By SUE LINDSEY
Associated Press Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, in a classroom across campus Monday, killing at least 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history, government officials told The Associated Press. The gunman was killed, bringing the death toll to 33.
"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," said Virginia Tech president Charles Steger. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."
It was not immediately clear whether the gunman was shot by police or took his own life. His name was not released, and investigators offered no motive for the attack. It was not known if the gunman was a student.
The shootings spread panic and confusion on campus, with students complaining that the university did not warn them about the first burst of gunfire until more than two hours later.
Witnesses reporting students jumping out the windows of a classroom building to escape the gunfire. SWAT team members with helmets, flak jackets and assault rifles swarmed over the campus. Students and faculty members carried out some of the wounded themselves, without waiting for ambulances to arrive.
The massacre took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory that houses 895 people, and continuing at least two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away, authorities said.
Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building.
Some students bitterly questioned why the gunman was able to strike a second time, two hours after the bloodshed began.
"What happened today this was ridiculous. And I don't know what happened or what was going through this guy's mind," student Jason Piatt told CNN. "But I'm pretty outraged and I'll say on the record I'm pretty outraged that someone died in a shooting in a dorm at 7 o'clock in the morning and the first e-mail about it - no mention of locking down campus, no mention of canceling classes - they just mention that they're investigating a shooting two hours later at 9:22."
He added: "That's pretty ridiculous and meanwhile, while they're sending out that e-mail, 22 more people got killed."
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said there was no evidence to suggest it was a terrorist attack, "but all avenues will be explored."
Up until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard drove his pickup into a Luby's Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.
The massacre Monday took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High bloodbath near Littleton, Colo. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
Previously, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16 people before he was shot to death by police.
Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, about 160 miles west of Richmond. With more than 25,000 full-time students, it has the state's largest full-time student population. The school is best known for its engineering school and its powerhouse Hokies football team.
The rampage took place on a brisk spring day, with snow flurries swirling around the campus. The campus is centered around the Drill Field, a grassy field where military cadets - who now represent a fraction of the student body - once practiced. The dorm and the classroom building are on opposites sides of the Drill Field.
A gasp could be heard at a campus news conference when Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum said at least 20 people had been killed. Previously, only one person was thought to have been
Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began marking and recovering the large number of shell casings and will trace the weapon used, authorities said.
A White House spokesman said President Bush was horrified by the rampage and offered his prayers to the victims and the people of Virginia.
"The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," spokeswoman Dana Perino said
After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed, and classes were canceled through Tuesday. The university set up a meeting place for families to reunite with their children. It also made counselors available and planned an assembly for Tuesday at the basketball arena.
After the shooting began, students were told to stay inside away from the windows.
Aimee Kanode, a freshman from Martinsville, said the shooting happened on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston dormitory, one floor above her room. Kanode's resident assistant knocked on her door about 8 a.m. to notify students to stay put.
"They had us under lockdown," Kanode said. "They temporarily lifted the lockdown, the gunman shot again."
"We're all locked in our dorms surfing the Internet trying to figure out what's going on," Kanode said.
Maurice Hiller, 21, a mechanical engineering student from Richmond, saw police and SWAT team members with guns drawn going toward Norris Hall. "This is something just totally beyond anybody's expectations," he said.
Police said there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks by authorities but said they have not determined a link to the shootings.
It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting.
Last August, the opening day of classes was canceled and the campus closed when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff's deputy involved in the manhunt was killed on a trail just off campus. The accused gunman, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)