The day of terror at the Virginia Polytechnic and State University in Blacksburg began at about 7:15 a.m. with the killing of a woman student and a male resident assistant on the fourth floor of a dormitory on campus. Kristen Bensley, a freshman who lived below the floor where the shooting occurred, said, "There were rumors going on about [the assailant] was fighting with his girlfriend or something of that nature." Bensley adds that only residents can get into the building with a specific "passport," that is a pass card that one has to swipe in order to open doors before 10 a.m. The question is, did someone let then let the gunman in? Or did he have a pass card? Did that mean he was a resident of the dorm? And if so, how did he keep so much ammunition go undiscovered? Two weapons have reportedly been recovered, a 22 caliber and a 9 mm.
Several other questions remain unanswered. At one point, the two hour gap between two fatal incidents on Monday led to theorizing that more than one gunman may be involved. The gunman who shot and killed at least 30 people at Norris Hall shortly after 9 a.m. was described by some sources as an Asian man. He apparently killed himself at the end of the rampage, shooting off half of his face and thus preventing law enforcement officers from making an immediate identification. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that a 24-year old student from China is person of interest in the case. He arrived in San Francisco in August on a visa issued in Shanghai. According to the Sun-Times, bomb threats that Virginia Tech experienced last month may have been attempts to test campus security. By mid-morning, however, reports began surfacing that a permanent resident of South Korean nationality was a suspect.
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Inside Cho Seung Hui's Dorm
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The Virginia Tech Victims
A Partial Biographical List of The Dead
Fatal Shootings at Colleges and Schools
Night Falls on Virginia Tech
Scenes From the Shooting
Killings at Va. Tech
Virginia Tech's Website
The latest information from the campus
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A List of Confirmed Dead
From the TIME Archive
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Columbine Report: More Details Than Answers
It has been an unreal period of time for the students. When school authorities finally sent out alerts about the situation, the word spread around campus quickly and electronically. Jason Piatt, a junior, was at McBride hall right next to Norris and couldn't get out of the building. "So," he says, "We're trying to figure out what was going on. One kid had a PDA [personal digital assistant] and got email and we found out there had been a shooting on the campus and they were investigating it. Then we got on our cell phones and we kind of picked it up live as it came to us in news feeds." Others saw the police activity and were mystified. Dustin Lynch, a sophomore, was on the drill field. , an open meadow in the center of the Virginia Tech campus, in front of Norris at about 9:15 when he saw "an unbelievable amount of police force speeding around… from all different directions. Ambulance and police cars met at Norris Hall and surrounded it." Then, he says, "after several minutes different groups of students were running out with their hands raised. About 50 students at a time." And then the police and emergency workers started bringing the bodies out.
It has been a surreal time for the students. Brandon Stiltner, a senior aerospace engineering student, and Jonathan Hess, a senior mechanical engineer, were watching TV all day but by noon they'd had enough. "We decided we needed to do something," Stiltner said. "We were worthless sitting around." So they took their six-foot Virginia Tech sign off the wall and logged into Facebook. Within the next few hours 100 people replied to their e-mail request for a vigil.
By 8 p.m. hundreds of students began filing down the steps of the War Memorial Chapel toward the drill field. Propped against a tree with a box of unlit candles at its base, the sign wavered in the wind. Clusters of two and three students stood together in silence. Slowly they began to line up to sign the board. ‘You are in our prayers. We hurt for you. We will remember you forever,' signed one mourner in silver marker. "I'm still really in disbelief," says Stiltner. The shock of the day's shootings sank in, Hess said, as he carried the sign across campus for the vigil. "It hit me," Hess said, "to know that it was in these buildings." The media crews that swarmed campus were also surreal to Hess and Stiltner. "We could look out our window and see exactly what's on TV," Stiltner says. He watched his sign crowded with initials and prayers, awaiting the names of the victims. He shuddered. "I hope I don't have any nasty surprises."