Virginia Tech tragedy
Va. governor promises full review
By WES ALLISON
Published April 18, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va. - Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine pledged an independent review on Tuesday of how Virginia Tech officials handled the nation's biggest mass shooting, to determine if authorities acted appropriately after the first bodies were found and if they should have acted more directly on earlier warnings that the killer was unstable and possibly dangerous.
Kaine's comments, coming at the end of a day that again brought more questions than answers, stood in marked contrast to earlier statements by his secretary of public safety who had proclaimed that school officials were blameless.
After rushing back to Virginia from a trade mission to Japan, Kaine acknowledged there were questions about whether police should have taken additional steps to protect students after senior Ryan Clark, a resident assistant, and freshman Emily Hilscher were found shot dead in Hilscher's dorm room early Monday morning.
Two hours later, 30 students and teachers were shot dead in a rampage in Norris Hall, an academic building a 10-minute walk across campus.
Most students didn't know about the first shooting until the second one was over.
Asked whether Tech also had appropriately dealt with previous encounters that the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a senior from northern Virginia, had had with campus police, Kaine said that would be studied as well. He plans to appoint a commission of law enforcement experts within 48 hours.
"There will be a very thorough after-action report," Kaine said. "I would view the after-action review to encompass the entire (situation), to learn what we can do differently."
Cho was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when police stormed Norris Hall.
Details on gunman
Although police stopped short Tuesday of saying Cho was also responsible for the pair of killings in the dorm around 7:15 a.m., ballistics tests confirmed that one of his two pistols was used in the shootings at the dorm and the classrooms. Police also found several knives on Cho's body, the New York Times reported.
Cho bought one of the guns at a Roanoke gun shop five weeks ago, paying $571 for the 9mm Glock 19 and box of bullets. The serial number had been filed away, but police traced it with a receipt found in Cho's backpack.
The second gun was a .22-caliber pistol, also bought legally. State Police Superintendent Steve Flaherty said police searched Cho's room in Harper Hall on Tuesday and took mostly papers.
They found no suicide note, but they did confiscate "considerable writings," he said.
Prescription medications said to be related to treatment of psychological problems were found among Cho's effects, but officials did not specify what drugs they were, the New York Times reported.
The Associated Press has reported that Cho, an English major, had completed writing assignments that were so filled with violence that a teacher referred him to mental health counseling.
Flaherty said police are still interviewing a young man who was stopped off-campus shortly after the dorm shooting Monday morning.
The New York Times reported that, after Clark and Hilscher were found dead, campus police filed a search warrant for the home of Karl D. Thornhill, described in Internet memorials as Hilscher's boyfriend.
According to the warrant, Hilscher's roommate had told the police that Thornhill, a student at nearby Radford University, had guns at his townhouse. The roommate told the police that she had recently been at a shooting range with Thornhill, the affidavit said, leading the police to believe he may have been the gunman.
But as they questioned Thornhill, reports came in of widespread shooting at Norris Hall.
Thornhill was not arrested, but he is still considered a "person of interest" who may prove valuable in the investigation, Flaherty said.
State and campus police also left open a number of gaps that continue to bedevil students, faculty and parents: What was the connection between him and Clark or Hilscher, the two found in the dorm room, that led authorities to conclude initially that the first two killings were "domestic in nature?" Why did he choose Norris Hall for his rampage? Why those classrooms?
Flaherty said the scene inside Norris was chaotic, with personal effects strewn throughout the second floor as people tried to flee or hide. Bodies were found in three classrooms and a stairwell.
The identities of about half of Cho's 32 victims have filtered out from family, friends and former high schools. But students said waiting for the full list to emerge adds more anxiety, as they worry about friends they haven't yet heard from.
Many, too, were just beginning to discover their connections to the dead as the names leaked out. For the James Aitken, 20, it was fellow sophomore Ross Alameddine who was a neighbor in the dorms last year.
"When you start hearing names, it hits closer to home," Aitken, of Durham, N.C., said. "As time goes on, it gets more real."
Classes were canceled Tuesday for the rest of the week. But before most students left, thousands donned maroon and orange for a memorial service with President and Laura Bush at Cassell Coliseum.
Students began lining up three hours before the 2 p.m. event. When the 11,000 seats quickly filled, thousands more were sent to football stadium, where the ceremony was broadcast on the big-screen.
"On this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal, but such a day will come," Bush said.
"And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them, and the lives that they hoped to lead."
Among those in the crowd were hundreds of band members in their white, orange and maroon uniforms.
Clark, 22, a straight-A student from Georgia who was killed in the dorm, was a baritone sax player in Virginia Tech's marching band, and one of the band's leaders.
Rather than march, however, the band joined the morose procession and shuffled to the coliseum. They didn't bring their instruments. No one felt like playing.
Times staff writer Lane DeGregory contributed to this report.
Demographics: 87.5 percent under age 45; median resident age 22; 83 percent white, 7.5 percent Asian, 4.5 percent black, 2.3 percent Hispanic
Size of town: 19.5 square miles
Location: southwestern Virginia, 42 miles from Roanoke
Schools: Five elementary (enrollment 1,572) , one middle (801), one high (1,163)
Estimated median household income in 2005: $25,800
Estimated median house/condo value in 2005: $184,700
Downtown: 20 percent of businesses are specialty shops; 44 restaurants; three financial institutions; eight medical offices
[Last modified April 18, 2007, 02:40:31]
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