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Tragedy at Virginia Tech Campus; Virginia Tech President Speaks
Aired April 17, 2007 - 06:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. It is Tuesday, April 17th. We are live here at Blacksburg, Virginia, and the campus of Virginia Tech.
I'm Kiran Chetry.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts.
Good morning and thank you very much for joining us.
We also want to welcome in viewers around the world who are watching us on CNN International right now. And some breaking news to tell you about.
We have a little bit better idea who was responsible for the shooting, the worst shooting in America which took place yesterday, leaving 32 people, students and professors at Virginia Tech, dead.
CHETRY: That's right. And we found out a confirmation coming just a few moments ago from the campus president here about -- a little bit more about who the shooter was. He has been identified as a student of this campus, and also someone who lived in one of the campus dormitories.
ROBERTS: He lived in the campus dormitory where the first shooting took place at about 7:15 yesterday morning. It's known around the campus as West AJ.
From there, there was a lull in the violence, and then about two hours later, two and a half hours later, actually, another shooting took place. That's where 30 more people were killed. And then the shooter, of course, killed himself.
We're learning that he is an Asian male. Again, a student here at Virginia Tech.
CHETRY: That's right.
We're also learning a little bit more about some of the victims, some of the people who lost their lives in this horrific tragedy. Authorities are not yet releasing an official list at this time. They say they want to wait until all families are notified. But some families are choosing to come forward and to share their stories and to talk about the loss of their loved ones.
Ryan Clark was a senior. He was from Georgia. He was a resident assistant at West AJ Hall, and witnesses say that he may have confronted the gunman at the dorm. The Associated Press reporting this morning that Clark had several majors and a 4.0 grade point average.
Also killed, 20-year-old Ross Alameddine, also a student and one of the 30 people killed in Norris Hall, the building that houses a lot of engineering and science programs. He's from Saugus, Massachusetts.
We also know two professors are among the dead. G.V. Loganathan, he taught civil and environmental engineering, originally from southern India.
And also, Liviu Librescu. He was killed in that same building as well. A senior engineering science and mechanics professor, someone who had been on this campus of Virginia Tech for two 20 years teaching. According to his wife, loved the job, loved every bit of it. A Holocaust survivor who came from Israel to -- from Romania before then coming to the United States.
And it is particularly heartbreaking to hear about his death. He was killed on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And apparently, according to some of the witnesses there, he did everything he could to save his students, even helping barricade the doors and entrance to his classroom.
ROBERTS: Yes. I mean, each and every one of these deaths is just an extraordinary tragedy.
And coming up in just a little bit, just a few minutes from now here on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to with a fellow named Zach Petkewicz, who is really being called a hero in this whole thing because he and another student may have been responsible for saving the lives of more people when they barricaded a door against the shooter.
The shooter actually put a bunch of bullets through that door trying to get in. So they may have saved many more lives yesterday morning.
CHETRY: And the tales of bravery. And also, John, it's just mind boggling to think.
I mean, when we heard yesterday and you heard the audible gasp at the press conference when they were being updated and the first number that came in saying 20 people killed, and there was just a collective gasp, thinking, how could one person kill that many people? And then the number went up and up, and we're hearing now that perhaps more lives were saved because this person had more ammunition and was setting out to do even more damage.
ROBERTS: You know, and this whole thing, too, was one of those moments, I remember where I was when. And you'll remember that for the rest of your life.
CHETRY: Very true. And there are some questions that are still being asked this morning about the two-hour gap between that first news of the Virginia Tech school attacks and the school's then attempt to notify students via e-mail.
We're going to go to Jim Acosta at the campus command center with more on that.
Any new answers or insight as to the decision to wait so long?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Kiran. No insights at this point, and that is the big question for students on this campus, and that is, why was there this big two-hour gap?
Apparently, the shooting happened at 7:15 yesterday morning, but then between that time and 9:40 in the morning, with the shooting over at Norris Hall, all the university did during that time period -- the university officials, the leaders of this university got together, had meetings about all of this, and then issued that e-mail to students, only talking about a "shooting incident" shortly before that rampage over at Norris Hall -- Kiran.
CHETRY: Any other insight as to whether or not some bomb threats that were phoned in have any connection to this?
ACOSTA: Well, and that's the big question, because there was a bomb threat just last Friday and then one earlier this month. And there were some eyewitness reports, one coming in to CNN yesterday, that there were notes on some of these doors at Norris Hall.
One of the doors may have been chained shut with a note indicating that the doors at Norris were being barricaded, and if those doors were opened, they were booby-trapped. Still, no confirmation from police. Police not really touching on those elements of the investigation at this point.
CHETRY: And that's a little bit of a window, at least, into some of the premeditation because of the news of those doors being barricaded like that and locked.
The other question is, we did get answer today, and that was this suspect apparently was a student here and actually lived in the dorm where this happened, West AJ Hall.
ACOSTA: That's right. That is the big scoop so far this morning.
The university president, Charles Steger, telling AMERICAN MORNING that this was a student here on the campus of Virginia Tech University, and that this student was a resident in one of the dormitories. And it's interesting, because we're also hearing these various newspaper reports out here that this was a young Asian man, perhaps a foreign national, a recent arrival here in the United States.
