Killer walked among them

Virginia Tech senior is identified as gunman as stricken campus mourns

Tears, Hokie spirit fill memorial service

Virginia Tech Shootings

April 18, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Laura Vozzella | Gadi Dechter and Laura Vozzella,Sun reporters

The victims of Monday's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech ranged from a professor who had survived the Holocaust to the most typical of undergraduates. But the apparent killer, students learned yesterday, was anything but typical - a senior who instructors and classmates believed was disturbed.

As new details emerged about 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui and Monday's shooting attacks in Blacksburg, Va., a stricken campus gathered yesterday to grieve after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, joined thousands of orange-and-maroon clad mourners in the school's coliseum for an afternoon service filled with tears and a defiant display of Hokie spirit.

"People who have never met you are praying for you. There's a power in these prayers, real power," Bush said. "As the Scriptures tell us, don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good."

Earlier, local and state police officials confirmed what many on this campus of more than 26,000 students had feared - that the killer was one of their own.

Cho's roommates said he was a recluse, a mystery even to those who lived with him. Witnesses to his shooting rampage described a stone-faced, methodical murderer.

Police said the native of South Korea, who was a legal U.S. resident, began his murderous rampage at 7:15 a.m. Monday, fatally shooting 19-year-old freshman Emily Jane Hilscher and resident adviser Ryan Clark, 22, in an 895-bed residence tower.

More than two hours later, Cho emerged in a classroom building across the sprawling campus, where he fatally shot 30 other people before committing suicide, authorities said.

`Horrific scene'

"Victims were found in at least four classrooms, as well as in a stairwell," said Virginia State Police Col. Steve Flaherty, describing a "horrific crime scene."

According to court papers, police found a "bomb threat" note - directed at engineering school buildings - near the victims in the classroom building. In recent weeks, Virginia Tech was the target of two other bomb threats, and investigators have not determined whether Cho is linked to those.

Most of the surviving victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds, according to Dr. David Stoeckle, chief of staff at Montgomery Regional Hospital, where many of the injured were treated.

Four shooting victims arrived at the hospital with life-threatening injuries, Stoeckle said in a televised news briefing, but all were in stable condition.

Among the injured was Justin Klein, a 2004 Catonsville High School graduate, according to his roommate, Greg Jablonski. He said Klein was recovering from three gunshot wounds, two to the leg and one to the elbow.

"He's going to be fine," said Jablonski, who visited Klein in the hospital. "He was doing some therapy today, and I heard he was going to maybe be released tomorrow."

Virginia Tech police said a 9 mm Glock handgun and a .22-caliber Walther handgun were recovered from the classroom building.

Five weeks ago, Cho walked into Roanoke Firearms, 20 miles from campus, and bought a Glock Model 19, as well as 50 rounds of "cheap ammo," according to store owner John Markell.

He charged the $571 purchase to a credit card and provided three forms of identification necessary for a legal purchase in Virginia, Markell said.

Ballistic tests by federal authorities at a Maryland lab confirmed that one of the weapons was used in both shootings, campus police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.

But Flaherty, of the state police, said authorities still could not conclusively determine that Cho was the only gunman.

"It's certainly reasonable for us to assume that Cho was the shooter in both places," Flaherty said, adding that police have uncovered no evidence of an accomplice to the crimes.

Fear of copycats

Fears of copycat attacks led to lockdowns and evacuations at universities in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee and two public schools in Louisiana, the Associated Press reported.

Though names of the shooting victims began to trickle out yesterday, the state's medical examiner said she will not identify the deceased until next of kin have been notified.

"This is a process that cannot take place in haste," said Marcella Fierro. "So this will take place in several days."

Virginia's public safety secretary, John Marshall, defended the university's response to the shootings.

University President Charles W. Steger and campus police "made the right decision based on the best information they had available at the time," Marshall said.

Many students and parents have angrily denounced the school's failure to alert the campus community to the early-morning killings until more than two hours later - about 20 minutes before the second, deadlier rampage began.

As Cho began firing off rounds in Norris Hall, university police were interviewing a "person of interest" in the first shooting, Flinchum said yesterday.

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