WASHINGTON — Virginia Tech, the scene in 2007 of the deadliest school shooting in US history, was again struck by violence Thursday when a gunman opened fire, killing a campus police officer and a second person.
The university said on its website (www.vt.edu) that the shooter — described as a white male in a maroon hooded sweatshirt and grey sweatpants — might still be at large, as the 31,000-student campus was put under lockdown.
“The status of the shooter is unknown,” it said. “The campus community should continue to shelter in place and visitors should not come to campus.”
It said the police officer, a member of Virginia Tech’s own security force, was shot and killed during a “routine traffic stop” in a parking lot near the McComas swimming pool and athletics building.
“Witnesses reported to police the shooter fled on foot heading toward the Cage, a parking lot near Duck Pond Drive,” it added. “At that parking lot, a second person was found. That person is also deceased.”
A female student at the scene, fighting back tears, told WDBJ television that she saw the shot police officer fall out of his vehicle when the door was opened.
“Then two cops took off with some sort of automatic weapons and started running” in the direction of the gunman, she said.
Collegiate Times, a student newspaper at Virginia Tech, said on its Twitter feed that students were being moved to a secure location inside the Squires student center on campus.
Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia, was the scene of the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in US history in April 2007 when an English major, Seung-Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 people before taking his own life.
Twenty-five others were wounded.
Thursday was a study day on the eve of final exams for the fall semester.
Final exams scheduled for Friday have been postponed, pending a decision on the entire examination program for the end of the fall semester, the university said.
Virginia Tech employee Brian Walls told CNN he first heard 10 to 15 different sirens wail, and then went outdoors where he witnessed a large group of police officers.
“I ended up seeing an individual on the ground” and rescue workers apparently trying to revive a fallen person, he said. “Then the campus alarm alerts went off” and Walls got back inside.
Tauhid Chappell, a student, said he and other students were getting information through the university’s alert system, as well as the Internet and radio.
The atmosphere on campus felt “very quiet and still,” he told CNN.
“I was in my dorm all day and I saw just a bunch of action on campus,” first-year student Andrew McElvarr told WDBJ television.
“Everyone (in the dormitory) is just waiting, watching, trying to figure out what’s happening.”
Ironically, Virginia Tech officials — including the campus police chief — were in Washington Thursday to appeal a $55,000 fine for failing to immediately issue an email alert after Cho shot his first two victims in a dormitory.
Public schools in Montgomery County, which includes Blacksburg city, also immediately shut their doors on news of the shooting.
Photo credit: Flickr user Vagabond by Nature