And those two facts are not inconsistent, because this is a big science and technology campus, a big draw for engineering students, architecture students. And so, it's not unlikely, it's not uncommon to see so many foreign national students coming to a science and technology campus such as this one. But again, the big scoop coming from university president Charles Steger earlier this morning that this suspect was, in fact, very familiar with this campus.
CHETRY: Jim Acosta, thanks.
ROBERTS: You know, it's one of the questions that looms largest in all of this, and it's one of the questions that we ask again and again and again. And it's about the weapons, the guns. Where did the killer get them, how did he get them, how easy is it to get a weapon in America?
AMERICAN MORNING'S Greg Hunter joins us now. He's been looking at Virginia's gun laws and what more we know about the guns that were used in the rampage.
Greg, what have you been finding out?
GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly where he got the guns, but we do know it's a .22 caliber pistol and also 9 mm caliber pistol. It's funny that he got a .22 caliber pistol, a very light caliber weapon.
He had a 9 mm. That's a popular weapon with law enforcement. It's easy to use, it holds 15 rounds, the clips come in and out really fast. So that's the two guns that he allegedly used.
ROBERTS: And what we've heard from eyewitnesses, as well, is that he seemed to be pretty adept at being able to reload the gun very, very quickly. They said that he popped out one click and slammed the other one in, almost with the dexterity of a law enforcement or a military officer. That it looked like it was something that had been practiced.
HUNTER: Those guns are easy to use, and if you have a little practice, they do. That's the reason why, the clips go in and out really fast.
ROBERTS: I have read some reports that he may have purchased at least one of the guns on Friday the 13th, last Friday. Anything to confirm that?
HUNTER: Nothing to confirm that, but this is a state that is pretty easy to get a handgun, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. You'll remember Jim Brady, who was shot in the head by John Hinckley at that failed assassination attempt in the early '80s, they say this is an easy state to get a gun in. Only second only to the state of Georgia.
And the reason why, there's no waiting. You can walk in and get a gun that day. There's no license requirements, there are no -- where they have gun shows down here in the state, they don't really have any kind of background checks. At gun shows they do have instant background checks to keep felons from getting guns. And also, someone from out of state with the right I.D., like me, can go out and buy a rifle. Not a handgun, but I can go out and buy a rifle today if I want.
ROBERTS: Right. But he had handguns.
HUNTER: He had handguns, that's correct.
Yes, I've been to a couple gun shows in the state of Virginia. I live here, and they always say, hey, it's easy to get the gun. Just a quick instant check.
Authorities say that gun dealers say that the insta-checks are enough to identify if anyone has a background of felonies. But what could they do to identify someone who perhaps had a grudge or had some reason to go commit violence as this person did yesterday?
We don't know if he had any kind of a felony background, but perhaps he didn't. Is there anything to stop a person like that from buying a gun in this state?
HUNTER: That's just a great unknown. That really is a great unknown. And they tried to do the background checks, but who knows. It's one of those things.
ROBERTS: Yes. We should point out, too, the Bradys were advocating the three-day background check.
HUNTER: Yes, a waiting period so you can't go. But this guy, he got them Friday the 13th, then a few days later -- so who knows.
ROBERTS: Yes. I think there is a provision, isn't there, that you can only buy one gun in a 30-day period in the state of Virginia?
HUNTER: I did not know that.
ROBERTS: Right. OK. Well, we'll check deeper into that.
Greg Hunter, thanks very much for all of that.
ROBERTS: Seventeen of the wounded were taken to nearby Montgomery Regional Hospital. Nine are still there. Just moments ago, Kiran spoke to an emergency room doctor who treated them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. JOSEPH CACIOPPO, MONTGOMERY REGIONAL HOSPITAL: The injuries were just amazing. This man was brutal.
There wasn't a -- there wasn't a shooting victim that didn't have less than three bullet wounds in them. Even, again, the less serious injuries, we saw one patient that had a bullet wound to the wrist, one to the elbow and one to the thigh. We had another one with a bullet wound to the abdomen, one to the chest and one to the head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHETRY: OK. So, John...
ROBERTS: And we understand that there is going to be a press conference that the hospital is going to be holding in about an hour's time. And of course we'll be covering that live for you here on CNN.
Nine people are still being treated at that hospital. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is there. It's a level three trauma center here in Blacksburg.
What is the latest from there, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, that's right, that press conference is going to be at 8:00 a.m., and we'll bring it to you. They'll be updating the status of the patients in the hospital.
What we know right now is that there are nine patients, three are in critical condition, six are in stable condition. They're inside. You'll see behind me that they have the flags at half mast at Montgomery Regional Hospital.
Now, there were 17 patients total. One was dead on arrival, the rest have been discharged.
This is not a large hospital. It's 146 beds, it's a level three trauma center. There were several that they could not handle, several patients they couldn't handle, so they transferred them to Roanoke Memorial, which is a level one trauma center.
