Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for April 17, 2007

From the New York Times...

32 Shot Dead on Virginia Tech Campus


BLACKSBURG, Va., April 16 — Thirty-two people were killed, along with a gunman, and at least 15 injured in two shooting attacks at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on Monday during three hours of horror and chaos on this sprawling campus.

The police and witnesses said some victims were executed with handguns while other students were hurt jumping from upper-story windows of the classroom building where most of the killings occurred. After the second round of killings, the gunman killed himself, the police said.

It was the deadliest shooting rampage in American history and came nearly eight years to the day after 13 people died at Columbine High School in Colorado at the hands of two disaffected students who then killed themselves.

As of Monday evening, only one of the Virginia Tech victims had been officially identified. Police officials said they were not yet ready to identify the gunman or even say whether one person was behind both attacks, which wreaked devastation on this campus of 36,000 students, faculty members and staff.

Federal law enforcement officials in Washington said the gunman might have been a young Asian man who recently arrived in the United States. A university spokeswoman, Jenn Lazenby, could not confirm that report but said the university was looking into whether two bomb threats at the campus, — one last Friday, the other earlier this month — might be related to the shootings.

The university’s president, Charles W. Steger, expressed his “horror and disbelief and sorrow” at what he described as a tragedy of monumental proportions. But questions were immediately raised about whether university officials had responded adequately to the shootings.

There was a two-hour gap between the first shootings, when two people were killed, and the second, when a gunman stalked through the halls of an engineering building across campus, shooting at professors and students in classrooms and hallways, firing dozens of rounds and killing 30. Officials said he then shot himself so badly in the face that he could not be identified.

The university did not send a campuswide alert until the second attack had begun, even though the gunman in the first had not been apprehended.

Mr. Steger defended the decision not to shut down or evacuate the campus after the first shootings, saying officials had believed the first attack was a self-contained event, which the campus police believed was a “domestic” dispute.

“We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,” he said.

President Bush sent his condolences to the families of the victims and the university community. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and learning,” Mr. Bush said. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community.”

The Virginia Tech attacks started early in the morning, with a call to the police at 7:15 from West Ambler Johnston Hall, a 900-student freshman dormitory, as students were getting ready for classes or were on their way there.

Students said a gunman had gone room to room looking for his ex-girlfriend. He killed two people, a senior identified as Ryan Clark, from Augusta, Ga., and a freshman identified by other students on her floor as Emily Hilscher.

The shootings at the engineering building, Norris Hall, began about 9:45.

[Prof. Liviu Librescu and Prof. Kevin Granata were among the victims there, Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.]

One student described barricading himself in a classroom there with other students and hearing dozens of gunshots nearby. Someone tried to force his way into the classroom and fired two shots through the door that did not hit anyone, the student said.

Scott L. Hendricks, an associate professor of engineering, was in his office on the third floor when he heard 40 to 50 shots from what sounded like the second floor. Mr. Hendricks said he had called 911, but the police were already on the way.

The police surrounded the building and he barricaded the door to his office. After about an hour, the police broke down his door and ordered him to flee.

“When I left, I was one of the last to leave,” Mr. Hendricks said. “I had no idea of the magnitude of the event.”

According to the college newspaper, The Collegiate Times, many of the deaths took place in a German class in Norris Hall.

“He was just a normal looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout type outfit,” one student in the class, Erin Sheehan, told the newspaper. “He wore a tan button-up vest and this black vest — maybe it was for ammo or something.”

Ms. Sheehan added: “I saw bullets hit people’s bodies. There was blood everywhere. People in the class were passed out, I don’t know maybe from shock from the pain. But I was one of only four that made it out of that classroom. The rest were dead or injured.”

Heavily armed local and state police officers swarmed onto campus. Video clips shown on local stations showed them with rifles at the ready as students ran or sought cover and a freakish snow swirled in heavy winds. The police evacuated students and faculty members, taking many of them to local hotels. A Montgomery County school official said all schools throughout the county were being shut down.

Many parents and students questioned the university’s response to the two fatal shootings in Ambler Johnston Hall, suggesting that more aggressive action could have prevented the later and deadlier attack.

