BLACKSBURG, Va., April 17 (Reuters) - Police and university authorities faced pressure on Tuesday to explain how a gunman apparently evaded detection after killing two people and then went on to kill 30 others two hours later in America’s worst shooting rampage.
The man, whom police have not identified, killed himself in a classroom at Virginia Tech university after opening fire on students and staff during class in an apparently premeditated massacre on Monday morning.
Police said he appeared to have used chains to lock the doors and prevent terrified victims from escaping the building. Fifteen people were wounded, including those shot and students hurt jumping from windows in a desperate attempt to flee the gunfire.
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,” university president Charles Steger told reporters, explaining the lack of more urgent measures such as evacuating the sprawling grounds or shutting down the whole campus.
Although they said earlier there appeared to be only one gunman, police declined to confirm the two incidents were linked and said there was a male “person of interest” connected with the initial dormitory shooting of a male and female student. That person was not in custody.
Asked whether police had initially pursued and questioned the wrong man, campus police chief Wendell Flinchum declined to comment. “I‘m not saying there’s a gunman on the loose,” 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. It was followed two hours later by more gunfire a half-mile (0.8 km) away at Norris Hall, site of the science and engineering school.
Witnesses said the killer was a black-clad Asian male, about 6 feet (1.8 metres) tall, who went wordlessly from room to room calmly shooting students and staff with at least one handgun.
Television images of terrified students and police dragging bloody victims out of the building revived memories of the infamous Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and is likely to renew heated debate about America’s gun laws.
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 has largely thwarted attempts to tighten controls.
Advocates of gun ownership rights saw Monday’s massacre as evidence of the need to relax gun laws rather than 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.”
FACTBOX-Shootings at U.S. schools [ID:nN16334217]
FACTBOX-School shootings around the world [ID:nN16315150]
Debate over U.S. gun violence [ID:nN16328198]