Now, interesting. The CEO came out yesterday in a press conference, and he said even though they disaster drill for this, even though they train for this, you can never have adequate preparation for this level of violence. That is from Scott Hill, the CEO of this hospital -- John.
ROBERTS: Elizabeth, any idea of the extent of the injuries for those who are still at the hospital where you are, or are any of them in critical condition?
COHEN: Yes, there are three patients who are in critical condition and six are stable. That's what we're being told right now.
ROBERTS: All right. Elizabeth Cohen for us monitoring the hospital this morning.
We're learning more about the gunman behind this tragedy. He was a student at Virginia Tech. He was a resident of the dorm. The president of Virginia Tech confirmed that to us just a short time ago. We'll show you that interview coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING, live from the campus at Virginia Tech.
Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ROBERTS: You're looking at a picture there live, the University of Virginia Tech here in Blacksburg, Virginia. Flags flying at half staff. They have been that way since yesterday, shortly after the shooting.
Thirty-two people killed by a gunman described as an Asian male, a student, a resident at the dormitory where the first shooting took place. The president of the university called him the second shooter, though they don't believe that there is still a shooter at large. So it's quite possible that he was responsible for both the shooting at that dormitory, which is called West AJ Hall, and as well the shooting at Norris Hall, about two and a half hours later, at which some 30 people were killed.
The staff of Virginia Tech is dealing with an unimaginable loss today and a barrage of questions this morning. The first one among them, did security act quickly enough? Did the alert go out quickly enough? Could more lives have been saved?
In our last hour of AMERICAN MORNING, I sat down live with the school's president, Charles Steger. I started by asking him what we know about the suspect.
CHARLES STEGER, PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA TECH: We do know he was an Asian -- I'm talking about the second mass event -- an Asian male who was a resident in one of our dormitories. He was one of our students.
ROBERTS: Right now you say the second mass event. Are you separating that away from the first event? Could there be potentially two shooters?
STEGER: There could be. We don't know. The investigation is still unfolding.
But we had one shooting early in the morning that -- initially, and we don't know the answer to this. It appeared to be domestic fight, perhaps a murder-suicide. It was characterized by our security people as being contained to that dorm room. As we were working through the -- what we were going to do to deal with that, the message came on over the radio that another shooting across campus was taking place, and that's when the large number of people were killed.
ROBERTS: Do you believe there could be a second killer still at large here?
STEGER: We don't think so.
One of the -- one of the big points of controversy here -- and this comes from every student at Virginia Tech that I have talked to... STEGER: Sure.
ROBERTS: ... is, why was there a two hour and 10 minute lag between the time that there was the shooting at West AJ at 7:15 and the time the e-mail went out at 9:26 notifying students that something had happened?
STEGER: Well, first of all, when the event happened at AJ, the dormitory was immediately closed down. It was surrounded by security guards, the streets were cordoned off, and the students and the building were notified of what was going on.
We also had to find witnesses, because we didn't know what had happened. The individuals who were wounded -- or at the time one was dead, we think, I'm not sure about that -- were sent the hospital, and it was based on the interrogation of the witnesses that we think there was another person involved.
And, so, we wanted to be sure we could gather as much accurate information before taking steps. But it was -- the situation was characterized as being confined to that dormitory room. We thought we had it under control. And I don't think anyone could have predicted that another event was going to take place two hours later.
ROBERTS: You know, I reviewed the crime stats, at least for the last three years here at Virginia Tech. You've had no murders on campus.
STEGER: Right. It's a very...
ROBERTS: Wouldn't an incident like this have been treated in such a way that you would have sent an alarm out immediately, at least to warn students that something had happened?
STEGER: Well, we warned the students that were, we thought, immediately impacted. You have to appreciate that of the 26,000 students here, only 9,000 are on campus. So, at that time of the morning you have got about 15,000 people in transit, 7,000 employees, and on any given day, 2,000, 3,000 visitors.
So, the question is, you have to decide what it is you're going to do with them. We felt that in confining them to the classroom was how to keep them safest.
ROBERTS: President Steger, we've heard from at least a couple of students. They say the Virginia Tech Police Department blew it here. Is that fair?
STEGER: I don't think it's fair at all. I think they have worked very professionally and handled this as skillfully as anybody might be able to do it.
ROBERTS: Is President Bush coming today for this ceremony this afternoon?
STEGER: It's my understanding that is under consideration. ROBERTS: All right. Would you like to see him here? Would his presence be disruptive? That's a concern of the White House. They don't want to bring the president here if you already have got too much on your plate.
STEGER: Well, we certainly would be happy to have the president, if he chooses to come.
ROBERTS: And what sort of services are you offering for your students here?
STEGER: Well, we have a whole series of counseling centers open. We -- the local clergy have volunteered, and we'll be bringing on line other types of specialized services.
As you know, this is very traumatic for the campus. You're going to have to go through the stages of mourning, and different type of support structure is required as you'll do that. But we will spare no effort in working with our student body to deal with it.
CHETRY: All right.
And joining me now to talk more about what went on yesterday is Zach Petkewicz He's a senior at Virginia Tech. And he's being called a hero this morning. He was able to barricade a door against the shooter.
