By: Joe Strupp
The Roanoke Times, the closest daily paper to the Virginia Tech campus, has been covering the shooting of more than 30 students there on its Web site with updates to a blog-style story, with the first posted at 10:17 a.m. ABC News is now reporting 32 dead and more than 20 injured.
The Roanoke paper also provided photographs that the Associated Press moved nationally. One, showing police carrying injured students out of a building, appeared on the top of The New York Times site early this afternoon.
The latest from the scene: Two pistols were found near the still-unidentified shooter. One shooting took place at a dorm after 7 a.m., with two dead, the rest across campus where the rest died. Students are complaining that they were not warned quickly after the first shooting, and only belatedly by email.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and 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: “We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it.”
ABC News reported just before 2 p.m. that police said “the shooting may have been set off by an off-campus incident. Details were unclear….ABC News has confirmed that there were two separate bomb threats last week at Virginia Tech that targeted engineering buildings. The first was directed at Torgersen Hall, while the second was directed at multiple engineering buildings. Students and staff were evacuated, and the university had offered a $5,000 reward for information into the threats.”
Assistant Managing Editor Michael Stowe said staffers in the Roanoke paper’s New River Valley office, just a few miles from campus, called in first word of the shooting at about 9:30 a.m. He said at least half a dozen reporters, a videographer, multimedia editor and three photographers are on scene.
“That is a changing number,” he told E&P by phone. He said the blog approach is the best way to move breaking news quickly. “We have found this works well,” he said. “It won’t stop as long as there is stuff coming in. Everyone is working.”
The AP provides this history: “Up until Monday, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. 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. In the Columbine High bloodbath near Littleton, Colo., in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.”
The most recent blog/news postings at the Roanoke paper follow.
One man was hanging out the window of a Norris Hall classroom when the gunman entered, according to freshman Douglas Cobb.
Cobb said that Jake Grohs, the resident assistant for the fourth floor of Peddrew-Yates residence hall, told him he climbed out the window of an engineering class as the gunman apparently made his way from room to room in Norris.
“He was in the room next door to the shooting” and decided to try climbing out the second-story window, Cobb said. “He was hanging out the window when the person came in” and heard people being shot, Cobb said. He said that four of six people who were in the room at that time where shot.
Grohs jumped out the window onto a hill and is OK, Cobb said.
Cobb and other friends showed up at the Inn at Virginia Tech this afternoon to try to get information about a missing friend.
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital is treating two of the gunshot wound victims, one from the first shooting and another from the second shooting, said Eric Earnhart, hospital spokesman.
Monday afternoon, hospital staff waited at the ambulance entrance for one of the victims, who arrived about 12:45 in a Carilion ambulance. The victim, who could not be seen beneath blankets, was rushed into the emergency room.
Earnhart said he did not know the condition of either patient.
Pedestrian traffic is slowly returning to Blacksburg’s College Avenue, which runs along the edge of Virginia Tech’s campus. The campus loudspeakers that broadcast echoing warnings of “This is an emergency, seek shelter indoors immediately” have been silent for at least an hour.
Two Tech freshmen walking back toward campus said the day’s events seem unbelievable, especially given that the school year started with campus being shut down during the manhunt for acccused murderer William Morva.
“At first I thought it was something like a joke because going through something like this twice in one year didn’t seem possible,” said Dennis Hollich, an 18-year-old from Jupiter, Fla.
“It’s pretty brutal,” added Jessica Parrish, also 18, from Louisa County.
Pauletta Robins, a Blacksburg resident, said she’d spent the morning trying to contact her husband, Todd, a painter at Tech. Cellphone circuits were jammed and she hadn’t been able to talk to him.
“What’s happening to this town?” Robins asked.
Virginia Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum said it’s unclear what could have prompted today’s shootings. An investigation is under way, he said.
At this point, Flinchum said, “we believe campus is secure. We are releasing people to leave campus if they wish.”
Tech police got a 911 call at 7:15 a.m. about the shooting in West Ambler-Johnston. At least two people were shot there and some panicked students are reported to have jumped out the dorm’s windows.
The Norris Hall shootings happened about two hours later. Classes were canceled and anyone out walking was quickly pulled inside by police or university officials.
“The university is shocked and horrified that this would befall our campus,” Tech President Charles Steger said at the noon news conference. He called the incident a “tragedy of monumental proportions.”
Counseling centers have been set up in Ambler-Johnston and the Cook Counseling Center, he said, and the school is planning a convocation at noon tomorrow at Cassell Coliseum “for the university community to come together to begin to deal with this tragedy.”
Virginia Tech campus is quiet, with few students walking about. Most buildings are evacuated and police are telling people to leave and not come back today. Dormitories are locked down.
A heavy police presence is evident, with armed officers visible all around the Drillfield.
Freshman Hector Takahashi said he’d been in a class in Pamplin Hall, near Norris Hall, around 9:30 a.m. Students were talking about a shooting in West Ambler Johnston.
“Then all of a sudden, we were like, ‘Whoa — were those shots?'” he said. There were two quick bangs, then a pause, then a fusillade of at least 30 shots, he said.