Police Cite Person of Interest in Va. Tech Dorm Killing; Dead Gunman Yet to Be ID'd


April 16, 2007 — -- At least 33 people are dead in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

In a Tuesday morning interview with "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer, Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said the shooter who killed himself was a student of Asian descent who resided in a Virginia Tech dormitory. He referred to the man as "the second shooter" and said they are still investigating the possibility of two shooters.

"Well there's one bit of information, that it appears that the second shooter was a resident in a dormitory," he said.

"There may be others, we just don't know."

In a press conference on Monday night, Steger gave a detailed timeline of the morning's tragic events.

He said a 911 call reporting a shooting at a dormitory was made at approximately 7:15 a.m. While police were trying to assess what they first believed was a domestic dispute, they received a second 911 call, nearly two and a half hours later, that reported shootings on the opposite side of campus. According to the Virginia Police Chief Wendell Flinchum, officials have not definitively linked the two shootings.

Campus police have identified a person of interest who is not currently in police custody. Police say the person of interest is a male who knew the female killed in the double homicide at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory.

Two guns were recovered, a 9 mm pistol and a .22-caliber pistol.

Flinchum said they have ruled out the possibility of a murder-suicide in the first shooting, and that investigators have a preliminary identification of the shooter involved in the Norris Hall shooting. The police will not release the identity at this time.

When asked to describe the scene at Norris Hall, where the second shooting took place, Flinchum called it, "one of the worst things I've seen in my life."

While Flinchum would not name any of the victims, he did say university staff members were among the dead.

The student newspaper's Web site, collegiatetimes.com, printed a list of 14 faculty and staff that were confirmed dead, including four faculty members and 10 students.

Some students question why administrators did not cancel classes after the first shooting, and why it took more than two hours to inform the university community via e-mail about the shootings.

According to Steger, the administration locked down West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory after the first shooting. But classes weren't canceled because the shooting was believed to be tied to a domestic dispute and campus police believed the shooter had left the campus.

"Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary in learning," President Bush said from the White House. "When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community."

Law enforcement officials told ABC News they believed there was a single gunman who fired at least two 9mm semi-automatic pistols. They said he might have been wearing a bulletproof vest, and that he killed himself after opening fire on his victims.

It is unknown at this time if the guns had standard or extended clips, which can fire as many as 30 shots before the gun has to be reloaded.

No identification was found on the gunman's body, police said. Eyewitnesses described him as an Asian male about 6 feet tall. He apparently shot himself in the head after the killings; part of his face was missing when his body was found.

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," said Virginia Tech's Steger.

It is also not clear what happened between the two shootings -- a gap of two hours. The buildings where they happened are about half a mile apart, a distance one can walk in about 10 minutes, according to Alex Mengel, a freshman at the school.

The first e-mail to students about the first shooting went out at 9:24 a.m., according to copies forwarded to ABC News. By then the shootings were over.

A count by ABC News showed that at least 28 people had been admitted to hospitals.

Eighteen were sent to Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg. Four others went to Lewis Gale Medical Center in Salem, Va., and six more to hospitals operated by the Carilion Hospital System.

It was too windy to evacuate the injured by helicopter, so the victims were all sent to hospitals by ambulance. Hospital spokespeople said there is currently not a pressing need for additional blood donations.

Engineering student Josh Wargo, a junior at Virginia Tech, said he was sitting in class when students began to hear "loud banging noises" followed by screaming. He said many students began to jump out of a window two stories above ground level.

"We heard almost 40 or 50 shots," Wargo told ABC News. "They were going on from the time we heard them and [people] jumped out the window until almost two minutes later."

"When I landed, I was in a daze, standing outside of the building," Wargo said. "Then I heard shots going through glass -- that's when it hit me that I had to get out of there."

Gina Om, another Virginia Tech junior, was at the Montgomery Regional Hospital to be with a friend who had been shot.

"It's kind of surreal right now," Om said. "I've always thought Virginia Tech was very safe … one of the reasons why my mom liked this school."

Michelle Billman, general manager of the student radio station WUVT, told ABC News that someone in her class got a text message around 9:50 a.m. indicating that something was going on.

"We were told to stay in the building, away from the windows," Billman said, describing a frantic scene. "It really wasn't organized. Almost everyone else just left, and while the kids were running out, people said, 'Come back, come back.'"

Families trying to find their children have been directed by the university to the Inn at Virginia Tech.

But many students were looking online for information about schoolmates. Some of them established a "wall" at Facebook.com to share what they knew; while others turned to MySpace.com.

"Many of us are all worried about our friends, so lets do this. If you are okay! Please update your status in facebook to say something like 'i'm okay,'" wrote a person on Facebook who identified himself as Carlos "Mohawk Monday" Fernandez.

The campus Web system was quickly overwhelmed by e-mail traffic and concerned online visitors after news of the shootings broke. Students said they could not get on Virginia Tech's site for information.

ABC News has confirmed that there were two separate bomb threats last week at Virginia Tech.

The first was directed at Torgersen Hall, a classroom and laboratory building, while the second was directed at multiple engineering buildings. Students and staff were evacuated, and the university sent out e-mails across campus, offering a $5,000 reward for information about the threats.

"I got the e-mails, but my impression was it was prank or nothing serious," said Wargo, describing the Blacksburg campus as "pretty peaceful."

Virginia Tech -- formally known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University -- is located in the western end of the state near the borders of West Virginia and Tennessee. It has more than 25,000 full-time students. Its campus, which spreads over 2,600 acres, has more than 100 buildings.

The number of dead is almost twice as high as the previous record for a mass shooting on an American college campus. That took place at the University of Texas at Austin on Aug. 1, 1966, when a gunman named Charles Whitman opened fire from the 28th floor of a campus tower. Whitman killed 16 and injured 31.

"It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale," said Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in a statement. "Our prayers are with the families and friends of these victims, and members of the extended Virginia Tech community."