Zach, I know it has been a tough day for you yesterday and also this morning, but thanks for talking with us.
ZACH PETKEWICZ, VIRGINIA TECH STUDENT: Thanks.
CHETRY: Tell us exactly what happened yesterday and -- when you were at Norris Hall.
PETKEWICZ: Basically, after the initial gunshots I heard a scream. I didn't know if the gunshot -- I didn't know it was gunshots at first until I heard that scream. It all kind of sunk in.
The students who heard that scream, too, the girls in my class, peeked out in the hall and saw a gunner come out of a classroom with his gun pointed down. They immediately slammed the door shut, told us.
Everybody kind of went into a frenzy, a panic. I hid behind the podium and then just kind of looked up at the door. It was just like, there was nothing stopping this guy from just coming in.
And so I said, "We need to barricade this door." Me and two others got up, threw a couple of tables in front of it, and had to physically hold it there while there were gunshots going on.
He came to our door, tried the handle, couldn't get it in because we were pushing up against it. He tried to force his way in, got the door to open up about six inches, and then we just lunged at it and closed it back up. And that's when he backed up and shot twice into the middle of the door, thinking we were up against it trying to get him out.
And I was right -- I was up against the side holding this desk up against there, and I just heard his clip drop to the ground. He reloaded, and I thought he was coming back for a second round and trying to get his way in there. And, I mean, he just -- he didn't say a word, and he just turned and kept firing down the hall and didn't try to get back in.
CHETRY: That is unbelievable. First of all, had you keep your wits about you and have the wherewithal to know, I've got to get the door blocked?
PETKEWICZ: I didn't. I mean, I was -- I was completely scared out of my mind originally, and just went into a cowering position. And then just realized, I mean, you've got to do something.
CHETRY: How many people were in your class?
PETKEWICZ: There's 10 others.
CHETRY: How were you not standing where he shot? How did you know to not be directly in front of the doorway?
PETKEWICZ: Well, we had a long, rectangular-shaped table that me and another one of my classmates had on either side of the door. So we weren't directly in front of the door and we were standing off to the side. So, the cinderblocks were protecting us as much as we could.
And, you know, we were just trying to hold that -- hold that table against that door. And thankfully, we weren't in front of it when he did shoot through it.
CHETRY: Yes, absolutely.
Was there any way for anyone to call 911 or any -- as all of this was unfolding?
PETKEWICZ: Yes. One of my -- a couple of my classmates were on the phone with 911 the whole time while all this was going on, and, you know, just hearing bullets going off. Don't know what exactly was going on. We're just trying to keep him from coming in our classroom.
CHETRY: And in the meantime, were police saying we're coming, we're on our way?
PETKEWICZ: I mean, we -- I could hear police shouting all around the building. I mean, they were there really fast. It was just a matter of getting up and getting to us and getting this guy out of -- out of the picture.
CHETRY: Did you know anybody that was not so lucky yesterday? PETKEWICZ: I didn't have any close relationships with anybody that was -- anybody else on that floor. I mean, just the people in my class, and nobody in my class got injured.
CHETRY: And as many have been saying, your quick thinking may have saved so many lives. What do you say when people are calling you a hero today?
PETKEWICZ: I'm just glad I could be here.
CHETRY: Thank you for joining us, Zach, and for sharing your story. I know it's an extremely difficult day, but you may have saved a lot of lives yesterday. And I'm sure there are a lot of people that are grateful you were in that classroom yesterday.
CHETRY: And Zach's story is really tough to hear, and to just think what it must have been like for these kids pushing up against a door as somebody armed was trying their hardest to get in there and do so much damage. And it really is heartbreaking to hear these stories. And I'm sure there are many more that we're going to hear throughout the day today.
So, stay with us as this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING continues.
ROBERTS: Images from the evening last night at Virginia Tech in the wake of yesterday's horrible tragedy. Thirty-two people on this campus, looks like 30 of them students and two professors -- at this point, though, that ratio could change just a little bit -- and, of course, the gunman dead, as well. And confirmation from the president of the university that he was an Asian male, a student and a resident at the dormitory where the first shooting took place.
There's going to be a service here on the campus this afternoon. And in the meantime, students are going online to share their stories and their sadness.
CNN Internet correspondent Jacki Schechner has been looking at all of that for us this morning.
What are you picking up, Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, John, college kids live their lives online these days, and that's exactly where they're remembering Ryan Clark. You can see photographs here that people are putting online on a Facebook page. This is a social networking site where they're remembering Ryan. Ryan's own profile has been closed off. You can't get into it. It has been made private. But these are pictures that his friend are putting up and remembering him.
They say he was witty, he was kind, he was a man who seemed to know everyone. He was a resident adviser at Virginia Tech.
Another student who is being memorialized online is Alameddine. Now, these are the photos that Ross had put online himself. These are the photographs from his own Facebook profile. But today people have created a Facebook group to remember Ross. They say about him that he was intelligent, he was funny, he was easy going, and he will be missed.
