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Friday, April 20, 2007

Reconstructing the Virginia Tech shootings moment by moment Part 1

Classes at Norris Hall started at 9:05 a.m. A minute later the halls on the second floor would be emptied of students. Cho Seung-Hui knew this very well.

Erin Sheehan was in her German class in Room 207.

"It's a small class, about 25 people," she told the Collegiate Times. "And I would say no more than 2 people didn't show up, were absent."

The instructor was 35-year-old Christopher Bishop, called Jaime by everyone whose smile and shoulder length hair often worn in a ponytail had won the hearts of his students. Ten minutes into the class, there was a mild disruption. Cho opened the door and looked in. Two times.

"...he peeked in twice, earlier in the lesson, like he was looking for someone, somebody..." observed Erin.

"He peeked into my German class, a very small class, and no one usually shows up late. So it was very strange that someone was peeking in twice. And the teacher stopped because he was bothered by this twice, and we all thought it was a little bit funny. ... It was strange that someone at this point in the semester would be lost, looking for a class," she told CNN.

The class resumed. Where Cho went next and what he did will likely never be known, but its fair speculation that this would have been the opportune time for him to chain shut the exits from the second floor, something discovered not long afterward.

Daniel Stumpf, 21, had just finished an auditing exam and was heading to the on-campus Deets Coffee shop when he discovered someone had chained and padlocked all three double-door exits from the inside. He and another student took it up with a custodian.

"We were asking why the doors were chained and she had no idea," he said.

The Norris Hall housekeeper, Pam Tickle, told People magazine:

" I was dust-mopping the hall, and when I got to the end, a student was trying to get out the door, but it had a chain around it with a lock. That was weird. I've never seen that. The student said, "What's going on?" I said, "I don't know, but I'm going to call my boss."

As they stood in the hallway, a professor passed and told them she had found a note taped to one of the doors. It read, "Open the doors and a bomb will go off," Stumpf said later. There had been two separate bomb threats in the past two weeks which targeted engineering buildings at Virginia Tech so the note was a cause for concern.

Yet the last thing the group would have imagined was that someone had created his very own killing zone. And they were standing right in the middle of it.

Even as they talked, the administration was sending an e-mail to all students and staff regarding the double murder on campus roughly two hours earlier.

9:26 a.m.
A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating.
The university community is urged to be cautious and are asked to contact Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case. Contact Virginia Tech Police at 231-6411
Stay attuned to the We will post as soon as we have more information.

Given what transpired almost immediately afterward, it's no stretch to suggest that it was this e-mail that triggered Cho to act.


Alec Calhoun, a 20-year-old junior in Room 204 for a lecture on solid mechanics, was startled to hear ''what sounded like an enormous hammer'' banging away next door in Room 206.

It was about 9:30 a.m., and the massacre had begun.

27-year-old engineering student Park Chang-Min was sitting at the back of Room 206 when Cho walked in.

"HELLO, how are you?" said Cho to 51-year-old India-born Prof. G.V. Loganathan.

Then he started shooting.

"He shot the professor and then started to shoot at us. In the blink of an eye it turned into a nightmare," said Park, who like Cho is from South Korea. "I didn't even feel the bullet hit me in the chest and arm."

Sometime since he was spotted by Erin Sheehan, Cho had put on a bizarre disguise (which he later discarded).

" He hid his face behind a mask and had his brown-coloured cap lowered to his eyes. He wore glasses and something like a black ammo jacket," said Park to reporters at his hospital bedside.

"We were only minutes into the class. There were about 15 students in the room. I was sitting in the back. The man came in with two handguns and a lot of ammo.He shot the professor first and spread bullets toward us. In a moment, the room turned into a bloody hell."

There were 13 graduate students in the class on Advanced Hydrology.

Guillermo Colman, 38, was shot in the head and shoulder. He told friends who visited him in hospital that Cho "started going right down the row. Bam. Bam. Bam." Colman was at the end of the row of desks and as he fell he was covered by the body of Partahi Lumbantoruan, an Indonesian doctoral student, who was hit fatally by a bullet. This likely saved his life.

