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Virginia Tech shooting worst in US history

At least 33 killed, including gunman, in separate incidents at two campus locations. University locked down campus after second incident.

By Compiled by Monitor staff / April 17, 2007



America's debate over gun violence and school safety was sure to heat up again after the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech on Monday, in which at least 33 people died. It was the worst gun rampage in US history.

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The killings happened at opposite ends of the Blacksburg campus: first, at about 7:15 a.m., in a dormitory, where at least two were killed; and then, about two hours later and half a mile away, at a science and engineering building. More than two dozen people were also wounded in the attacks.

The gunman himself was found dead at the second shooting location. He was not carrying identification, and authorities had so far not been able to determine his identity.

Also still to be determined: a motive for the shootings.

After the morning rampage, the campus community, which includes more than 25,000 full-time students, tried to come to grips with what had happened.

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."

After the shootings in the dormitory, that building was closed. But officials said they believed the incident was an isolated one, so they did not close the campus or order a lockdown. In addition, there were indications that the gunman had left the campus.

It was only after the second set of shootings that the campus was closed and went into lockdown mode.

With so many fatalities, some students questioned how the university had handled the incident.

"Two cops who were standing outside of McBryde [Hall] told everyone to start running, and we heard a couple gunshots and we started running, and we ran to the library, where we stayed for, like, 2-1/2 hours," Kostayne Link, an interdisciplinary studies major at Virginia Tech, told the Roanoke Times's online edition. "A lot of our friends live in [the dorm where shots were fired], and we heard that a girl got shot and killed in the stairwell…. So everyone was just talking about how they couldn't believe that they let students out at 7:45 to go to their 8 a.m. classes, because someone had just gotten shot and killed 30 minutes before."

Some students told CNN that in recent weeks, the university had received multiple bomb threats – two of which appeared to target the science and engineering school.

Still, the incident didn't have any indication of terrorism, according to a spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security. Such issues, however, would be part of the investigation, the spokesman said.

At the scene, officials from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began collecting shell casings, authorities said, who added that history of the weapon used in the rampage would be traced.

President Bush responded to the incident by offering his prayers to those involved, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman. "He was horrified, and his immediate reaction was one of deep concern for the families of the victims, the victims themselves, the students, the professors, and all of the people of Virginia who have dealt with this shocking incident," Ms. Perino said.

The spokeswoman also characterized Mr. Bush's views on the presence of guns in US society. "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," Perino said.

Before Monday's incident, the worst US shooting rampage took place in 1991 in Killeen, Texas. There, in a cafeteria, George Hennard killed 23 people and shot himself.

The Virginia Tech campus stretches across 2,600 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 160 miles west of Richmond and about 240 miles southwest of Washington. The university's science and engineering school is regarded as a leading technical institute in the United States.

Material from Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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