Aug. 4, 2011 — -- Virginia Tech police have lifted a campus lockdown today more than five hours after students reported seeing a man with a gun on the school's grounds.
Three teens attending a "Higher Achievement" camp at the school reported seeing a man holding what may have been a handgun around 9:09 a.m. No other witnesses or the police have been able to track the man down.
Officials at the campus, the site of the worst campus shooting in U.S. history in 2007, said that they felt issuing the alert was necessary.
"Without further evidence to indicate otherwise, we had a report form students...that they thought they might have seen someone with a gun.. In this day and age, we don't think we had any other choice than to issue a campus alert," said Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker.
Classes on the Blacksburg, Va., campus were cancelled for the rest of the day.
"There will continue to be a large police presence on campus today. Police have not received nor discovered additional information about a person possibly carrying a weapon beyond that reported this morning," the university posted on its web site.
Virginia Tech Campus Locked Down for More Than Five Hours
The campus alert sent the university into lockdown.
Police released a sketch of the possible gunman who is described as 6-feet tall and has light brown hair. He was wearing a blue and white striped shirt, gray shorts and brown sandals, police said. He does not have facial hair or glasses. Police said that the campers said the man was shielding the gun with a cloth.
Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said that the man was not pointing or shooting the weapon.
Virginia Tech officials alerted students through text messages, emails and postings on the campus web site.
"This campus experienced something terrible four years ago," Hincker said at a press conference earlier today. "Strictly as an abundance of caution we are going to keep the campus under alert status and ask people to stay indoors."
The lockdown was lifted at 2:42 p.m.
The university's campus alert system drew criticism in 2007 when student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students and faculty, along with himself. He wounded 25 others in the shooting rampage.
Cho, a 23-year-old English major, had alarmed professors with his writings and was ordered to see a university psychologist.
His rampage on April 16, 2007 spanned hours and involved two separate attacks. Prior to the rampage, he'd mailed a multimedia manifesto of letters, pictures and video to NBC News detailing his violent plans and delusional thinking.
The shooting sparked a debate about the university's system to alert students. Earlier this year, Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 for violating a federal law by waiting too long to notify students that a gunman was on the campus during the 2007 shooting.
Today, Hincker said that the university and the public lives in a "new era."
"People expect and they want to know exactly what's happening, so you really need to communicate first and investigate later," Hincker said.