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Virginia Tech shootings spark questions, debate

The massacre has many students questioning why they weren't better informed; debate of American gun laws flares up.

By Jesse Nunes / April 17, 2007

In the aftermath of Monday's shootings at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), in which at least 33 people died including the gunman, questions and anger remain concerning the school's reaction and communication during the crisis, and debate has ensued over America's gun laws and perceived culture of violence.

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The Associated Press reports that after two people were killed in a 7:15 a.m. shooting at a campus dormitory, students weren't warned officially about any danger on the campus until 9:26 a.m., when the school sent an e-mail saying there had been a shooting and that police were investigating. By then, however, a second attack had begun in an academic building, where most of the day's carnage took place. CNN reports that authorities initially thought the first shooting was an "isolated incident," and that they had a "person of interest" they were questioning.

"I don't think anyone could have predicted that another event was going to take place two hours later," [Virginia Tech university president Charles] Steger said, adding that it would've been difficult to warn every student because most were off campus at the time.

Bloomberg reports that police believed the shooter had left the campus grounds after the first shooting. Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum said "You can second guess all day. We acted on the best information we had."

However, many students felt that the university didn't do enough to quickly warn them of the gravity of the situation. ABC News reports that students questioned the school's decision not to cancel classes immediately after learning of the first shootings.

"I have no idea why they didn't cancel classes," said [freshman Alexandra] Mengel. "If I had known of the urgency, I would have been more cautious. You would think that when a killer is on the loose, that there would have been more warning." Some students who received the e-mails didn't realize the gravity of the situation.
"I got the e-mails, but my impression was it was [a] prank or nothing serious, hadn't heard anyone was apprehended or actual bombs were found," said Josh Wargo, an engineering student at the school.

The Baltimore Sun reports that because more than half of the 25,000 Virginia Tech students live off campus, it was difficult for school officials to determine whether students should have been secured in dormitories or in classroom buildings. "The question is, where do you lock them down," President Steger said at a news conference. "It takes 20 minutes to walk from some parts of campus to the classroom, so people are already in transit."