After a police officer and an unidentified bystander were shot and killed during a routine traffic stop at Virginia Tech, local and federal law enforcement agents are joining forces to track down the suspect. The university's website confirmed the incident in a bulletin and put the campus on alert just before 1 p.m. on Thursday, instructing everyone to "seek shelter or stay where you are," as the suspect has not been captured.
According to Virginia Tech's campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times, the shooting happened outside of McComas Hall in the Coliseum parking lot. On Twitter, the university describes the suspect "as [a] white male, gray sweat pants, gray hat w/neon green brim, maroon hoodie and backpack." A few minutes later, it tweeted, "A police officer has been shot. A potential second victim is reported at the Cage lot." Lerone Graham with the The Roanoke Times posted a photo of the crime scene, showing the parking lot taped off and one body. The story is developing, and we'll update this post as we learn more.
Update (5:15 p.m.): The press conference shed some light on what exactly happened during the shooting -- but it also didn't provide total clarity. Larry Hincker, associate vice president for Virginia Tech relations, opened the meeting saying, sadly, "I'm exceedingly sorry and upset that we have to meet again under these circumstances." Police tiptoed around the details, making it clear that a number of details needed to be confirmed and the investigation was on-going. We've done our best to reconstruct the timeline of events.
Officials said that a four-year-veteran Virginia Tech Police officer conducted a "routine traffic stop," and after speaking to the driver of the car returned to his cruiser. Soon thereafter, the suspect approached the officer, shot him and fled towards a parking lot known on campus as "the Cage." Witnesses called the police around this time, approximately 12:30 p.m., and officers pursued the victim towards the cage. In the vicinity of the Cage, deputy chief of police at Virginia Tech Gene Deisinger said, "An officer saw person chose to make contact with them, by the time they turned around that subject was deceased." The person was "a white male, deceased from a gunshot," Deisinger added later. The suspected shooter was also a white male, but police wouldn't comment on whether the person found deceased matched the description. "Following the second incident, there were no further sightings or concerns reported to the Virginia Tech police," Deisinger said.
What everyone's wondering -- and NBC News reported earlier -- is whether the second person found dead was the shooter. There are two possibilities: 1) the shooter committed suicide in the Cage, or 2) the shooter killed another person in the Cage, fled and police haven't located him. Officials confirmed that police did not shoot the second victim. When asked if police were still looking for the suspect, Deisinger said, "I really can't give you a specific answer I think investigators feel confident that we've located a person… but you can kind of read between the lines." When asked if investigators were "leaning towards a murder-suicide" as an explanation, Deisinger said, "[I] can't say if they're leaning towards a murder-suicide." But reading between the lines, it does appear to have been a murder-suicide. The case is not considered closed, but as one official said during of the vague details offered during the presser, "It truly is a matter of confirmation."
Update (4:33 p.m.): The university just lifted the lockdown, giving the all clear. "Law enforcement agencies have determined there is no longer an active threat or need to secure in place. Resume normal activities," tweeted Virginia Tech News. The news emerged around the same time that officials revealed that a weapon had been recovered in the parking lot where the second victim, now identified as a male, was killed. While nothing has been completely confirmed, it appears the worst is over. Watch the press conference below:
Update (4:27 p.m.): NBC News reports, "Law enforcement officials tell NBC News they believe the second shooting victim at Virginia Tech University was the man who shot and killed the campus police officer." More details are expected any moment, when the press conference begins.
Update (4:15 p.m.): As everyone awaits a press conference scheduled for 4:30, more details are emerging about the incident, including this eye-witness account from a student of police trying to revive the fallen officer whose face "was covered in blood."
Update (3:25 p.m.): For now, things appear calm on Virginia Tech's campus. The university reports that "there are no new substantiated reports of suspicious activity or criminal activity" however they still don't know the identity or the whereabouts of the shooter. Meanwhile, the administration has postponed final exams that had been scheduled for Friday.
On the right is a photo posted on Twitter by Evan Luzi, who wrote "Friend on Facebook posted this picture from Virginia Tech inside Torgersen hall.. Scary"
Update (2:55 p.m.): The gunman remains at large as police track "several white males on campus who may fit description." In a press conference, the school confirmed once again that two people had been shot and killed, including one police officer.
Meanwhile, various reports indicate that the shooting may have been premeditated, according to the timing of the event. Jim Sciutto from ABC tweeted, "Senior VA Tech cops and university officials were all in DC today appealing fine for handling of 07 shooting," leading one of his followers to suggest, "So the killer at VA Tech took advantage of the day when the schools people were in DC." At the very least, it's a haunting coincidence.
Update (2:34 p.m.): The latest from Virginia Tech News -- "Reports of recent sounds ID'd as gunshots and suspicious activity on campus have been investigated and are unfounded. Stay where you are."
Update (2:23 p.m.): With unconfirmed reports that Montgomery County Schools are on lockdown and the FBI, the situation appears to be escalating. So far, we only know of one gunman. Meanwhile, some photos of the action are making their way onto Flickr. From The Collegiate Times's photo editor, Daniel Lin:
Update (2:20 p.m.): We've learned some more details of what it's like on Virginia Tech's campus right now. Apparently, there are "sirens sounding constantly" and "police dogs now involved." Though they've been evacuated from their office The Collegiate Times is covering the story on Twitter, most recently saying there are "many conflicting reports about where suspect may be." As the rest of the campus remains on lockdown, the SWAT team has been called in:
Update (2:04 p.m.): Police are now surrounding Squires Student Center. The two latest tweets from The Collegtiate Times are scary:
- "There are multiple reports of shots and police activity, but most pressing appears to be in Squires"
- "Students being moved to secure room is Squires Student Center. The Collegiate Times has been evacuated from its office, still has Internet."
Update (1:58 p.m.): The Virginia Tech news service just published a full report detailing the events of the shooting. An excerpt:
BLACKSBURG, Va., Dec. 8, 2011 – Shortly after noon today, a Virginia Tech police officer stopped a vehicle on campus during a routine traffic stop in the Coliseum parking lot near McComas Hall
During the traffic stop, the officer was shot and killed. There were witnesses to this shooting.
Witnesses reported to police the shooter fled on foot heading toward the Cage, a parking lot near Duck Pond Drive. At that parking lot, a second person was found. That person is also deceased.
Update (1:49 p.m.): "Students are reporting shots near Torgersen Hall," The Collegiate Times now reports. Apparently the person who surrendered was not put under arrest, and "Police are emptying the Performance Arts building."
Update (1:43 p.m.): Again from The Collegiate Times: "Person who surrendered was wearing gray shirt and jeans. Unsure if he was suspect." The paper's editor-in-chief Zach Crizer also reports that another suspect is "apparently at large."
Update (1:40 p.m.): The Collegiate Times now reports that the "suspect being apprehended on steps of performing arts building on College Ave."
Update (1:36 p.m.): The suspect is still at large, and the local Blacksburg Transit service is suspended. It goes without saying that Seung Hui Cho's 2007 shooting rampage that killed 32 people, the worst by a single gunman in American history, ensured that the town had emergency measures in place.