"I Thought, 'The Next Shot Is for Me'"

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Alan Kim / The Roanoke Times / AP

A victim is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, April 16, 2007. At least 31 people were killed in a shooting rampage on the campus

Clay Violand, a 20-year-old junior from Potomac, Maryland, is an international studies major with a music minor. He was in a French class on Monday morning in Norris Hall when all hell broke loose. He provided TIME with this account of Cho Seung-Hui's rampage.

About halfway through class we heard the noises. Someone said something like, "It's probably just construction." The noises didn't stop. The teacher stiffened up and said "That's not what I think it is, is it?" That's when I remember going into panic. I pointed at the teacher and said, "put that desk in front of the door, now." She did it, and then said "someone call 911." Colin to my right stood up and called 911. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

At that point, the door was nudged open aggressively, and I saw a gun emerge into view. It was surreal. Following the gun was a man. He was Asian and had a lot of ammunition and gun gear on — like a big utility belt or something for ammo. That was the only glimpse I got. I quickly dove under a desk — that was the desk I chose to die under. He then began methodically and calmly shooting people down. It sounded rhythmic — like he took his time in between each shot and kept up the pace, moving from person to person. After every shot I thought, "OK, the next one is me." Shot after shot went off and I never felt anything. I played dead and tried to look as lifeless as possible. Sometimes after a shot, I would hear a quick moan, or a slow one, or a grunt, or a quiet, reserved yell from one of the girls.

After some time (I couldn't tell you if it was 5 minutes or an hour), he left. The room was silent except for the haunting sound of moans, some quiet crying, and someone muttering "it's OK, it's going to be OK. They will be here soon." I [propped] my head up just enough to mutter in a harsh whisper, "play dead. If he thinks you're dead then he won't kill you."

Shortly after, the gunman returned. My head was down the whole time. I continued to play dead. He began unloading what it seemed like a second round into everyone again — it had to be the same people. There were way more gunshots than there were people in that room. I think I heard him reload maybe three times. I think it was the sound of reloading — they were long pauses. He continued to shoot everyone over and over. After every shot I braced myself for the next, thinking, "This one is for me." I remember having stray thoughts,like "I wonder what a gun wound feels like. I hope it doesn't hurt. I wonder if I'll die slow or fast." I had come to accept my death, but the fear was still there. I was terrified that my parents weren't going to be able to go on after I was gone. I kept thinking about my parents. There was a girl in front of me — I didn't know her well. I didn't know her name. We kept eye contact from time to time. She was brave. I don't think she cried. We just stared at each other under the desks.

When the gunman finally left, I heard the police barge in the hallway doors and yell "get down! Get down!" The cops pounded on the door and asked someone to open it. I think eventually they just came in and told us to walk out if we could. I got up and put my hands up. Just me and that one girl next to me got up. She had a gunshot wound — I hope she is OK. I think she is — she was walking. I am so proud of her for staying calm. She would have been the last person I had made eye contact with on this earth if I had died.