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Anger over US shooting warnings

BBC | April 17, 2007

Survivors of the worst shooting rampage in US history have accused authorities of not acting quickly enough to alert people a gunman was on the loose.

The unidentified gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech university, before committing suicide.

There were two attacks two hours apart, with 30 people shot dead in the second.

Students have asked why the campus was not locked down, but officials defended their actions, saying they could not have foreseen the second incident.

President George W Bush said the US was "shocked and saddened" by the attack at the university, home to 26,000 students, in the town of Blacksburg.

Many unanswered questions remain about the attacks.

Police have still not said for sure that the two attacks were linked. They have confirmed that two handguns were recovered.

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They say they have a preliminary ID of the dead gunman but have not released it. There is no clue yet as to any motive.

Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum also refused to rule out the possibility of a co-conspirator.

"I'm not saying there is someone out there, and I'm not saying there is someone who is not," he said.

Police have also not said whether the gunman was a student but witnesses said he seemed to know a lot about the buildings, chaining doors to stop students escaping.

One witness, Erin Sheehan, described him as "a little bit under six-feet tall, young looking, Asian, dressed sort of strangely, almost like a boy scout, very short-sleeved light, tan shirt and some sort of ammo vest with black over it".

Some students complained angrily that they had received no warning from the university until an e-mail more than two hours after the first incident at 0715 (1215 GMT).

The message read: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows."

Two more e-mails followed, at 1016 and 1052, after the second shooting was over.

Student Billy Bason, 18, said: "I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident."

Graduate student Erin Mabry said: "There was a two-hour gap between the two incidents. There is no excuse for a two-hour time gap with no information."

But Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said: "We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur.

"We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it."

Chief Flinchum said emergency services had received a call at 0715 alerting them to a shooting at a dormitory - West Ambler Johnston Hall.

The second shooting was at the engineering building, Norris Hall, nearly half a mile (800 metres) away.

Police said they thought the first incident was isolated and "domestic" and that the gunman had left the campus.

'Gunman reloaded'

Eyewitnesses said some students jumped from classroom windows to escape the gunfire, which triggered panic on campus.

Some of those inside the university buildings were using the internet to try to glean information about what was happening and many e-mailed the BBC News website.

Nikolas Macko described how his class in Norris Hall barricaded a door against the gunman.

"The shooter tried to open the door, but my classmates kept it well shut, as they held the table against it from floor level.

"The shooter shot the door twice at chest level, which resulted in two holes in the door, one of which hit the podium in the front of the class room and the other continued out the window. At this point he reloaded, shot the door again - this shot did not penetrate - and moved on to the other classrooms," Mr Macko said.

The university was closed on Tuesday, and officials said counsellors were on site for students.

The names of the victims have not been officially released but information has been trickling out and students are beginning to learn of the deaths of their friends.

The deadliest mass US shooting prior to the Virginia attack was in Texas in 1991 when George Hennard killed 23 people and himself in a cafeteria.

The US also has a history of deadly school shootings.

In 1966, the day after killing his wife and mother, gunman Charles Whitman opened fire from a tower on the campus of the University of Texas killing 14 people and injuring 31 others.

In 1999 two teenagers at Columbine High School in Colorado killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

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