Tragedy at Tech hits home

Tragedy at Tech hits home

A gunman shot and killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus Monday and injured dozens of others in what is believed to be the worst shooting incident in U.S. history.

The gunman, identified Tuesday morning as Cho Seung-Hui of Centreville, killed himself after the shootings, according to Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty.

Cho, 23, a 2003 graduate of Westfield High School, was a senior majoring in English at Virginia Tech, said Virginia Tech Police chief Wendell Flinchum at a press briefing Tuesday morning. Cho was a legal immigrant from South Korea.

Flinchum said police would not release the names of the victims until all 32 were identified and their families contacted.

However, an unofficial list of the victims include at least five Fairfax County students: Reema Samaha, of Centreville, and Erin Peterson, both Westfield High School graduates; Maxine Turner, a Madison High School graduate; Leslie Sherman, of Springfield, a graduate of West Springfield High School; and Mary Read, of Annandale, a graduate of Annandale High School.

“This is a process that cannot take place in haste, so it will take several days,” Chief Medical Examiner Marcella F. Fierro said Tuesday morning of the ongoing process to identify victims. “We will work as carefully and quickly and efficiently as we can.”

Gov. Tim Kaine, returning from a planned economic development trip to Asia, declared a state of emergency in Virginia Monday afternoon to deal with the aftermath of the shootings.

“It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale,” Kaine said in a release.

Fairfax County Public Schools stationed additional officers around some schools to conduct further investigations related to the Virginia Tech shootings. Psychologists and social workers were also made available to aid families and friends of those killed in the shooting. 

Police believe Cho was responsible for both shooting incidents on the Blacksburg campus Monday morning.

An initial 911 call was made around 7:15 a.m. to report gunshots in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory, where two people were killed.

Flaherty said police were interviewing an acquaintance of a female victim when more shooting began across campus at Norris Hall, where engineering classes are held, killing 30 people and injuring others.

Flaherty said Norris Hall was “a horrific crime scene,” with victims found in at least four classrooms and a stairwell and personal effects strewn about the second floor.

“Dozens and dozens” of state and local investigators are continuing to work on the case, Flaherty said.

Investigators have already linked both shootings with ballistics evidence that demonstrates that the same gun was used in both shootings, Flaherty said. However, police are still not certain that Cho did not have an accomplice. 

Community, state react
Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam called the incident “a community tragedy.”

“This is something we will never get over,” he said.

Even as police and rescue workers swarmed the Virginia Tech campus in reaction to Monday morning’s shootings, many students had no idea what was going on or the extent of the tragedy.

Though he was not in either of the buildings where the shootings occurred, Dan Chalfant, a senior from Lynchburg, said mayhem erupted as he watched from nearby.

“Things started getting crazy,” Chalfant said. “People were rushing to get out of there.”

Police who had been directing traffic started yelling for onlookers to get inside, Chalfant said. He then spoke with one student who had been inside the classroom where the majority of the shootings occurred.

“He was pretty messed up,” Chalfant said. “He wasn’t shot. He said he got under his desk and pretended he was dead. He was one of the only ones who didn’t get shot. He was just happy, in shock, that he wasn’t dead.”

The incident is a bookend to a school year that began with a shooting in August when William Marvo, an escaped robbery suspect, shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy near the campus.

“I can’t believe this is happening again to our campus in the same academic year,” said Clifton resident Alyssa Peltier, a freshman at Virginia Tech. “On the first day of classes, we were shocked to hear about Marvo. But in an event of this magnitude, we as students were definitely not prepared for it. I am not sure if our campus security was prepared for it either.”

For Elena Sorbi, cold weather kept her home.

“I was on my way to class,” Sorbi, 21, said. “I decided not to go at the last minute because it was so cold.”

The bus she normally takes to her 8 a.m. class would have dropped her off next to Norris Hall, the engineering building where most of the slayings occurred.

Immediately after Sorbi got back into bed, she said one of her roommates burst into the room and informed her of the shootings.

Eric Connolly, a photographer for the university’s Collegiate Times newspaper, said he and other staff members were locked into the building on campus where they had been during and after the shootings. Photographs from staff members and students were beginning to come into the office via e-mail, he said.

“They should have canceled classes first thing when the first shooting happened,” Connolly said.

Clifton resident Ann Whitehead’s son, Thomas, called her to say he was running to take cover in his dormitory.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like for some of these parents who find out that it’s their kids who have died,” Whitehead said.

The Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna held a prayer service Monday evening that was open to all members of the community. Father Rick Lord said he wanted to provide a place for the community to reflect on how to help people affected by the tragedy.

We must not allow young people who are cut off in the prime of life to die in vain, Lord said. Love is stronger than death.

Several people who attended the service said they knew someone affected by the shooting.

Beth Wilson, a special education teacher at Marshall High School and a Vienna resident, attended the service because two of her daughter’s friends were wounded.

It’s the worst thing in the world to lose a child, she said.

Mere Ditch Karny said her brother was near the shooter and that she came to the service thankful he survived unscathed.

It’s scary to think he was that close, said Karny, a junior at Madison High School.  

Times staff writers Claire Compton, John Hickey, Gregg MacDonald and Layla Wilder contributed to this report.