Just two doors down from Norris Hall, where the majority of the victims were killed in Monday’s shooting rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech university, Junior Tanner McKibben was huddled on the floor.
McKibben was crouched alongside other students in a classroom in Pamplin Hall behind closed blinds, staring at a television and trying to get more information on the shootings. “I was in the middle of class and I’d gotten word from people by text message that the early shooting happened. I thought only one person had been shot, so I continued on to class,” said McKibben, 21. “But more people started coming in and saying there had been big shootings, and then officials told us not to leave the room and to get away from the windows and close the blinds” (see “Cho Seung-Hui, Virginia Tech Gunman, Described As ’Loner’ “ ).
(See also “Students From Across U.S. Respond To Shootings: ’It Is Beyond Unsettling’ “ , “On Virginia Tech Campus: ’I Can’t Believe This Happened Here’ “ and ” ’People Are Missing': VT Student Reflects On Loss Of Friend” for more student reactions and accounts.)
McKibben said he was locked in the classroom for nearly three hours, unable to check his voicemail or e-mail due to overloaded systems. When he got back to his apartment at around noon, he spoke to a friend who was in Norris during the rampage who said he’d seen people crying and running around in the building as word spread of the incident.
“The shooter didn’t come in his room, but [my friend] said there were 10 people who came in the room crying and they said they saw a guy jump out of a third story window and break his leg, which made them think twice about jumping out the windows themselves,” McKibben said.
“My friend said he could hear the shots and they sounded like a hammer. He saw a guy who was shot in the arm run by and then he shut the doors to the room they were in and there were people in there crying hysterically. They said the shooter came into one classroom and shot everyone, including the teacher, and then he lined people up in the hallway and shot them.”
A good friend of senior Lauren Petty was also in Norris during the shootings, and told her that he saw the shooter reloading his gun and preparing to open fire again. “He [my friend] quickly closed the door and hid in a classroom and he luckily got away,” said Petty, 22, a communications major from Pittsburgh. “The hardest part for us is not knowing the names of the people who were hurt. Everyone I know is glued to their TVs, and most of my friends are leaving town to get away for a while.”
Brent Dillie, a senior from the Pittsburgh area, was in his off-campus apartment when the second round of shootings began. The engineering major was supposed to be at a class in the building next door to Norris Hall, but had begged off after his girlfriend called him at 8:30 a.m. to tell him about the shots fired at West Ambler Johnston residence hall.
“My younger brother was in the area around the second shooting when that was going on. He saw 10 or 15 cop cars and 10 or 15 ambulances rushing up and he was removed from the area,” Dillie said. “The cops were outside their cars with their guns out and using their car doors like shields, like you see in the movies.”
Dillie said despite last week’s bomb scares and an incident last semester with an escaped convict, he’s always felt safe on campus and predicted he’d feel safe again on Wednesday when classes resume. “It’s a couple of freak things, but this isn’t a dangerous place at all,” he said. “Most of my friends don’t even lock their doors.”
McKibben agreed with Dillie, saying this kind of incident could happen at any open campus where people are free to come and go as they please, whether they are students or not. If anything, McKibben said he was angry that the communication on campus about the incident was not better.
“The worst part is that the first shooting happened between 7:15 and 7:30 and I was walking to class at 7:45 for a test at 8 and I had that class and then almost all of my 9 a.m. class before I heard anything,” he said. “I heard local elementary schools were canceled before then and I was walking to class at 7:45 — and who knows if that guy could have been around me?”