Unidentified Gunman Opens Fire at Virginia Tech University

The massacre began at 7.10am this morning when a lone gunman entered a dormitory at Virginia Tech, the largest university in the state. He killed two people, a man and a woman, on the fourth floor of the West Ambler Johnston Hall, one of the biggest halls of residence with sleeping quarters for 895 students. There was “mass chaos”, one undergraduate said — “lots of students running around, going crazy”. At 7.15am the first emergency call was made. Police cars and ambulances rushed to the scene and armed teams fanned out around the hall, on the southwest side of the 2,600-acre campus, trying to find the gunman amid swirling snow. Police and university authorities believed that the incident was “domestic” and was contained. They said later that there was reason to believe that the gunman had fled. By this time around 14,000 students and staff were on their way to the campus. The university sent e-mails to all its members but decided against shutting the campus. Charles Steger, the president, said: “We concluded that once they got to the classroom, that was the best place to lock them down.” The e-mail had few details. It read: “A shooting incident occurred at West Ambler Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating.” The message warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.

Police were interviewing away from the scene a “person of interest” held after the first shooting. But at 9.40am gunfire began again. Shots came from Norris Hall, an engineering building filled with classrooms. Jamal Albarghouti, a student, filmed the scene with his mobile phone, images that were broadcast on CNN before the full scale of the massacre was known. Armed police look left and right, startled, as shot after shot can be heard in the distance. The shooting went on for at least 40 seconds. Initial reports put the death toll at one. Then Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech’s police chief, brought gasps at a 12.45pm news conference when he announced that at least 21 people had been killed. Matt Maroney, a student, told Sky News that 43 people had been shot, adding that students had thrown desks at a door and a teacher had been shot in the arm. The gunman, he said, “had an ungodly amount of ammo on him. He was just dressed in a vest filled with clips and started firing away at classrooms”.

Some students broke limbs leaping from second-floor windows to escape. Police arriving at the scene of the second shooting found the doors barricaded from inside with chains. They broke through and followed gunshots to the second floor, but the killer, firing at least two 9mm semi-automatic pistols, died after shooting himself in the face. Steven Ratley, 21, an architecture student, witnessed the denouement of the massacre as a group of armed police ran past him a little after at 9.45am close to Norris Hall. “I walked outside to get a cup of coffee and was told to get down on the ground by a number of police officers,” he told The Times. “They looked like they were chasing someone. A couple of seconds later I heard two gunshots fired. It’s crazy here right now. The hospitals are all full, there are ambulances, police cars and fire rescue trucks everywhere.” The university has 26,000 students, many from Asia. Aimee Kanode, a first-year student, said that the first round of shooting occurred one floor above her room in West Ambler Johnston Hall. Her “resident assistant” knocked on her door at about 8am to tell the students not to leave their dormitory. “They had us under lockdown. They temporarily lifted the lockdown, the gunman shot again,” she said.

The first victim to be named was the man who died in West Ambler Johnston Hall. Ryan Clark was an officer in the university’s marching band, and was due to graduate this year. There were suggestions last night that the gunman was a disgruntled boyfriend who wanted revenge on a man he thought was having an affair with his girlfriend. Tricia Sangalang was in class when her professor heard about the shootings. She said: “There’s a lot of speculation that it is a student, I believe in his 20s, an Asian male student. That’s unconfirmed. “Some people have said he was going after the guy his girlfriend was cheating on him with but that’s unconfirmed.”

Keep these people in your prayers…