Gunman kills 32 in US campus rampage

A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing at least 32 people and injuring dozens in the deadliest shooting rampage in United States history, government officials said. The gunman was killed, bringing to death toll to 33, but it was unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

The 33 deaths were confirmed, a US congressional aide said. The aide said members of the Virginia’s congressional delegation were advised of the death toll during a conference call organised by the Virginia’s governor’s office. CNN reported that 29 people had been wounded.

“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 name of the gunman was not immediately released, and investigators offered no motive for the attack. It was not clear if the gunman was a student.

The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus, with witnesses reporting students jumping out of classroom windows to escape the gunfire. Students and faculty members carried out some of the wounded themselves, without waiting for ambulances to arrive. Police with flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed the campus.

The bloodbath took place at opposite sides of the 1 050ha campus, beginning at about 7.15am local time 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.

Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building.

After the first shots were fired, students were warned to stay indoors and away from the windows. But some students said they thought the precautions had been lifted by the time the second burst of gunfire was heard, and some bitterly questioned why the gunman was able to strike a second time, two hours after the bloodshed began.

FBI spokesperson Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, “but all avenues will be explored”.

Some of the dead were students. One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, Virginia Tech police chief WR Flinchum said.

Mass shootings

Before Monday, the deadliest campus shooting in US 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 School bloodbath near Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

Until now, the deadliest mass shooting in US history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard drove his pickup into a Luby’s Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

A gasp could be heard on Monday at a campus news conference when the police chief said at least 20 people had been killed. Previously, only one person was thought to have been killed on the campus, which has 25 000 full-time students.

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, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because local authorities are leading the investigation.

A White House spokesperson said President George 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,” spokesperson Dana Perino said.

In a televised address, Bush said that the US as “shocked and saddened” by the shooting rampage. “Schools should be places of safety, and sanctuary, and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community,” he said in a brief statement at the White House.

Classes cancelled

After Monday’s shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed and classes cancelled until Tuesday. The university set up a meeting place for families to reunite with their children and made counsellors available. A convocation was planned for Tuesday at the school’s basketball arena.

“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 the shooting took place.

Aimee Kanode, a first-year student, said the shooting happened on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, one floor above her room. The resident assistant in Kanode’s dormitory knocked on her door about 8am 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.”

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, but added they have not determined a link to the shootings.

The rampage took place on a brisk spring day, with snow flurries swirling around the campus, which is centred on a grassy field where military cadets—who now represent a fraction of the student body—once practised. The dorm and the classroom building are on opposites sides of the Drill Field.

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 cancelled 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.—Sapa-AP, AFP, Reuters

MAJOR US SCHOOL KILLINGS

May 18 1927: In Bath, Michigan, Andrew Kehoe blew up the town’s school, killing 38 children and seven teachers and injuring 61 others.

 

August 1 1966: In Austin, Texas, sniper Charles Whitman killed 14 people and injured dozens from the clock tower at the University of Texas.

 

January 1979: In San Diego, California Brenda Spencer (17) killed two adults and injured eight children, famously saying she did it because “I don’t like Mondays.”

January 1 1989: A man in Stockton, California shot dead five children and wounded about 30 people.

 

March 24 1998: In Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys aged 11 and 13 fatally shot four students and a teacher and injured 10 more after setting off the school’s fire alarm and opening fire as people streamed outside.

 

April 24 1998: In Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Andrew Wurst (14) killed a popular teacher and injures three more at an eighth-grade graduation dance.

 

May 21 1998: In Springfield, Oregon, Kipland Kinkel (15) shot dead two students, wounded 25 after he was expelled for bringing a gun to school.

 

April 20 1999: In Littleton, Colorado, Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17) plotted for a year before they shot dead 13 people and wounded 24 more at their Columbine High School. They then committed suicide.

 

August 10 1999: In Los Angeles, California, a man fatally shot three children and two adults at a pre-school.

 

March 21 2005: On an Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota, a male teenager fatally shot nine people, including five students.

 

October 2 2006: In Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a man shot 11 girls “execution-style” at an Amish school, killing five.

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