Now, Facebook is where people have gathered online originally yesterday to tell each other that they were all right. This number, we saw this group grow by the hundreds. Now it's in the thousands.
People are still trying to find out information about friends that they haven't heard from yet. There's plenty of groups. Another one, VT Unite.
So people are just using this instead of getting together in person. They're keeping track online.
We're also seeing this pop up today, the black ribbon with the Virginia Tech logo. People replacing their personal pictures with this in memoriam -- John.
ROBERTS: All right. Jacki Schechner, thanks very much.
You know, just so much grief, so much emotion here online, across the country, around the world, as well.
The shooter for these students -- and this is why it's so hard, because he was one of their own. Why did he do it? What went wrong? New details from the Virginia Tech massacre coming up after the break.
Plus, we're going to talk with a group of tech students about all that happened and some things that didn't happen this time yesterday, 24 hours ago.
You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And good morning to you. It is Tuesday, April 17 from Blacksburg, Virginia and the campus of Virginia Tech. This is AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm John Roberts. Again, we want to welcome in our viewers from around the world who are watching us on CNN international this morning. This tragedy here at Virginia Tech, 32 people dead has really just captured the attention of the world. It's the worst mass shooting in American history. It happened right here in this very quiet community at this beautiful college and today, the question that people are asking over and over and over again, how did it happen?
CHETRY: A lot of questions. We are getting more information though, when it comes to who may have been behind it. Confirmation from the campus president this morning that it, indeed, was a student, a student of Asian descent, a student who was actually a resident of that very dorm where all of this started about 26 hours ago.
ROBERTS: Let's run it all down for everybody so that we make sure that we're on the same page. Here's what we know right now. University President Charles Steger told us that the shooter was a Virginia Tech student, lived on campus, lived in that dormitories, Kiran was saying where the first shooting took place. Steger called him the second shooter, but he doesn't believe that another shooter is on the loose. But police will not say for sure that both attacks were the work of the same person and they still aren't releasing the shooter's name. Right now four hospitals are treating as many as 16 victims. We're just learning that seven of them are in critical condition. So, you know, there's a possibility. We hope against hope, but a possibility that the death toll from this could still go higher.
CHETRY: We spoke to an ER doctor just a few moments ago who helped treat some of those victims. He said not a single one came there without multiple gunshots wounds, a window into the ruthlessness of this shooter and also when we heard the first-hand account from Zach Petkewicz who ended up probably and most likely saving the lives of his fellow students in that classroom, the insistence and the ruthlessness with which the shooter was trying to get into that barricaded classroom. Today there are no classes. The Virginia Tech campus though is open for students and for faculty to come here to meet, for families to get some information and perhaps even attend some grief counseling sessions, if that's needed.
The university is also planning a news conference. That's going to be taking place a little while from now 9:00 a.m. Eastern time. There's also going to be a memorial service which is taking place this afternoon, 2:00 p.m. Eastern time and we were hearing that there is a possibility, still, that the president, President Bush will attend. I know that he sent out his condolences, wanted to be here and I think it's just a logistical question of whether or not it might be overwhelming for the president to attend.
ROBERTS: Just want to point out I'm staying in touch with the White House and of course, you know, the e-mails are coming in fast and furious. Still no confirmation yet as to whether or not President Bush is going to attend this afternoon. They're trying to make that determination, we should know in a little while.
CHETRY: Also a candlelight vigil is going to be planned for 8:00 tonight. A lot of people just really feeling the need to come together with this community and the campus community as a whole and try to make some sense of the unspeakable tragedy that took place here yesterday. ROBERTS: One student that we talked to yesterday said it's always been a community here, even more so now. We've heard several dramatic accounts of yesterday's shooting spree. Jeanne Meserve got an exclusive interview with one young woman who says that she had to play dead to avoid being shot. Jeanne, this was a class full of students and only a few made it out and she was one of them.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, only four students of she said about 25. At this time yesterday two people were dead on this campus but most students weren't aware and that includes Erin Sheehan (ph), a freshman. She went on to her 9:00 German class at Norris Hall and then a strange man peeked in and then came back with a gun. Here's part of her story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN SHEEHAN: He peeked in twice, earlier in the class which is sort of sketchy. But then he came in eventually later and he just stepped within five feet of the door and just started firing. He seemed very thorough about it. Getting almost everyone down or I pretended to be dead just on the ground and then he left for about 30 seconds, came back in, did almost exactly the same thing. Because I guess he heard us still talking. And then we forced ourselves against the door so he couldn't come in again because the door would not lock so he came and tried to force himself in another three times and then started shooting through the door. It was a solid wooden door with no windows.
QUESTION: How many students were wounded or killed?
SHEEHAN: At least when we left only four of us left and two of them were mildly injured and everyone else was unconscious either dead or wounded seriously.
QUESTION: How many of them were there?
SHEEHAN: It was about 25 person German class and the professor was down, as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Erin Sheehan seemed remarkably composed especially when you consider that she had to go home and change her clothes because the clothes she was wearing to class were soaked with her classmates' blood.
