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Another shooting at Va. Tech - the snake-bit college

Photo by Jared Soares/Getty Images Police officers gather around the scene (Jared Soares, Getty Images)

December 08, 2011|Tamara Dietrich

On Thursday afternoon, for the second time in less than five years, a gunman was roving the snake-bit Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. It was dj vu all over again for students and faculty still hurting from the notorious massacre of 2007, when 32 were slain by a crazed gunman before he turned the gun on himself. Now here they were again, hunkering on high alert. As Hokie offensive lineman and Denbigh High graduate Jaymes Brooks tweeted in the midst of the rising panic, the gunman still at large: "I swear all we are known for are shootings." Tech is also known for quality football and the loyalty of its alumni but, yes, it's steadily solidifying its reputation as the school where you're most likely to get shot. On April 16, 2007, gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot two fellow students in their dormitory, then walked to a classrom building where he chained the doors, opened fire and didn't stop till he racked up the deadliest mass shooting in our country's history. Thursday's shootings began at a routine traffic stop just after noon, when a man walked up to a campus officer who'd just pulled over a motorist, and fired, killing him. The gunman fled on foot, authorities said, and soon after a man was found shot dead in a nearby parking lot.

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This is Google's cache of It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Dec 10, 2011 05:50:53 GMT.
For hours, the campus was on high alert. On lockdown. Swarmed by campus police officers, sheriff's deputies, FBI and ATF agents, a SWAT team. Buildings were evacuated; in others, students were advised to stay put. But by late afternoon, police were increasingly confident that the second man, the one found dead in the parking lot, was the man who had shot the officer. They lifted the lockdown. The campus and community breathed a collective sigh of relief, but this popular, troubled school isn't known only for bullets flying every few years. It's also known for a gruesome student beheading in a campus coffee shop in January 2009. A 25-year-old student from China named Haiyang Zhu was chatting with a woman he barely knew, 22-year-old Xin Yang. Later, students who knew them described Yang as a "very sweet young woman," and Zhu as a "polite young man."

Witnesses said later that the polite young man pulled out a kitchen knife and used it to decapitate the sweet young woman. When police arrived minutes later, he was holding her head in his hands. Ten months later, Tech also became known for a 20-year-old student named Morgan Harrington, who disappeared from a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. Her skeletal remains were discovered in a hay field in January 2010, and her killer has never been identified. Then, in August of this year, a gut-wrenching Tech alert shot out to 45,000 subscribers: another suspected gunman on the loose. That time, no gunman was ever found. The incessant drumbeat of doom at Virginia Tech makes you wonder if the place is built on an old Indian burial ground. If there's something in the water. If, like the legendary Bermuda Triangle, it sits on some weird convergence of time and space that attracts the murderous or the macabre. If Crisis Response 101 should be mandatory for matriculating freshmen. As ill luck would have it, as Thursday's crisis unfolded, Tech's chief of police, Wendell Flinchum, was in Washington, D.C., to testify at a hearing to appeal the school's $55,000 fine associated with its laggardly response to the 2007 massacre. Back then, the school waited two hours after the dorm shootings to issue an email warning. By then, it was far too late. The difference between then and now is stunning. On Thursday, it took only about 21 minutes from the time the police officer pulled over the motorist for officials to fire off the first text alert to tens of thousands of subscribers: Gun shots reported Coliseum Parking lot. Stay Inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help. By 4:30, Tech officials and law enforcement held a news conference to report the danger was over. But the aftershocks aren't so easy to dismiss. Even in the midst of the crisis, messages were flooding social media sites in real time, wondering what was wrong with Virginia Tech, what was wrong with people, what was wrong with the world that these things keep happening. Tech alumnus and Newport News native Patrick Meier was at Tech during the 2007 rampage. On Thursday he told a Daily Press reporter the best way for students to power through the pain is by leaning on each other. "My best advice is go where the hugs are," Meier said. "Don't be afraid to show your weak side if you need to cry, cry. The sooner you can get through the sadness the sooner you can try to move on."

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This is Google's cache of It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Dec 10, 2011 05:50:53 GMT.
Maybe Tech has had its run of sadness. Maybe kismet has something better in store now. And maybe never again will president Charles Steger or any other Tech president have to begin a press conference with, "Our hearts are broken again." Contact Tamara at 757-247-7892 or

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