An injured occupant is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing 21 people before he was killed, police said.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim
UPDATE from VA. TECH: "Two shootings on campus today have left 33 dead. Thirty-one, including the gunman, died at Norris Hall; two died at West Ambler Johnston Hall."
A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, in a classroom across campus Monday, killing over 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history, government officials told The Associated Press. The gunman was killed, bringing the death toll to 33.
Students complained that the university did not warn them about the first deadly burst of gunfire until hours later.
"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."
It was not immediately clear whether the gunman was shot by police or took his own life. Investigators offered no motive for the attack. The gunman's name was not immediately released, and it was not known if he was a student.
The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus. Witnesses reporting students jumping out the windows of a classroom building to escape the gunfire. SWAT team members with helmets, flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed over the campus. Students and faculty members carried out some of the wounded themselves, without waiting for ambulances to arrive.
The massacre took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory that houses 895 people, and continuing at least two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away, authorities said.
Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building.
Some students bitterly questioned why the gunman was able to strike a second time, two hours after the bloodshed began.
"What happened today this was ridiculous," student Jason Piatt told CNN. He said the first warning from the university of a shooting on campus came in an e-mail about two hours after the first deadly burst of gunfire. "While they're sending out that e-mail, 22 more people got killed," Piatt said.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, "but all avenues will be explored."
Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt an announcement by higher-ranking authorities, put the death toll at 31.
At least 26 people were being treated at three area hospitals for gunshot wounds and other injuries, authorities said. Their exact conditions were not disclosed, but at least one was sent to a trauma center and six were in surgery, authorities said.
Up until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard plowed his pickup truck into a Luby's Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.
The massacre Monday took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High bloodbath near Littleton, Colo. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
Previously, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16 people before he was shot to death by police.
Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, about 160 miles west of Richmond. With more than 25,000 full-time students, it has the state's largest full-time student population. The school is best known for its engineering school and its powerhouse Hokies football team.
The rampage took place on a brisk spring day, with snow flurries swirling around the campus. The campus is centered around the Drill Field, a grassy field where military cadets - who now represent a fraction of the student body - once practiced. The dorm and the classroom building are on opposites sides of the Drill Field.
A gasp could be heard at a campus news conference when Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum said at least 20 people had been killed. Previously, only one person was thought to have been killed.
Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began marking and recovering the large number of shell casings and will trace the weapon used, authorities said.
A White House spokesman said President Bush was horrified by the rampage and offered his prayers to the victims and the people of Virginia.
"The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," spokeswoman Dana Perino said
After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed, and classes were canceled through Tuesday. The university set up a meeting place for families to reunite with their children. It also made counselors available and planned an assembly for Tuesday at the basketball arena.
After the shooting began, students were told to stay inside away from the windows.
Aimee Kanode, a freshman from Martinsville, said the shooting happened on the fourth 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.
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.
According to Chris Gorman, a student at the university, the campus was in a state of shock already by mid-morning amid rumors that numerous students had been killed and many others wounded.
"We had that guy who killed some police officers on the first day of classes, and recently there have been a lot of bomb threats," added Gorman.
It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting.
Last August, 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. [See previous story on Morva incident on SecurityInfoWatch.com]