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Virginia Tech says gunman in nation’s deadliest shooting was student from S. Korea

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead was identified Tuesday as a senior English major from South Korea. But police and university officials offered no clue to his motive.

“He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him,” school spokesman Larry Hincker said, a day after the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

The rampage consisted of two attacks, more than two hours apart — first at a dormitory, where two people were killed, then inside a classroom building, where 31 people, including the gunman, died after being locked inside, Virginia State Police said. The gunman committed suicide.

Police identified the gunman in the classroom attack as 23-year-old (pronounced Choh Suhng-whee). Cho was in the U.S. as a resident alien with an address in Centreville, Va., but was living on campus in a different dorm from the one where the bloodbath began, the university said.

One law enforcement official said Cho’s backpack contained a receipt for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol.

Investigators stopped short of saying Cho carried out both attacks. But ballistics tests show one gun was used in both, Virginia State Police said.

And two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced, said Cho’s fingerprints were found on the two guns used in the rampage. The serial numbers on the two weapons had been filed off, the officials said.

Col. Steve Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said it was reasonable to assume that Cho was the shooter in both attacks but that the link was not yet definitive. “There’s no evidence of any accomplice at either event, but we’re exploring the possibility,” he said.

The gunman’s family lived in an off-white, two-story town house in Centreville.

“He was very quiet, always by himself,” neighbor Abdul Shash said of the gunman. Shash said the gunman spent a lot of his free time playing basketball, and wouldn’t respond if someone greeted him. He described the family as quiet.

Marshall Main, who lives across the street, said the family had lived in the townhouse for several years.

According to court records, Virginia Tech Police issued a speeding ticket to Cho on April 7 for going 44 mph in a 25 mph zone, and he had a court date set for May 23.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences, and said South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”

“We are in shock beyond description,” said Cho ung-se, a ministry official handling North American affairs. “We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people.”

A memorial service was planned for the victims Tuesday afternoon at the university, and President Bush planned to attend, the White House said. Gov. Tim Kaine was flying back to Virginia from Tokyo for the gathering.

Classes were canceled for the rest of the week.

Many students were leaving town quickly, lugging pillows, sleeping bags and backpacks down the sidewalks. — — —

Jimmy Canali, from left, Bud Taylor, McKendree Joslyn, Karina Whiteman and Rachel Stoddard join in the prayer circle on the Plaza at Colorado State University, Monday, April 16, 2007, in Fort Collins, Colo., to honor victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. The massacre that left at least 33 people dead, including the gunman, and wounded at least 15 was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, and has shined a spotlight on the safety of college campuses nationwide.

— AP Photo/The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Sam Herrin

Jessie Ferguson, 19, a freshman from Arlington, left Newman Hall and headed for her car with tears streaming down her red cheeks.

“I’m still kind of shaky,” she said. “I had to pump myself up just to kind of come out of the building. I was going to come out, but it took a little bit of ’OK, it’s going to be all right. There’s lots of cops around.’”

Although she wanted to be with friends, she wanted her family more. “I just don’t want to be on campus,” she said.

Will Nachlas, 19, a freshman from Hershey, Pa., sat on a bench, waiting for a ride.

“The majority of people are leaving campus, trying to get away,” he said. “Lots of people are going home, and lots of people’s parents took them home. They don’t even know when they’ll come back.”

The first deadly attack was at the dormitory around 7:15 a.m., but some students said they didn’t get their first warning about a danger on campus until two hours later, in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m. then the second attack had begun.

Two students told NBC’s “Today” show they were unaware of the dorm shooting when they walked into Norris Hall for a German class where the gunman later opened fire.

The victims in Norris Hall were found in four different classrooms and a stairwell, Flaherty said. Cho was found dead in one of those classrooms, he said.

Derek O’Dell, his arm in a cast after being shot, described a shooter who fired away in “eerily silence” with “no specific target — just taking out anybody he could.”

After the gunman left the room, students could hear him shooting other people down the hall. O’Dell said he and other students barricaded the door so the shooter couldn’t get back in — though he later tried.

