Covering School Shootings

Monday, April 16, 2007 began as a cold, windy, sunny morning. It was just a normal morning; however, it quickly became a day which will be marked as the most tragic day in Virginia Tech history.

That morning, Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old English major opened fire, taking the lives of 32 students and faculty and injuring 29 more. The shootings became the deadliest mass murder by a single gunman in United States history up to that point.

Cho began his rampage early Monday morning when he entered West Ambler-Johnston Hall. At 7:15 a.m., he shot and killed Emily Hilscher, a freshman animal and poultry sciences major on the fourth floor, and then shot and killed her resident adviser Ryan Clark, a senior majoring in biology, English, and psychology.

Almost two hours later, at 9:01 a.m., Cho posted a multimedia package to NBC News containing 43 photographs, 27 video clips, an audiotape describing his motives, and a manuscript of approximately 1,800-words. He then barricaded the main doors to Norris Hall, located next to Burruss Hall.

At 9:28 a.m., more than two hours after the shooting began, the university administration released an email. “A shooting incident occurred at West Ambler- Johnston earlier this morning,” the e-mail read. “Police are on the scene and are investigating.”

Less than 15 minutes later at 9:40 a.m., Cho opened fire on four second-floor classrooms in Norris Hall, killing 30 students and faculty with a 9-millimeter Glock and a .22 caliber Walther P-22. Cho then took his own life with a gunshot to the head.

Altogether the deceased included 27 students — both undergraduates and graduate — and five faculty members.

At 9:54 a.m. the university administration sent out a second email. It read, “A gunman is loose on campus.  Stay in buildings until further notice.  Stay away from all windows.”

Administrators released a third e-mail at 10:26 a.m. This message read, “Virginia Tech has canceled all classes. Those on campus are asked to remain where there are, lock their doors and stay away from windows. Persons off campus are asked not to come to campus.”

At a press conference held at noon in the Holtzman Alumni Center in the Inn at Virginia Tech, Associate Vice President of University Relations enumerated the victims known at that time:  22 victims dead and 15 wounded.

President George W. Bush spoke to the nation at 4:15 p.m. He said that he would be “praying for the victims and their families and all members of the university community.”

The number of casualties and fatalities escalated over the remainder of the afternoon to 32 dead and 29 wounded,  announced at a 4:30 p.m. press conference. Classes were canceled, campus traffic was restricted and Gov. Tim Kaine declared Virginia to be in a state of emergency.