ROBERTS: Just extraordinary when she talks about this idea the gunman being thorough, so methodical going through there, you have to wonder what frame of mind would anybody be in to do this, but so cold, so calculated.
MESERVE: She said he didn't say a word. There was absolutely nothing to explain to her what might have motivated him. She said he looked a little bit familiar, but she didn't really recognize who he was. ROBERTS: Some quick thinking on her part that saved her life. We just got some news by the way, President Bush will be attending the public gathering, the memorial this afternoon and just a quick correction, I said that the shooter was believed to have lived in the dormitory where the first shooting took place, apparently, that probably is not the case. You know, the facts are flowing fast and furious here. We're hoping to get them to you just as soon as we can, but apparently he did not live in that first dormitory. Kiran.
CHETRY: He was a student here at the university. They're confirming. Also moments ago I spoke with one student who is being called a hero this morning for his efforts, his bravery in holding off that gunman. We spoke to him and he gave us, really, an amazing account of what he lived through. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZACH PETKEWICZ, HELD OFF SHOOTER: Well, we had a long, rectangular-shaped table that me and another one of my classmates had on either side of the door. So we were directly in front of the door and we were standing off to the side so the cinder blocks were protecting us as much as we could. You know, we were just trying to hold that table against that door. And thankfully we were in front of it when he did shoot through it.
CHETRY: Yeah, absolutely. Was there any way for anyone to call 911 or as all of this was unfolding?
PETKEWICZ: Yeah, a couple of my classmates were on the phone with 911 the whole time while this was going on and just hearing the bullets going off, don't know exactly what was going on. We were just trying to keep him from coming in our classroom.
CHETRY: In the meantime, were police saying we're coming, we're on our way?
PETKEWICZ: I could hear police shouting all around the building. They were there really fast. It was just a matter of getting up and getting to us and getting this guy out of the picture.
CHETRY: Did you know anybody that was not so lucky yesterday?
PETKEWICZ: I didn't have any close relationships with anybody that was anybody else on that floor. I mean, just people in my class and nobody in my class got injured.
CHETRY: And as many have been saying, your quick thinking may have saved so many lives. What do you say when people call you a hero today? It's tough.
PETKEWICZ: I'm just glad I could be here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHETRY: So, he, he really did break down in tears. Again, it's been a tough morning for people that lived through something that most of us hope and pray we never have to experience. And he really is, for those that were there, responsible for saving the lives of the 10 other students who were in his classroom that day. There are many acts of bravery that we are going to be talking about. We're joined now by Virginia Tech student Matt Green. He is part of the Virginia Tech rescue squad, as well as Matthew Lewis. Both of you, thanks for being with us and Amie Steele is the editor of the "Collegiate Times," which is the newspaper here at Virginia Tech. All of them were on hand yesterday in one way, shape or form when this tragedy unfolded. Let me start with you, Matthew. Tell me a little bit about when you first heard that something horrific had happened yesterday.
MATTHEW LEWIS, VIRGINIA TECH RESCUE SQUAD: Well, the call in the morning for the West AJ call, we didn't really think it was horrific. We were dispatched for a patient falling out of a loft. Our first response team went there and they found two patients with gunshot wounds so they dispatched a second team and we both got on the scene. We were there within minutes. By the time that the second team showed up, the first team was already taking the first patient out to transport to Montgomery Regional Hospital. And then within minutes again, we were transporting the second patient to Montgomery Regional Hospital.
CHETRY: Matt, were police on the scene at this point, campus police or police in Blacksburg?
MATT GREEN, VIRGINIA TECH STUDENT & EMT: Yes ma'am. The Virginia Tech police department met us on the scene and secured the scene at the time we suspected it to not be gunshot wounds. As we said, it was dispatched for a patient falling but they did come and secure the scene for us.
CHETRY: When you got there, you could tell right away that it was not a fall.
GREEN: That's correct. The gunshot wounds were pretty noticeable. It is not what we were expecting to see when we came there. We are trained to handle these circumstances so we just went with no (ph) plans.
CHETRY: Both of those patients transported to Montgomery General and I think one of them was dead on arrival and the other passed away at the hospital. Amie explain the questions today that are being asked about the notification. How do you feel knowing that there was that two-hour gap between when this happened and when students were notified that perhaps they needed to be aware of something on campus.
AMIE STEELE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE COLLEGIATE TIMES: I know that is the big question that's getting raised on campus right now. That's something that we were working on all night. We never really received an answer and we're going to try all day to get an answer. What we're hearing from administrators from the press conferences and the like is that they didn't feel that it was necessary to inform the students at the time. They thought it was a domestic violence situation and they didn't think that it was necessary to inform students until they found out later that it was a more severe situation. CHETRY: And both of you have experienced and responded to a lot of emergencies over the years and Matthew, let me ask you, would it ever cross your mind that that would somehow be related to horrific massacre that was taking place on the other side of campus?
LEWIS: No, not at all. We didn't even expect the first call to go out. For a second call to go out not even two hours later that was just amazingly, everybody was in shock. Nobody really realized what was going on at the time. But we handled it pretty well. We gathered all our resources from around the community and we brought everybody in and it ran pretty smoothly.