“After he couldn’t get the door open he tried shooting it open ... but the gunshots were blunted by the door,” O’Dell said.

The slayings left people of this mountain town and the university at its heart praying for the victims and struggling to find order in a tragedy of such unspeakable horror it defies reason.

“For Ryan and Emily and for those whose names we do not know,” one woman pleaded in a church service Monday night.

Another mourner added: “For parents near and far who wonder at a time like this, ’Is my child safe?’”

University President Charles Steger emphasized that the university closed off the dorm after the first attack and decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to spread the word.

He said that before the e-mail was sent, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

“We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it,” Steger said.

Until Monday, the deadliest shooting in modern 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.

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.

———

Associated Press Writer Justin Pope in Blacksburg contributed to this report.

Update 8:57 a.m. April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech says gunman in nation’s deadliest shooting was student from S. Korea ADAM GELLER

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 33 people, the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, was identified Tuesday as a senior English major from South Korea.

Ballistics tests show one gun was used in two attacks on the campus Monday morning — at a dormitory were two people were killed and in a classroom building where 31 people, including the gunman, died locked inside, Virginia State Police said.

Police identified the classroom shooter as 23-year-old (pronounced Choh Suhng-whee) of South Korea. There was no indication Tuesday of a possible motive for the attacks.

“He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him,” school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Cho was in the U.S. as a resident alien with a residence established in Centreville, but living on campus in Harper Residence Hall, the university said.

Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of because the information had not been announced, said Cho’s fingerprints were found on the guns used in both shootings. The serial numbers on the two weapons had been filed off, the officials said.

One law enforcement official said Cho’s backpack contained a receipt for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol.

Col. Steve Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said it was reasonable to assume that Cho was the shooter in both attacks but that the link was not yet definitive.

“There’s no evidence of any accomplice at either event, but we’re exploring the possibility,” he said.

A memorial service was planned for the victims Tuesday afternoon at the university, and President Bush planned to attend, the White House said. Gov. Tim Kaine was flying back to Virginia from Tokyo for the 2 p.m. convocation.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also expressed its condolences, saying there was no known motive for the shootings and that South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”

“We are in shock beyond description,” said Cho ung-se, a ministry official handling North American affairs. “We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people.”

The first deadly attack was at the dormitory around 7:15 a.m., but some students said they didn’t get their first warning about a danger on campus until two hours later, in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m. then, the second attack had begun.

Two students told NBC’s “Today” show they were unaware of the dorm shooting when they walked into Norris Hall for a German class where the gunman later opened fire.

The victims in Norris Hall were found in four different classrooms and a stairwell, Flaherty said. Cho was found dead in one of those classrooms, he said.

Derek O’Dell, his arm in a cast after being shot, described a shooter who fired away in “eerily silence” with “no specific target — just taking out anybody he could.”

After the gunman left the room, students could hear him shooting other people down the hall. O’Dell said he and other students barricaded the door so the shooter couldn’t get back in — though he later tried.

“After he couldn’t get the door open he tried shooting it open ... but the gunshots were blunted by the door,” O’Dell said.

A federal law enforcement official said Tuesday he had been told by other federal law enforcement officials that the two guns recovered in the shooting had had their serial numbers scraped off. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced.

The slayings left people of this mountain town and the university at its heart praying for the victims and struggling to find order in a tragedy of such unspeakable horror it defies reason.

“For Ryan and Emily and for those whose names we do not know,” one woman pleaded in a church service Monday night.

Another mourner added: “For parents near and far who wonder at a time like this, ’Is my child safe?’”

That question promises to haunt Blacksburg long after Monday’s attacks. Investigators offered no motive, and the gunman’s name was not immediately released.

The shooting began about 7:15 a.m. on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston, a high-rise coed dormitory where two people died.

Police were still investigating around 9:15 a.m., when a gunman wielding two handguns and carrying multiple clips of ammunition stormed Norris Hall, a classroom building a half-mile away on the other side of the 2,600-acre campus.