By the time the nightmare was over, only four students in Room 206 were alive. A wounded Colman; a wounded Park Chang-Min; Nathanial Krause; and an unscathed Lee Hixon, who dropped to the floor and pretended to be dead. Only....the nightmare wasn't over.

The fusillade of shots didn't go unnoticed, although it was mainly unrecognized. In a study of human perception, most of the immediate listeners put what they heard into a more familiar context. There was construction ongoing on campus and many dismissed the sounds as construction-related.

In Room 205, student Ruiqi Zhang, a computer engineering major, heard the shots. "I was sitting in class when we heard loud popping noises a couple rooms down," he told the online student publication Planet Blacksburg.

Clay Violand, a 20-year-old junior, was in French class in Room 207. "About halfway through class we heard the noises. Someone said something like, "It's probably just construction." The noises didn't stop. The teacher stiffened up and said "That's not what I think it is, is it?" he told Time magazine.

Outside, freshman Hector Takahashi had been in a class in Pamplin Hall, near Norris Hall, around 9:30 a.m. Students were talking about the administration e-mail. "Then all of a sudden, we were like, 'Whoa -- were those shots?'" he said. He had heard two quick bangs, then a pause, then a fusillade of at least 30 shots.

In the hallway of Norris Hall, the group including Daniel Stumpf and Pam Tickle heard noises, first thinking it was construction equipment outside except that it was coming from down the hall.

"Eventually it was too rapid and too regular intervals--it couldn't have been anything else," Daniel said later. The small group ducked into a break room, turned off the lights, hid under a table and called the police.

Back in Room 206, having emptied his two handguns into the class of engineering students, Cho reloaded, ditched his disguise, and walked across the hall to Room 207, German class.


It was about 10 minutes since Cho had first stuck his head into Room 207.

A poster on LiveJournal recounted what his girlfriend, Katelyn Carney, told him happened in German class.

"... they heard a banging. Her teacher opened the door to find out what was going on, and after not seeing anything, closed the door. Not more than two seconds later, a gunman entered her room." wrote boyfriend Paul.

Associated Press, in its summary of the events, said that "Someone suggested that (Prof.) Bishop should place something in front of the classroom door, just in case. The words were no sooner uttered than the door opened and a shooter stepped in."

"All of a sudden a door just opened real fast, a guy came in with a gun. I mean, he was very, very deliberate. He didn't say anything. Just came in and started firing," said student Garrett Evans.

The first bullet hit Bishop in the head.

"I remember looking at my phone. It was about 9:40," sophomore Trey Perkins told MSNBC."We started hearing some loud pops. None of us thought it was gunshots. It was not loud like that. Then somebody came into our room, he shot our teacher. And then we all got on the ground real quick."

The survivors of Room 207 agreed Cho was emotionless.

"He never said a word the whole time. I've never seen a straighter face." said Perkins, a 20-year-old from Yorktown, Virginia.

"He was just a normal-looking kid, Asian, but he had on a boy scout-type outfit. He wore a tan button-up vest, and this black vest, maybe it was for ammo or something," said Erin "He seemed very thorough about it, getting everyone down," she said."I was screaming 'oh my God' and then I realized I should stop because he'll know I'm alive."

Perkins remembered: "There were a couple of screams, but for the most part it was eerily silent, other than the gunfire.

"Erin Sheehan dove under the bodies piling up and played dead. "I saw bullets hit people's bodies. There was blood everywhere." Her clothes, she said, were soaked in the blood of the other students.

"I'm not sure how long it lasted. It felt like a really long time but it was probably only about a minute or so. He didn't say a single word the whole time." said Perkins, who sat at the back of the class and hid behind some overturned desks.

" He stopped to reload twice. The shots seemed to last for ever."

"Some 30 shots in all," he said.

Derek O'Dell, a 20-year-old biology student who was shot in the arm said: "He was very calm, very determined, methodical in his killing. He shot as he opened the door.""He was going along the front row shooting people," said O'Dell, who sat in the second row.

O'Dell remembered Cho firing about eight shots and then reloading. He fired another eight to 10 shots, then left the room he told USA Today.

