Virginia Tech massacre
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The Virginia Tech massacre was a university shooting that unfolded as two separate attacks, about two hours apart, on April 16, 2007 on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. A gunman killed 32 people and injured another 29 before committing suicide, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Cho Seung-hui, identified by authorities as the gunman, was born in South Korea and grew up in Virginia. He had permanent residence status and was a fourth-year English major at Virginia Tech.
There were two seperate attacks in two seperate buildings - one in the West Ambler Johnston building, starting at 7:15am where two died, and a second attack at Norris Hall where 31 died.
West Ambler Johnston shootings
Aerial photo showing location of Norris and West Ambler Johnston Halls.
Authorities believe that Cho shot his first victims at around 7:15 a.m. EDT in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a co-ed dormitory that houses 895 students. A young woman, Emily J. Hilscher of Woodville, Virginia, and a male resident assistant, Ryan Clark of Martinez, Georgia, were killed.
Norris Hall shootings
Approximately two hours after the initial shootings, shots were reported in a classroom at Norris Hall, an engineering and science building that houses the Engineering Science and Mechanics program. A ballistics test later showed that the same gun was used in both campus shootings.
An eyewitness told a Collegiate Times reporter that a gunman shot about nineteen people attending a German class in Norris Hall including the professor. Only four people emerged unscathed from the German class, with the rest either killed or wounded. Erin Sheehan, one of the four, said the shooter "peeked in twice, earlier in the lesson, like he was looking for someone, somebody, before he started shooting."
A number of gunshots can be heard in video footage captured with a cell phone, later broadcast on many news outlets.
Student Nikolas Macko described to BBC News his experience at the center of the shootings. He had been attending a math class (near the German class) and heard gunshots in the hallway. Three people in the classroom barricaded themselves inside the room using a table. At one point, Macko said, the shooter attempted to break down the door of the classroom and then shot twice into the room; one shot hit a podium and the other went out the window. The shooter reloaded and shot into the door again, but the bullet did not penetrate into the room. He stated there were "many, many shots" fired.
High winds prevented emergency medical services from using helicopters for the evacuations. Victims injured in the shooting were treated at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Radford, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, and Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem.
The shooter was identified as 23-year-old Cho Seung-hui (hangul: 조승희 ), a South Korean national living in Virginia as a United States permanent resident (Green Card holder). He arrived in the US with his family at the age of eight in 1992. His permanent address was listed as Centreville, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He attended and, in 2003, graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia. Victims Erin Peterson and Reema Samaha graduated from Westfield in 2006, but it is not known if Cho knew either of them. He was an undergraduate student in his senior year, majoring in English. A spokesman for Virginia Tech has described him as a "loner", stating that the University was having difficulty finding information about him. Cho lived in Harper Hall, another dormitory just to the west of West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory. Blacksburg police confirm Cho was investigated in late 2005 in connection with stalking complaints, but no prosecution resulted.
As of April 18, 2007, Cho's motives for the killings remain unclear.
Early reports suggested that the killing was the result of a domestic dispute between Cho and previously alleged girlfriend Emily Hilscher, who was later revealed to have no prior relationship with Cho.
When police investigated Cho's dorm, they found a note describing how his life was hell and his plan of suicide. In a note left in his dorm room he laid out a list of grievances including "rich kids" or "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus. Another sentence in the note read "you caused me to do this." The words "Ismail Ax" were found written on his arm in red ink, although a later report gave the spelling as "Ismale Ax" and stated the words were tattooed on his arm. His roommate told reporters that Cho had a normal expression on his face just two hours before the killing spree.
Lucinda Roy, Cho's former creative writing professor says she was disturbed by the student's behavior and writing to the point of warning campus police and other officials about him, but was told they could not do much as no direct threat was involved, and they did not wish to violate his rights of free speech. Roy told ABC News that Cho seemed "extraordinarily lonely — the loneliest person I have ever met in my life." She said he always wore sunglasses and a cap inside, spoke in a whisper, and took cell phone pictures of her. Deeply concerned, she arranged to work one-on-one with Cho, and asked him to go to counseling, but he apparently never went. However it emerged that he had spent time in a mental health institution 16 months prior to the shooting after female students complained about Cho stalking them.