At least 20 people were taken to hospitals after the second attack, some seriously injured. Many found themselves trapped after someone, apparently the shooter, chained and locked Norris Hall doors from the inside.

Students jumped from windows, and students and faculty carried away some of the wounded without waiting for ambulances to arrive.

SWAT team members with helmets, flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed over the campus. A student used his cell-phone camera to record the sound of bullets echoing through a stone building.

Inside Norris, the attack began with a thunderous sound from Room 206 — “what sounded like an enormous hammer,” said Alec Calhoun, a 20-year-old junior who was in a solid mechanics lecture in a classroom next door.

Screams followed an instant later, and the banging continued. When students realized the sounds were gunshots, Calhoun said, he started flipping over desks to make hiding places. Others dashed to the windows of the second-floor classroom, kicking out the screens and jumping from the ledge of Room 204, he said.

“I must’ve been the eighth or ninth person who jumped, and I think I was the last,” said Calhoun, of Waynesboro, Va. He landed in a bush and ran.

Calhoun said that the two students behind him were shot, but that he believed they survived. Just before he climbed out the window, Calhoun said, he turned to look at his professor, who had stayed behind, apparently to prevent the gunman from opening the door.

The instructor was killed, Calhoun said.

Erin Sheehan, who was in the German class near Calhoun’s room, told the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, that she was one of only four of about two dozen people in the class to walk out of the room. The rest were dead or wounded, she said.

She said the gunman “was just a normal-looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout-type outfit. He wore a tan button-up vest, and this black vest, maybe it was for ammo or something.”

The gunman first shot the professor in the head and then fired on the class, another student, Trey Perkins, told The Washington Post. The gunman was about 19 years old and had a “very serious but very calm look on his face,” he said.

“Everyone hit the floor at that moment,” said Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va., a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “And the shots seemed like it lasted forever.”

At an evening news conference, Police Chief Wendell Flinchum refused to dismiss the possibility that a co-conspirator or second shooter was involved. He said police had interviewed a male who was a “person of interest” in the dorm shooting and who knew one of the victims, but he declined to give details.

“I’m not saying there’s a gunman on the loose,” Flinchum said. Ballistics tests will help explain what happened, he said.

Some students bitterly complained that the first e-mail warning arrived more than two hours after the first shots.

“I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident,” said Billy Bason, 18, who lives on the seventh floor of the dorm.

University President Charles Steger emphasized that the university closed off the dorm after the first attack and decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to spread the word, but said that with 11,000 people driving onto campus first thing in the morning, it was difficult to get the word out.

He said that before the e-mail was sent, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

“We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it,” Steger said.

The 9:26 e-mail had few details: “A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating.”

Until Monday, the deadliest shooting in modern 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.

Nine students remained hospitalized Tuesday at Montgomery Regional Hospital, all of them stable, CEO Scott Hill said. Two others had been transferred to other hospitals with a Level I trauma center.

Their families “are by the bedside, which is a good thing,” Hill said.

Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem had three remaining patients, all in stable condition, with one expected to be discharged later Tuesday, Hill said.

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 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.

Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks but that they had not determined whether they were linked to the shootings.

It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of gunfire.

Last August, the opening day of classes was canceled when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff’s deputy was killed just off campus. The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.

Among the dead were professors Liviu Librescu and Kevin Granata, said Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department. Librescu, an Israeli, was born in Romania and was known internationally for his research in aeronautical engineering, Puri wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Granata and his students researched muscle and reflex response and robotics. Puri called him one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy.

“My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,” Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview, citing e-mail he said students had sent to his family. “Students started opening windows and jumping out.”

Also killed, according to their friends, local officials or relatives, were: Emily Jane Hilscher, 19, of Woodville; Mary Karen Read, 19, of Annandale; Ross Abdallah Alameddine, 20, of Saugus, Mass.; and Daniel Perez Cueva, 21, a native of Peru,.