Garrett Evans, who was shot once in the leg said, "Then he walked out of the door, went back (into the hallway), started shooting again, bang, bang, bang, other rooms."

Perkins and two classmates, Derek O'Dell and Katelyn Carney, ran up to the door and put their feet against it to make sure he could not get back in.

Perkins said "I told people that were still up and conscious, 'Just be quiet because we don't want him to think there are people in here because he'll come back in.' "

Trey Perkins, Derek O'Dell, Erin Sheehan and Katelyn Carney were the only ones from the class still able to walk.

Carney, who was hit in the hand, and O'Dell braced their feet against the door to keep it closed in case the gunman returned.

Perkins, an Eagle Scout, tried to give what medical attention he could to the wounded and Sheehan went to the window and yelled for help.


Next door in classroom 205 Zach Petkewicz began to realize what was happening.

"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."

Student Theresa Walsh told ABC News she first heard shots at "9:40 exactly, I was looking at my watch, and seeing how many minutes were left for math class to be over with."

Haiyan Cheng, a doctoral candidate, was teaching the computer class of 10, a temporary replacement for a professor who was away at a conference. She found the sounds distracting even before the scream. She opened the door to see what was making the noise. Walsh went with her.

"I'm the closest one to the door so I got up and went in the hallway," said Walsh, "and that's when I saw the professor across from me had this horified look on his face and then a few seconds later I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye and I saw the shooter and he had just walked out of the classrom, and was walking down the hall towards our classroom."

Teacher Haiyan Cheng saw something that made her blood run cold--- two young men running down the hall and the gunman shooting at them. "They ran back in and said 'Everybody get down.'" recalled Ruiqi Zhang.

The room went into a panic. Zach took cover behind the podium where his teacher had been lecturing seconds ago. Then he realized "there was nothing stopping this guy from just coming in. And so I said, "We need to barricade this door."

"I was completely scared out of my mind originally, just went into a cowering position, and then just realized you have got to do something," he told CNN.

There was a heavy table in the room, and he and two other students pushed it against the door.

"One of our classmates, Zach, says, 'we need to block the door, he's coming for our classroom next,'" said Lisa Kaiser, 21, a junior at Virginia Tech. "And we threw a table up against the door, and sure enough, two seconds after we threw that table against door he was at our handle trying to get in, pushing against the door.

Cho threw his six-foot frame against the door, but couldn't force it open.

"He had tried twice to push it open and they were like stronger than him. I mean, four people or so, pushing on the table," said Kaiser.

"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." Petkewicz said.

"Then he started firing bullets through our door and we were lying on the ground and they were going over us," Kaiser said.

"A couple of my classmates were on the phone with 911 the whole time while all this was going on" Zach said. Even better incentive to hold on--- "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."

And then, just like that, Cho left. "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." said Petkewicz.

If he had managed to force his way in, said Walsh, "(we would have been) the easiest kills he had done that entire day, with nowhere to run."

As it was, they could still hear his murderous rampage through the barricaded door.

" could feel the bullets, like you could feel... the vibrations of each gunshot... He shot, 'bam, bam, bam, bam' and he didn't stop until his clip was empty and you heard the clip hit the ground right outside our door. He reloaded and started again. And the only silence you heard the entire time throughout shooting was when he had that to reload." .

Cho had moved on to his next prey, across the hall in Room 204.


Professor Liviu Librescu had already exchanged a horrified look with Theresa Walsh as Cho approached their rooms. He shut the door to Room 204 and planted himself behind it, determined to stop the gunman or at least buy time for his students to escape.

The engineering students had been watching slides on the subject of virtual work when they heard what sounded like shots from an adjacent classroom, said Richard Mallalieu, 23, an engineering student from Luray, Va.

"It started about 9:30ish. I put my head out to see what was going on. I head a girl scream and it sounded like gunshots." said 23-year-old Matt Webster.

"I was in a mechanics class, engineering class," said Josh Wargo. "We were sitting in class and all of a sudden heard loud banging noises - (we) thought it could be construction."

