BLACKSBURG, Va. – A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing 21 people in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. The gunman was killed, but it was unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.
“Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” said Virginia Tech president Charles Steger. “The university is shocked and indeed horrified.”
The university reported shootings at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed residence hall that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.
Some but not all the dead were students. One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.
The name of the gunman was not released. It was not known if he was a student.
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.
After Monday’s shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed. The campus was to reopen Tuesday but classes were canceled.
The university set up a meeting place for families to reunite with their children at the Inn at Virginia Tech. It also made counselors available and planned a convocation for Tuesday at the Cassell Coliseum basketball arena.
After the shootings, students were told to stay inside away from the windows.
“There’s just a lot of commotion. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on,” said Jason Anthony Smith, 19, who lives in the dorm where shooting took place.
Aimee Kanode, a freshman from Martinsville, said the shooting happened on the 4th floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, one floor above her room. Kanode’s resident assistant knocked on her door about 8 a.m. to notify students to stay put.
“They had us under lockdown,” Kanode said. “They temporarily lifted the lockdown, the gunman shot again.”
“We’re all locked in our dorms surfing the Internet trying to figure out what’s going on,” Kanode said.
Madison Van Duyne, a student who was interviewed by telephone on CNN, said, “We are all in lockdown. Most of the students are sitting on the floors away from the windows just trying to be as safe as possible.”
Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks by authorities but said they have not determined a link to the shootings.
It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting.
In August 2006, the opening day of classes was canceled and the campus closed when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff’s deputy involved in the manhunt was killed on a trail just off campus.
The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.