The worst mass shooting in U.S. history come just before the eighth year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Yesterday, at least 33 people, including the gunman, were killed at the Blacksburg, Virginia campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech as it is popularly known. At least 15 other people were injured.
The murderous rampage of the lone gunman began at a co-ed dorm on campus, West Ambler Johnston, at 7:15 a.m. ET and ended at Norris Hall, an engineering classroom building, hours later. Armed with a 9-mm pistol and a .22-caliber handgun, the killer cold-bloodedly chained the doors of the building so his victims could not escape and police could not easily enter. Then, from reports, he shot as many as 46 people before killing himself. According to witnesses, he never said a word.
Investigators have been as yet unable to positively identify the gunman, who shot himself in the face, and carried no ID or cell phone. Witnesses described a male in his 20s, wearing a maroon cap and a black leather jacket.
Virginia Tech President Charles Stegner said that it was initially believed that the shooting at the dorm, where 2 persons died, was an isolated domestic incident gone too far and that the gunman had fled the campus. Tragically, they were wrong. There were no timely warnings given, per reports, and no lockdown of the campus was ordered. The gunman had all the time to saunter over to the engineering building at the opposite side of the campus and to start another shooting spree more than an hour later.
Guns are no stranger to the Virginia Tech campus. Indeed, it is one of only a handful of U.S. universities with a Corp of Cadets, or a full-time military training component. The 135-year old institution also has a storied military history. Next to the service academies of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point and The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Virginia Tech has the most Congressional Medal of Honor awardees at seven. This is quite an achievement for a civilian university.
My wild guess is that the shooter is white, possibly a student, with an intimate knowledge of guns and a troubled family background involving abuse and violence. The deadliest previous campus shooting in U.S. history took place in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin, where a student, Charles Whitman, climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck of a clock tower with a rifle and opened fire. He killed 16 people before he was gunned down by police. Whitman was white and a U.S. Marine.
There will be the usual hand-wringing and mea culpas, but the American romance with guns will continue. Even as the White House was extending its condolences to those who lost loved ones at Virginia Tech, Dana Perino, a White House spokesman, said that “The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms”. The prevailing gun culture in the U.S., together with the powerful firearms lobby, will ensure that Virginia Tech will not be the last, sad story involving guns in American schools.
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