"We could hear people screaming "Oh my god" from next door."

"...and everyone started to panic."

"Once we heard the screams, there were no longer any questions about what was happening," said Andrey Andreyev, 19.

Wargo said 15-20 students ran to the windows at the back of the class and started to kick the screens out.

As they pondered whether to jump, they could hear continuous gunfire. "A steady pop, pop, pop, pop," Richard Mallalieu said. He said he heard 20 to 30 shots by the time he and other students decided it was time to jump.

Male and female students began jumping the two stories to the ground. One broke both legs. A woman landed on her back.

Mallalieu hung from the ledge a while before letting go.

Caroline Merrey looked back at Prof. Librescu before she leapt.

"We had heard the gunfire coming from the classroom behind us, and we just reacted to it and headed for the windows," she said. "Professor Librescu never made an attempt to leave. . .I really don't think me or my other classmates would be here if it wasn't for him."

"His English was not good, and it must have been hard for him to communicate in this situation, so he talked to us with his hands. He used his hands to tell us to get back. We heard the sounds getting closer. The shots were moving toward us, down the hallway," said Andreyev, who grabbed Librescu and tried to pull him to safety.

But the professor wouldn't desert his post.

"He pushed me back. He stood at the door and wouldn't move. He pushed me toward the back of the room, a corner. He himself would not move. He just stood there."

Alex Calhoun, 20, flipped some desks over to act as hiding places, but he soon joined the jumpers, becoming the 8th or 9th out. The two who jumped after him were both shot by Cho who had forced his way into the room past the 76-year-old Prof. Librescu.

Librescu was the first to die, shot in the head at point-blank range.
But by the time Cho entered the room, only four students were left.

Matt Webster was one of them. He curled up in ball, and heard Cho shoot a girl near him. Then, only three feet away, Cho fired one shot at Webster's head. Amazingly, the bullet grazed his head and ricocheted into his upper right arm.

"I lay there and let him think he had done his job. I wasn't moving at all, hoping he wouldn't come back.''

But Cho had already gone. He was retracing his bloody steps. He was going back to Room 207. German class.


While Derek O'Dell, Erin Sheehan and Katelyn Carney manned the door, Trey Perkins tried to comfort some of the wounded.

Student Garret Evans, 30, from the South side of Chicago, had been shot in both legs. Perkins tied his pullover sweater around the right leg and used Evans' tank top to wrap the left. He held a hoodie sweatshirt over the face of a female student who had been shot in the mouth.

Only about two minutes had passed. How much time does it take to shoot twice through a door and to shoot four unarmed people in a room?

O'Dell was calling 911 when Cho reappeared at the door to 207. "I guess he heard us still talking," said Sheehan.

The able and semi-abled students had no sturdy table to block the door; they could only use their feet and their bodies.

"I sprinted on top of the desk to the door, because the aisle was clogged with people, and I used my foot as a wedge against the door," recalled O'Dell. " It was almost like you had to fight for your life. If you didn't, you died."

Cho was determined to get in.

"The door opened about 3 inches and I saw his face," said Evans. "I thought he would put the gun thru and shoot, but they pushed the door closed."

"Bang bang, 4 shots through door," he said.

"Fortunately, we were lying down and weren't in front of the door," Perkins said. The shots, at waist level, hit no one.

And with those parting shots, Cho was gone.

"I saw Satan at work and God at work at the same time. Evil, evil spirit was going thru that boy, that shooter, I know, I felt it. I felt god move me away so he didn't shoot me in my head," said Evans.

But Cho hadn't gone far.

Only back to Room 206, where the nightmare was to start all over again.

Guillermo Colman was on his cellphone to his wife when Cho returned and started shooting the students in the room---again.

Colman played dead. Lee Hixon played dead. And both dodged lead a second time. But others did not have their luck.

"It took a long while after everything became quiet before police entered the room," said Park Chang-Min. "They said, 'Anyone who is okay, raise their hands'. Me and two others got up. All the others were either lying face down on their desks or sprawled on the floor."

Cho, meanwhile, was already on the move again and bringing death with him.

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