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Questions remain after worst U.S. shooting rampage

Reuters | April 17, 2007
Andrea Hopkins and Patricia Zengerle

Police and university officials faced pressure on Tuesday to explain how a gunman evaded detection between killing two people and going on to kill 30 others two hours later in the United States' worst shooting rampage.

The man killed himself in a classroom at Virginia Tech university after opening fire on students and staff in an apparently premeditated massacre on Monday morning, leaving the sprawling rural campus reeling with grief and shock. Two people were shot dead earlier in a shooting at a dormitory.

The gunman was an Asian male who was a student at the university and a dormitory resident, Virginia Tech president Charles Steger told CNN. His name was not released.

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"I don't even know if any of my friends were killed, because it was so hard to get in touch with anyone last night," said Brittany Jones, a 19-year-old Tech student from Urbanna, Virginia, early on Tuesday morning.

"Even if they weren't, it wouldn't make it any less sad. You don't expect this to happen at your school. We're just kids," she said, as she watched members of the university's military corps drill before class.

Some of the uniformed cadets were crying and hugging one another on the drill field, which was to host a candlelight vigil in memory of the shooting victims on Tuesday night.

President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were to attend a memorial service at Virginia Tech on Tuesday afternoon.

Television images of terrified students and police dragging out bloody victims revived memories of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and were likely to renew heated debate about America's gun laws.

Police said the gunman appeared to have used chains to lock doors and prevent victims from escaping. Fifteen people were wounded, including those shot and students hurt jumping from windows in a desperate attempt to flee the gunfire.

'SHOOTING TO KILL'

"There were leg, arm, head, face (injuries), the more critical ones actually had head or facial shots. There were chest shots, leg shots, arm shots. He was just shooting to kill," Dr. Joseph Cacioppo, an emergency room physician who treated the wounded, told Reuters.

Many students expressed anger that they were not warned of any danger until more than two hours after the first attack at a dormitory -- and then only in an e-mail from the university.

"We knew that there was a shooting but we thought it was confined to a particular setting," Steger told reporters, explaining the lack of more urgent measures such as evacuating the sprawling grounds or shutting down the whole campus, which has more than 25,000 full-time students.

Although police said earlier there appeared to be only one gunman, they declined to confirm the two incidents were linked. Steger said the investigation was still unfolding but that he did not believe there was a second gunman still at large.

Steger defended campus police from criticism they failed to take adequate safety measures after the first shooting.

"They have worked very professionally and handled this as skillfully as anybody might be able to do it," he said.

The first shooting was reported to campus police at about 7:15 a.m. (1115 GMT) in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a dormitory housing some 900 students. Two hours later, dozens of shots were fired a half-mile away at Norris Hall, site of the science and engineering school.

Witnesses said the killer was a black-clad Asian male who calmly shot students and staff.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims but Israeli media reported one of the dead was Liviu Librescu, an Israeli citizen and engineering professor at the university.

HEATED GUN DEBATE

More than 30,000 people die from gunshot wounds in the United States every year and there are more guns in private hands than in any other country.

But a powerful gun lobby and support for gun ownership rights have largely thwarted attempts to tighten controls.

Advocates of gun ownership rights saw Monday's massacre as evidence of the need to relax gun laws, not tighten them.

"All the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last 10 years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen -- a potential victim -- had a gun," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.

"The latest school shooting at Virginia Tech demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law which leaves the nation's schools at the mercy of madmen."

In an editorial, The New York Times said the shooting was "another horrifying reminder that some of the gravest dangers Americans face come from killers at home armed with guns that are frighteningly easy to obtain."

Some international commentators also said condemned U.S. gun laws.

"The Virginia Polytechnic Institute slaughter forces American society to once again examine itself, its violence, the obsession with guns of part of its population, the troubles of its youth, subjected to the double tyranny of abundance and competition," said France's Le Monde newspaper

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