also killed a sheriff’s deputy who’d been involved in the manhunt.
The shootings mark the deadliest school-shooting incident in U.S. history, exceeding attacks at Columbine High School in 1999 and at the University of Texas in 1966.
Just last week, students were rattled once again when a handful of bomb threats were called in to the university, resulting in the shutting down of a number of buildings on campus. A $5,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest in those cases.
Junior David Jenkins told Fox News that a friend of his was in a room where the shooter opened fire, killing or injuring nearly everyone there. The friend said he escaped being shot by playing dead.
The sprawling, 2,600-acre Virginia Tech campus is the largest university in the state and is an “open campus,” which means that a gunman wasn’t necessarily a university student. A former FBI profiler, Clint Van Zandt, told MSNBC that the fact that the gunman had so much ammunition and chained some doors shut is proof that the rampage was premeditated and not a spur-of-the-moment incident.
In a shaky camera phone video of the incident, Jamal Albarghouti was able to catch the sound of rapid gunfire outside Norris Hall. He described a scene in which at least one student jumped out of a second story window to escape the gunshots.
[This story was originally published at 1:02 pm E.T. on 04.16.2007]