Monday 20 January 2020

Terror returns to Virginia Tech, as shooter kills policeman

Virginia Tech police officers console one another as they move toward the scene where a fellow police officer was killed in a parking lot on the campus of Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech police officers console one another as they move toward the scene where a fellow police officer was killed in a parking lot on the campus of Virginia Tech

Jon Swaine

THE site of America's worst campus massacre is at the centre of another shooting as a university policeman was shot dead and students were subjected to a four-hour lockdown.

The officer, who has not been named, was killed by a man believed to have walked up to his patrol car at about 12.15, as he carried out a routine traffic stop on a vehicle at the site in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The shooter then walked away. Law enforcement officials said last night that a second body, found with a gun 45 minutes later in a car park a quarter of a mile away, was believed to be the gunman's. He is thought to have turned the gun on himself as officers approached.

Charles Steager, the university's president, described the shooting as a “wanton act of violence”. “Today tragedy again struck Virginia Tech,” he told a press conference. “Our hearts are broken again”.

Throughout the afternoon university officials indicated that the second victim might have been someone other than the gunman, causing intense concern that he was still at large.

Armed FBI, police and anti-firearms officers quickly descended to hunt a suspect described as a white man wearing grey jogging trousers, a grey hat with a neon green brim and a maroon hoodie.

Students were moved by university officials into a secure room in an academic building onsite, under plans developed after an April 2007 massacre at the campus that left 32 students and staff dead.

“People were getting more tense and things were on edge,” Tauhid Chappell, a 21-year-old senior studying journalism told the Daily Telegraph, before he and fellow students were released at about 4.30pm.

The shootings came as senior university police officers and officials were 270 miles away in Washington, appealing against a $55,000 fine from the US government for their alleged failure to provide a “timely warning” about the 2007 shootings.

The US Education Department said the university violated the law by waiting more than two hours after the shootings of two students in their dormitory before sending an email warning, by which time 30 more students had been slain.

This time the university's 30,000 students promptly received email and text message alerts warning them about the gunman. The university website and Twitter account swiftly alerted the outside world to developments onsite.

Witnesses said the campus was not as busy as usual because yesterday was the last day of term before final exams, meaning regular lectures and classes had not been scheduled.

Josh Parcell, a student due to graduate next year, said on Twitter: “Thank God this was reading day. Can't imagine how much worse this could have been on a normal class day.”

Local public transport was suspended shortly after the shootings, while public schools were also locked down, in an effort to limit the potential fallout.

The events prompted comparisons to April 16 2007, when Cho Seung-Hui, a Korean-born student, killed 32 students and staff and then himself, in America's largest ever campus massacre.

He sent pictures and video of himself and a “manifesto” to a local television station before the massacre, in which he paid tribute to “martyrs” like like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenagers who murdered 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado, in 1999.

Having killed his first two victims early in the morning, he killed another 30 more than two hours later, after entering a separate part of the university at the Norris Hall complex and locking the doors.

The killed officer was described by Sgt. Bob Carpentieri as a “four-year veteran” of the 80-strong university force. “We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family,” said Mr Steager.

Mr Chappell said: “The feeling here was 'not again'. This is not something Virginia Tech needs, it is not who we are. It puts us in a bad light and makes people think 'oh, Virginia Tech – dangerous'.”

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