Shortly after Cho's identification as a suspect, a copy of a play by Cho entitled "Richard McBeef" began circulating online. This was originally posted by Ian MacFarlane, a former classmate of Cho. The short play mentions graphic topics such as pedophilia, violence with chainsaws, and ends with the title character delivering "a deadly blow" to his thirteen year old stepson. Cho also wrote a second play, entitled "Mr. Brownstone"; the play is named after a Guns N' Roses song and contains lyrics copied verbatim from the song.
An unnamed professor who taught Cho characterized his work as "very adolescent" and "silly," with attempts at "slapstick comedy" and "elements of violence."
Officials believe he used a 9 mm Glock 19 and a .22 caliber Walther P22 handgun. Cho purchased the 9 mm Glock 19 at Roanoke Firearms on March 13, 2007, and the .22-caliber handgun was purchased April 13, 2007 at a pawnbroker in Blacksburg. In Virginia, permanent legal residents of the United States who are 21 years of age or older are eligible to purchase handguns provided they have not been convicted of any felonies or have other disqualifications. Both guns were found with their serial numbers filed off, federal law enforcement officials said. The owner of Roanoke Firearms was reported to have been 'devastated' when he heard news that one of his weapons was used in the incident. According to former FBI agent Brad Garrett, "This was no spur of the moment crime. He's been thinking about this for several months prior to the shooting."
It is not known what, if any, previous firearm experience or training Cho had completed before the massacre. It is not known where or how Cho obtained the chain with which he locked the doors at the stairway in the engineering classroom building.
One of the guns was used in both incidents. An official added that Cho was "heavily armed and wearing a vest."
- Further information: List of victims of the Virginia Tech massacre
First shooting: West Ambler Johnston Hall Dormitory
Second shooting: Norris Hall Engineering Building
All times are in Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4).
- Tuesday, March 13
Cho purchases a 9 millimeter Glock 19 handgun and a fifteen round magazine from Roanoke Firearms.
- Monday, April 2
A bomb threat to Torgersen Hall is called in anonymously. The perpetrator is still unknown.
- Friday, April 13
Cho purchases a Walther P22 at a pawnshop in Blacksburg. A bomb threat to Torgersen, Durham, and Whittemore Halls is also called in anonymously. An additional bomb threat, this time to engineering school buildings, was found at the shooting scene at Norris Hall. Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum has stated that the bomb threats are not linked to the April 16, 2007 massacre. However a written bomb threat similar to the ones that were phoned in was found in Cho's dorm room.
- Monday, April 16
- 7:15 a.m.: A 9-1-1 emergency call to Virginia Tech Police reports a shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall, leaving one person dead and one injured. The second person later died.
- 7:30 a.m.: Investigators were following up on leads concerning a person of interest in relation to the double homicide. Investigators from VT PD and Blacksburg PD were actively following up on various leads. Meanwhile, Cho returns to his dorm room to re-load and leaves a "disturbing note."
- 8:00 a.m.: Classes begin.
- 8:25 a.m.: Virginia Tech leadership team meets to develop a plan on how to notify students of the homicide. Meanwhile, police stop the unidentified "person of interest" in a vehicle off-campus and detain him for questioning.
- 9:00 a.m.: Virginia Tech leadership team is briefed on the latest events in the ongoing dormitory homicide investigation.
- 9:05 a.m.: Cho seen in Norris Hall, an Engineering building. Cho chains the doors shut from the inside.
- 9:26 a.m.: E-mails go out to campus staff, faculty, and students saying there has been a shooting on campus (in reference to the Dorm shooting).
- 9:45 a.m.: Students in the engineering building Norris Hall call police to report more shots have been fired. Cho kills thirty more people before turning the gun on himself. Police breach the barricaded doors, but the shooter is dead before they arrive.
- 9:50 a.m.: A second e-mail announcing: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows" is sent to all Virginia Tech email addresses. Loudspeakers broadcast a similar message.
- 10:17 a.m: A third e-mail cancels classes and advises people to stay where they are.
- 10:52 a.m.: A fourth e-mail warns of a multiple shooting with multiple victims in Norris Hall, saying the shooter has been arrested and that police are hunting for a possible second shooter. The entrances to the campus buildings are locked.
- 12:00 p.m.: At a press conference, authorities said there may have been more than twenty-one people killed and twenty-eight injured.
- 12:42 p.m.: University President Charles Steger announces that police are releasing people from buildings and that counseling centers are being set up.