“As a parent, I am totally outraged,” said Fran Bernhards of Sterling, Va., whose daughter Kirsten attends Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as it is formally known. “I would like to know why the university did not immediately shut down.”

Kirsten Bernhards, 18, said she and countless other students had no idea that a shooting had occurred when she left her dorm room in O’Shaughnessy Hall shortly before 10 a.m., more than two hours after the first shootings.

“I was leaving for my 10:10 film class,” she said. “I had just locked the door and my neighbor said, ‘Did you check your e-mail?’ ”

The university had, a few minutes earlier, sent out a bulletin warning students about an apparent gunman. But few students seemed to have any sense of urgency.

The university’s first bulletin warned students to be “cautious.” Then, 20 minutes later, at 9:50, a second e-mail warning was sent, saying a gunman was “loose on campus” and telling students to stay in buildings and away from windows. At 10:16, a final message said classes were canceled and advised everyone on campus to stay where they were and lock their doors.

Ms. Bernhards recalled walking toward her class, preoccupied with an upcoming exam and listening to music on her iPod. On the way, she said, she heard loud cracks, and only later concluded that they had been gunshots from the second round of shootings. But even at that point, many students were walking around the campus with little sense of alarm.

It was only when Ms. Bernhards got close to Norris Hall, the second of two buildings where the shootings took place, that she realized something was wrong.

“I looked up and I saw at least 10 guards with assault rifles aiming at the main entrance of Norris,” she recalled.

The Virginia Tech police chief, Wendell Flinchum, defended the university’s decision to keep the campus open after the first shootings, saying the information at the time indicated that it was an isolated event and that the attacker had left campus.

At an evening news conference, Chief Flinchum would not say that the same gunman was responsible for the shootings in the dormitory and the classrooms. He said he was awaiting ballistics tests and other laboratory results until declaring that the same person carried out both attacks.

He said accounts from students at the dorm had led the police to a “person of interest” who knew one or both of the victims there. The police were interviewing him off campus at the time of the shootings at Norris Hall. Chief Flinchum said officers had not arrested the man.

“You can second-guess all day,” he said. “We acted on the best information we had. We can’t have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the year.”

Classroom buildings are not locked and dormitories are open throughout the day but require a key card for entry at night, university officials said.

Chief Flinchum confirmed that police found some of the Norris Hall classroom doors chained shut from the inside, which is not a normal practice. Some of the people hurt there were injured leaping from windows to escape.

Virginia imposes few restrictions on the purchase of handguns and no requirement for any kind of licensing or training. The state does limit handgun purchases to one per month to discourage bulk buying and resale, state officials said.

Once a person had passed the required background check, state law requires that law enforcement officers issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who applies. However, no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of weapons at a Virginia gun show.

“Virginia’s gun laws are some of the weakest state laws in the country,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “And where there have been attempts to make some changes, a backdoor always opens to get around the changes, like the easy access at gun shows.”

Students are not allowed to have guns on the campus.

At Ambler Johnston Hall, where the first shootings took place, many if not most students had left and those who remained stayed close to their rooms by late afternoon.

Mr. Clark, the senior who was shot in the dorm, was a resident adviser who went by the nickname Stack on, was well liked and was a member of the university’s marching band, the Marching Virginians, students said. “He was a cool guy,” said one fourth-floor resident.

The shootings unfolded in an age of instant messaging, cellphone cameras, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook. As the hours passed, students who were locked in their classrooms and dormitories passed on news and rumors.

In one cellphone video shown repeatedly on television networks, the sound of dozens of shots can be heard and students can be seen running from Norris Hall.

The student who made the video, Jamal Albarghouti, a graduate student, said he was already on edge because of two bomb threats on campus last week. “I knew this was something way more serious,” he told CNN.

The shooting was the second in the past year that forced officials to issue an alert to the campus.

In August of 2006, an escaped jail inmate shot and killed a deputy sheriff and an unarmed security guard at a nearby hospital before the police caught him in the woods near the university. The capture ended a manhunt that led to the cancellation of the first day of classes at Virginia Tech and shut down most businesses and municipal buildings in Blacksburg. The defendant, William Morva, is facing capital murder charges.