CHETRY: At that point there they still didn't know where the shooter or the person responsible was. Was there fear that perhaps this person was still on the loose and a danger?
GREEN: We're trained to put fear aside, put our emotions aside and treat the task at hand and the police, when they did surround the building set up a perimeter and established a safe zone, which we could then operate from and treat patients as they were found by the police departments.
CHETRY: All right, Matthew, Matt, Amie, thanks for joining us this morning, giving us some more insight into what happened yesterday. Thanks a lot.
We're going to have much more from the campus of Virginia Tech. AMERICAN MORNING continues in just a moment.
ROBERTS: You're taking a look there at the satellite farm that has moved in here at Virginia Tech as the eyes of the world descend upon this small town and this beautiful campus after the tragedy of yesterday's shootings. Virginia Tech students and staff make up most of the 41,000 residents of Blacksburg, Virginia. It's not just the campus that's shattered by what happened yesterday. The Red Cross has set up a counseling center just across the street from where we are and CNN's Sean Callebs is there. Sean, there really is a huge interconnection. Blacksburg isn't just a college town. The college is Blacksburg.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. A town like this on an idyllic morning like this, it's really hard to believe the sobering events of yesterday really settling in. This is what people in this area woke up to, the banner headline in the newspaper, massacre on campus. It doesn't get much more grim than that. The Red Cross has two facilities set up to provide counseling for people in this area off campus. There are also four facilities on campus providing counseling for faculty as well as students and by virtually all accounts, they've had a great deal of activity over the past 24 hours or so.
There was also a candlelight vigil, a sort of spontaneous show of outpouring of grief, sympathy last night here on the campus. Of course there are much more organized events scheduled for today. There are a number of groups also reaching out to this area, to the community, to the school doing what they can. One is the non-profit organization called Security on Campus. We've heard so much over the past 24 hours about almost the sense of hopelessness that many students felt yesterday. That organization, Security on Campus, says it didn't have to be that way.
I'm sorry, we don't have that tape ready. But in essence what they said there are so many things that could have been done, specifically almost an immediate lockdown of the campus and getting the local police, as well as the police on campus here out as quickly as possible, John. That is the thing that everybody is looking at today. Interestingly enough, we've heard people talk about why wasn't there more warning between the first and second event? The organization we talked to, Security on Campus, said that one e-mail that did go out, that is a direct result of legislation that that organization had a hand in pushing through many, many years ago and what can be done in the future. They talked about alarms.
Everybody knows that today a student carries a cell phone as often as they do a book bag or backpack or something like that and we know that Security on Campus is also talking to a number of organizations trying to find a way to be able to text all the students on campus because we know that students check those cell phones so often. Finally, we got to tell you that so many people talk about the curriculum and what the facilities offer. Sadly on a commentary on today, when people do check out colleges, John, we know that they also nowadays, look to see what kind of security, to see what is going on and hopefully something like this doesn't play out again. John.
ROBERTS: Sean, anybody who's got a teenager knows how important text messaging is to a teenager's life and there certainly are a lot of municipal emergency agencies that send out those text messages whenever something is happening or there's some sort of warning that's going to go out. So why the campus can't get to that doesn't seem to be too much of a leap. Sean Callebs over at the Red Cross, thank you very much Sean.
What happens in a hospital emergency room when the unthinkable happens? Earlier in AMERICAN MORNING, Kiran spoke with an ER doctor who treated some of the first victims to arrive. Take a quick listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. JOSEPH CACIOPPO, MONTGOMERY GENERAL HOSPITAL: The injuries were just amazing. This man was brutal. There was no, there wasn't a shooting victim that didn't have less than three bullet wounds in them. Even, again, the less serious injuries, we saw one patient that had a bullet wound to the wrist, one to the elbow and one to the thigh. We had another one with a bullet wound to the abdomen and one to the chest and one to the head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Dr. Joseph Cacioppo from Montgomery Hospital. You heard it there. He said nobody came in with fewer than three gunshot wounds. You wonder how somebody could still be alive with three gunshot wounds. CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now live from Atlanta and Sanjay, doctors are not concerned just with the physical wounds that are going to be left over from this and as the doctor was saying, there will be many of those, but the emotional ones, as well.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. Certainly at the time of something like this happens the focus is very much, much of the energy focused on those physical wounds. The emotional wounds are going to take time to heal. People are going to talk about them. Sometimes people need to be medicated. It's just going to vary, the approach to those emotional wounds. But you mention those three gunshot wounds. It was interesting to hear him say that. No patient that he saw came in with fewer than three gunshot wounds. That changes the dynamics of things. Everything sort of shifts again, John.
You talk about the cacophony at the scene, the chaos, trying to deal with a mass casualty situation. I haven't been to this particular location. I'm coming there a little later on today. But I can't imagine ever taking care of something like this, very few places in the country, any single hospital taking care of more than a dozen patients at any given time. So it's very, very difficult. Then you have to call in possibly all sorts of different services to take care of patients. They may have a neurosurgeon, a thoracic surgeon, a general surgeon, all operating at the same time to try and take care of these patients, as far as surviving it, not to sound trite, but it really depends on where someone gets shot. If they're shot in the limbs, primarily, they have a much better chance of surviving obviously, than the head, chest or abdomen, John.