- 4:01 p.m.: President Bush speaks from the White House regarding the shooting.
- 7:30 p.m.: A final confirmation that there have been thirty-one deaths at Norris Hall, including the shooter. (mp3)
- Tuesday, April 17
- 9:15 a.m.: Virginia Tech Police Department releases name of shooter as Cho Seung-Hui and confirms the death toll of 33.
- 9:30 a.m.: Virginia Tech announces that classes would be canceled "for the remainder of the week to allow students the time they need to grieve and seek assistance as needed."
- 2:00 p.m.: A convocation ceremony is held for the University community at the Cassell Coliseum. Speakers included (in order) Virginia Tech VP for Student Affairs Zenobia L. Hikes, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (who had returned from Japan), President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, as well as local religious leaders (representing the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian communities), Provost Dr. Mark G. McNamee, Dean of Students Tom Brown, Counselor Dr. Christopher Flynn, and poet and Professor Nikki Giovanni.
- 8:00 p.m.: A candlelight vigil is held on the University Drillfield.
Virginia Tech students mourn their fallen friends at a candlelight vigil.
- Wednesday, April 18
- 8:25 a.m.: A SWAT team enters Burruss Hall, a campus building next to Norris Hall. No explanation is immediately available. Virginia Tech's public affairs office states that police are responding to a 'suspicious event'.
- 9:00 a.m.: VT's web site says the incident in Burruss Hall is determined to be unfounded .
Responses to the incidents
Virginia Tech cancelled classes for the rest of the week and closed Norris Hall for the remainder of the semester. The University is offering counseling assistance for students and faculty and held an assembly on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. Additionally, the Red Cross has dispatched several dozen crisis counselors to Blacksburg to help Virginia Tech students cope with the tragedy.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger stated at the first news conference that authorities initially believed the first shooting at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory was a domestic dispute and that the shooter had left campus.
Steger indicated in a second press conference at around 5pm EDT on the day of the attack that several thousand students were already on their way to class:
||You have to remember that of the 26,000 [students] that we have, over 9,000 are on campus. When the classes start at 8:00 A.M., thousands of people are in transit. The question is, where do you keep them where it is most safe? We concluded that the incident at the dormitory was domestic in nature. These other events occurred two hours later.
Steger further noted:
||It is very difficult, because we are an open society and an open campus. We have 26,000 people here. The best thing that we can do is to have people report anything that they saw that was suspicious. We obviously cannot have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the year. …What we try to determine is are they kept out of harm’s way by staying in the dorms or staying in the academic buildings. We send out communications by e-mail, we have an emergency alert system to get the word to our students as quickly as we can. With 11,000 people driving in to campus, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to get the word out instantaneously.
Criticism of university response
Some students, parents, and commentators in the media blamed the University, saying that administrators should have done more to notify others and lock down the campus immediately.
Authorities identified a "person of interest" in the first shooting, Karl Thornhill, who was Emily Hilscher's boyfriend. Emily Hilscher's roommate, Heather Haugh, told authorities that Thornhill owned firearms and had taken both girls to a shooting range. Thornhill was pulled over while leaving Tech's campus after the first shooting, and made authorities suspicious by contradicting Haugh's account. Because authorities quickly apprehended him, they determined that the threat of further violence was minimal and consequently did not justify additional action by the University. However, as they were questioning Mr. Thornhill, reports of widespread shooting at Norris Hall came in, suggesting that the threat had not been contained. Thornhill has subsequently been released, but remains an important witness in the case, according to police.
At an afternoon news conference, Governor Timothy Kaine of Virginia indicated that Charles Steger (the president of Virginia Tech) had asked him to appoint a committee to examine the university's response to the shootings and help answer any remaining questions. In an interview with CNN, Governor Kaine indicated that W. Gerald Massengill, former superintendent of Virginia State Police, would conduct the review.
Other schools' responses
There have been official responses from many universities, both inside of the United States and abroad, regarding the massacre, reflecting widespread public horror and concern, expressing shock, sympathy, and condolences to the Virginia Tech community.
Florida State University Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Coburn released an email on April 17th, stating that the university, in response to the Virginia Tech massacre, had instituted an emergency cellular phone contact plan via text message, in the event of a similar situation. Florida State University president T. K. Wetherell issued a statement of condolence, in which he outlined the university's disaster response plans in a similar situation.