The atmosphere on campus was desolate and preternaturally quiet by Monday afternoon. Students gathered in small groups, some crying, some talking quietly and others consoling each other.

Up until today, the deadliest campus shooting in United States history was in 1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck of a clock tower and opened fire, killing 16 people before he was shot and killed by the police. In the Columbine High attack in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves.

The single deadliest shooting in the United States came in October 1991, when George Jo Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of a Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., then shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20 others. He shot himself in the head.

Reporting was contributed by Sarah Abruzzese, Edmund L. Andrews, Neela Banerjee, Micah Cohen, Shaila Dewan, Cate Doty, Manny Fernandez, Brenda Goodman, David Johnston, Michael Mather, Marc Santora, Amy Schoenfeld, Archie Tse and Matthew L. Wald.

Talk about an ill-timed and ill-conceived article! On the morning after 32 people are gunned down on a college campus, columnist Jay Mathews is worried about "image"! Talk about your "compassionate conservatives"...

From the Washington Post...

Day of Violence Mars Years of Image Building

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer

Until yesterday, Virginia Tech was on a roll. The university's reputation for academic excellence and old-fashioned fun had been soaring. For Northern Virginians, it had become one of the most sought-after college destinations.

"It is one of those schools that has had a really solid regional reputation but in the last five to seven years has been growing rapidly into a strong national reputation as well," said Robert Franek, author of the Princeton Review guide "The Best 361 Colleges."

But the massacre on Tech's Blacksburg campus in the state's scenic southwest, experts said, might have at least a short-term negative effect on admissions, starting with the thousands of admitted students who have until May 1 to decide whether they will enroll for the fall.

"I took it as a sign," said Sarah Parham, a senior at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas, who had been torn between Tech and a George Mason University honors program before she heard the news. She said she is not sure that Virginia Tech has a security problem but that she is much less likely to go there now.

Experts said campus crimes of this magnitude are so rare that it is hard to predict the effect on a school's reputation. The 1966 massacre of 15 people at the University of Texas at Austin eventually became little more than a curiosity, with prospective students asking campus guides to show them the bullet holes. A murder-suicide just before Harvard University's 1995 graduation had no significant impact on that school's reputation. The same was true of a double homicide on Virginia Tech's first day of school in August.

Norrine Bailey Spencer, Virginia Tech's associate provost and director of undergraduate admissions, said yesterday that she was still too much in shock to have a clear thought on how the massacre would affect the school's reputation. "I do think that these incidents do always prompt us to see if there is anything more that could be done" to prevent them, she said.

Shirley Bloomquist, who used to be head counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County and who advises many students interested in attending Virginia Tech, said that next year, "people are going to be more cautious and more focused on the safety record." But, she said, "I have a lot of confidence that the university will do what it has to do to get through this."

Charles W. Steger, 59, Virginia Tech's president for the past seven years, is an architect with deep Virginia roots whose great-grandfather lost a leg fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. He has spent much of his adult life at Virginia Tech -- first as an undergraduate, then as a professor and the youngest architecture school dean in the country, then as the university's chief fundraiser and, finally, president.

He has been credited with much of the university's growth in prestige and is active in discussions to establish a medical school on campus.

The university's Web site said 21,937 undergraduates were enrolled this school year, in addition to about 6,000 graduate students. Virginia Tech has been accepting about two-thirds of its first-year applicants, although the rate is much lower for its prestigious engineering programs. The university's growing reputation, Spencer said, helped set a record this year of 19,579 applicants for 5,000 freshman class seats.

Franek said Virginia Tech is known for an active undergraduate social scene, nationally competitive football and basketball programs and courses taught by some of the most formidable professors in their fields. The hiking trails and rivers of rural southwestern Virginia are a big draw. So is the magic of being among 60,000 people packed into the football stadium on Saturdays. This year, the Hokies men's basketball team made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Founded in 1872, the school is formally named Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University but is known as Virginia Tech. It is one of the largest public universities in the state.

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Virginia Tech 34th among national public universities, but its engineering school is ranked No. 17.

About 26 percent of students are from out of state; they pay nearly $18,000 a year in tuition, or three times the tuition for in-state students.