ROBERTS: Even a wound in the extremities, if it hits an artery could be fatal as well, can it not, Sanjay?
GUPTA: It certainly can. There's a couple of differences. One is that with an extremity wound, if you recognize it, you can just put pressure on it and stop it. You obviously can't do that in the chest and you can't do that in the abdomen. So it's a much different scenario in terms of immediate triage. Another thing to keep in mind, sometimes people with abdominal gunshot wounds can decompensate or get worse much later on whereas with a head shot, for example, usually the worst time is at the time of the injury. It's a little bit, you have to really follow these patients differently. There are patients that you know about the critically injured patients now in the hospital and they may be patients with abdominal gunshot wounds who are just being followed very, very diligently to make sure they don't enter into that period of de-compensation.
ROBERTS: The folks at the local hospital here did a remarkable job yesterday responding to this tragedy. We'll see you a little bit later on, Sanjay, safe travels.
What can be learned from all of the images that we've seen, including that dramatic cell phone video taken by Jamal Allbarghouti (ph), the video of that actual shooting that we saw all day yesterday and we're playing for you again today. We sat down with a ballistics analyst to find out. We'll have that story for you coming up. Stay with us on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING live from the campus of Virginia Tech University.
CHETRY: All right. A live picture right now from where we are this morning at the campus of Virginia Tech, following the latest developments in light of yesterday's tragedy. We do want to update you on a couple of events that are going to be taking place here today. One is just a little while from now, 8:00 a.m. Eastern time to be exact. Montgomery Regional Hospital will be holding a news conference. They're going to give us an update on the condition of some of the wounded from yesterday. We did get some new information about the extent of the injuries and I spoke earlier with a doctor who helped treat some of those people. He said there wasn't a single victim brought in yesterday to the ER that didn't have multiple gunshot wounds and whether or not they survived was really the luck of the draw based on where they were shot.
He said he treated one girl shot who was shot in the elbow, arm and leg. She's going to be OK. Others were not so lucky being shot in the chest, abdomen and in some cases right in the head. So, we are going to get an update on the condition of some of those wounded hoping against hope today that it doesn't mean the number of dead will increase. We also want to let you know that we did get confirmation today from the White House that President Bush, indeed, is going to come here today. He was heart broken, like most of us were to learn of the news yesterday and really felt it was important to be here. They're going to hold a memorial service on campus at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time this afternoon. And the president is going to attend that service and give his condolences to the people hit so hard by this tragedy.
Meantime, there were hundreds of these I-reports that came in to CNN yesterday, people who happened to be here yesterday when all of this was happening, captured some of these moments on cell phones, camera phones and maybe even through digital cameras and one student captured something that could end up being a key piece of evidence for investigators. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence sat down with a SWAT team trainer and ballistics analyst to examine that tape that came from a camera phone. Chris, what did he find when he viewed that tape?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, two things, Kiran. The pacing of that gunfire tells us exactly how quickly the shooter was getting off his rounds and how police responded.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): To a trained eye, this exclusive video contains clues about what happened inside.
AARON COHEN: Those shots are coming from the same weapon, those are consistent. One, two, three, four, five, six shots, seven shots.
LAWRENCE: Aaron Cohen is a former Israeli counterterrorism expert who trained SWAT teams to rapidly respond inside schools.
COHEN: This is the real deal. This is a high capacity magazine.
LAWRENCE: If it is one shooter, how did he walk into a second building armed?
COHEN: He just marched right in there. What we have here, if you guys can go ahead and freeze this for one second. What we've got here is we've got an urban environment. This is very similar to Iraq actually and the distance is the proximity in this type of urban environment is really conducive for a handgun.
LAWRENCE: Which tells Cohen the shooter could have blended in the campus and didn't need to be an expert shot.
COHEN: The type of weapons that you can deploy in order to create maximum effectiveness really is nothing more than being this far away from somebody.
LAWRENCE: Just based on the limited video he's seen, Cohen would have gone in very aggressively.
COHEN: You've got to get as many guns in that building as possible.
LAWRENCE: We freeze the video to examine officers preparing to bust in.
COHEN: It appears to be that they are deploying with long rifles which law enforcement has started keeping in their cars as a result of Columbine. The problem here, the problem I have with this scenario is that I don't see any movement. I need to see guys gone. I need to see them sprinting towards the threat.
LAWRENCE: Police say two doors of the building were chained from the inside. By the time officers got to the second floor, the shooting was over.
LAWRENCE: That video is really just a small part of what really happened. Cohen doesn't have the big picture, but what he did see he was critical of. He says the fact that there was gunfire going off continuously while police were in proximity to the gunman, he says, that means this operation was a failure. Kiran?
CHETRY: All right, Chris, thanks so much. And we are here, once again, on the campus of Virginia Tech here in Blacksburg, Virginia, this morning. It's Tuesday, April 17th. This is a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.
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