Ryan Clark, a student from Martinez, Ga., who had several majors and carried a 4.0 grade-point average, was also among the victims, said Vernon Collins, coroner in Columbia County, Ga. Clark was a resident assistant at Ambler Johnson Hall, the dorm where the first shootings took place.

Gregory Walton, a 25-year-old friend of Clark’s who graduated last year, said he feared the nightmare had just begun.

“I knew when the number was so large that I would know at least one person on that list,” Walton said. “I don’t want to look at that list. I don’t want to.

“It’s just, it’s going to be horrible, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

———

Associated Press Writer Justin Pope in Blacksburg contributed to this report.

_______________________

Update: 11:57 a.m. April 16, 2007 — —

An injured occupant is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom on the campus, killing at least 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman is killed but it's unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, in a classroom across campus Monday, killing at least 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history, government officials told The Associated Press. The gunman was killed, bringing to death toll to 31.

“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. His name was not released, investigators offered no motive for the attack. It was not known if the gunman was a student.

The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus, with 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.

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. — — —

An unidentified person is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. on Monday, April 16, 2007, after a shooting incident. A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom on the campus, killing at least 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman is killed but it's unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

— AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim

“What happened today this was ridiculous. And I don’t know what happened or what was going through this guy’s mind,” student Jason Piatt told CNN. “But I’m pretty outraged and I’ll say on the record I’m pretty outraged that someone died in a shooting in a dorm at 7 o’clock in the morning and the first e-mail about it — no mention of locking down campus, no mention of canceling classes — they just mention that they’re investigating a shooting two hours later at 9:22.”

He added: “That’s pretty ridiculous and meanwhile, while they’re sending out that e-mail, 22 more people got killed.”

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

Up until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. 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.

_________________________________

9:25 a.m. April 16, 2007 — —

An unidentified man sits handcuffed under the Drill Field review stand while officials check Burruss Hall for safety following a shooting incident on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom on the campus, killing at least 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman is killed but it's unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing 21 people and wounding another 21 before he was killed, police said.

“Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” said university 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.

One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.

After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed and classes canceled through Tuesday.

“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 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.” — — —

An unidentified man is restrained during a manhunt on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom on the campus, killing at least 30 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman is killed but it's unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

— AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim

It was the 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.

_________________

Fatal shootings at U.S. colleges or universities in recent years

—April 16, 2007: A gunman kills 21 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The gunman later dies.

—Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman points a rifle from the observation deck of the University of Texas at Austin’s Tower and begins shooting in a homicidal rampage that goes on for 96 minutes. Sixteen people are killed, 31 wounded.

—Nov. 1, 1991: Gang Lu, 28, a graduate student in physics from China, reportedly upset because he was passed over for an academic honor, opens fire in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus. Five University of Iowa employees killed, including four members of the physics department, two other people are wounded. The student fatally shoots himself.

—May 4, 1970: Four students were killed and nine wounded by National Guard troops called in to quell anti-war protests on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.

—Oct. 28, 2002: Failing University of Arizona Nursing College student and Gulf War veteran Robert Flores, 40, walks into an instructor’s office and fatally shoots her. A few minutes later, armed with five guns, he enters one of his nursing classrooms and kills two more of his instructors before fatally shooting himself.

—Sept. 2, 2006: Douglas W. Pennington, 49, kills himself and his two sons, Logan P. Pennington, 26, and Benjamin M. Pennington, 24, during a visit to the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

—Jan. 16, 2002: Graduate student Peter Odighizuwa, 42, recently dismissed from Virginia’s Appalachian School of Law, returns to campus and kills the dean, a professor and a student before being tackled by students. The attack also wounds three female students.

—Aug. 15, 1996: Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, a graduate engineering student at San Diego State, is defending his thesis before a faculty committee when he pulls out a handgun and kills three professors.

—Aug. 28, 2000: James Easton Kelly, 36, a University of Arkansas graduate student recently dropped from a doctoral program after a decade of study and John Locke, 67, the English professor overseeing his coursework, are shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide.