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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reconstructing the Virginia Tech shootings moment by moment Part Two

The April 22, 2007, Sunday New York Times provided us with the last pieces of the puzzle.

Integrating them into our examination of the mass murder on the Virginia Tech campus by Cho Seung-Hui, permits us to offer the best reconstruction you'll see anywhere of what exactly happened.

We've made a few changes to Part One to incorporate better information that's come our way and to clear up the odd misunderstanding of events. Before picking up the story, we recap Part One including vital new information.

Picture the second floor of Norris Hall, or at least the shorter leg of the L-shaped building. ( Or go to the interactive page of the NYT at )

There's a row of classrooms on either side of a hallway. On the right are four classrooms---Rooms 200, 204, 206 and 210. Nos. 200 and 210, at the outer edges, were empty. On the left are three classrooms---Room 205 opposite 200, Room 207 opposite 204, and Room 211 opposite 206---and a set of offices opposite 210. There are stairs at either end of the left side.

As we described, Cho Seung-Hui began his killing spree with Room 206, where Dr. G.V. Loganathan was teaching a class in Advanced Hydrology. Leaving the room, he walked directly across the hallway into Room 207 where Prof. Jaime Bishop was teaching a class in Elementary German.

In Room 205 student Theresa Walsh and fill-in teacher Haiyan Cheng heard the commotion and looked into the hallway to see what was causing it.

As we wrote in Part One, Walsh made eye contact with Prof. Liviu Librescu in Room 204 who was doing the same. When she saw Cho leave Room 207, she ducked back into her room.

Here's where the NYT filled in a missing piece.

In Prof. Librescu's room, two students recognized the noise they were hearing and decided to make a run for it.

"One student shouted, "That's gunfire, I'm getting out of here." He grabbed his belongings and dashed into the hallway, trailed by one other student. But the killer was in the hallway. The first student was shot twice, but managed with assistance from his classmate to hobble downstairs."
( Students Recount Desperate Minutes Inside Norris Hall, Serge F. Kovakeski and Katie Zezima, New York Times, April 22, 2007. )

As we wrote, Haiyan Cheng "saw something that made her blood run cold---two young men running down the hall and the gunman shooting at them."

The New York Times anecdote explains why Cho, on leaving the German class, turned right, towards Room 205 and the students in the Issues in Scientific Computing course, instead of left and the Intermediate French class in Room 211.

The new chronology is clear.

Walsh, the first one out of her room because she was closest to the door, saw Cho leave German class. She went back into her classroom and the two boys dashed out of theirs. Cho went after them and Cheng, following Walsh into the hallway, saw the chase. And saw Cho headed her way.

The students of Room 205 managed to block the door to Cho. Frustrated, he turned on his heels and went into Room 204, Prof. Librescu's class on Solid Mechanics, as we described in Part One.

Now, he was way over at one end of the hallway. Yet he eventually wound up at the other end, at Room 211 where Prof. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak was holding a class in Intermediate French.

Did something attract him back down the hallway? Based on the timing of the events at Norris Hall, we think so.

As Cho left Librescu's classroom, less than 10 minutes had elapsed in his killing spree.


Biomechanics Professor Kevin Granata, 46, was in his office on the third floor on Norris Hall when he heard the shooting. He found a class of 20 frightened students and ushered them into his office. As a military veteran, he was less intimidated by gunfire than another academic might be, and, as student researcher Gregory Slota put it to the Washington Post, "aware that other students might be in danger on the second floor, he and another professor, Wally Grant, went downstairs to investigate."

NPR (that's National Public Radio for the uninitiated) carried a story April 17 saying two members of the Virginia Tech staff "were shot---one in the arm and the other in the face."

Wally Grant was shot in the arm. He ran into a washroom to hide. Student Zach Vane was just leaving. He told the story to 6 News Reporter Adam Longo in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"He had just left, in the middle of class, for the restroom."As I was leaving the bathroom, I heard a teacher say, 'I'm hit, I'm hit.' He came running into the bathroom and was holding his arm and so I didn't go into the hallway. He proceeded to call 911. I pushed myself up against the door because the door did not lock. He simply said he had been shot by a shooter on the 2nd floor of Norris Hall. He did not get a clean look at him. He heard shots, felt himself get hit and ducked into the nearest doorway," said Zach."

It's obvious that Kevin Grenata was the other professor shot by Cho, the one shot in the face.

Grant fled toward the rear of the building. His colleague lay in the hallway.

Advancing on the two men would have taken Cho to the door of Room 211 and the terrified class within.


Prof. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak had looked out the door of her classroom to see what was making the racket.

"Immediately she pulled it back in with a terrified look on her face, told us all to get on the ground..." said student Colin Goddard.

Clay Violand, 20, a junior from Potomac, Maryland, had a suggestion.

"I pointed at the teacher and said, "put that desk in front of the door, now." he told the Washington Post. The teacher and some students pushed her desk in front of the door.

She said "Someone call 911." She told her students to get to the back of the room and get under the desks, recalled Emily Haas.

Colin Stoddard used his cell phone to make the call. But the 911 operator kept repeating the wrong number. Suddenly, bullets started coming through the door.
"It looked like he was trying to shoot the lock out. When he started firing at the door, I hit the floor." said Goddard.

Cho pushed his way in.

Clay Violand dove under a desk -"t hat was the desk I chose to die under."

He said Cho began "methodically and calmly" to shoot people. "After every shot I thought, "OK, the next one is me." Sometimes after a shot, I would hear a quick moan, or a slow one, or a grunt, or a quiet, reserved yell from one of the girls." Colin says he refused to look at the gunman's face.

"I saw his boots, I saw his pants, I saw his shirt, and I saw two holsters over each of his shoulders, pistol holsters, and then that's as much of him as I wanted to see. I didn't want to make eye contact. I thought if I looked at him, then he would know I'm here, I'm alive, I've seen you, and I think I would be in a lot worse position than if I had done that."

At the back of the room Emily Haas tried to make herself small and invisible. She kept her eyes closed tight.

Cho walked up and down the rows of desks, calmly shooting people.

Hilary Strollo, a Virginia Tech freshman from Gibsonia, just outside of Pittsburgh, was shot in the stomach and buttocks, and that a bullet also grazed her head. One bullet lacerated her liver. She later told her brother the gunman "fired approximately 5-6 clips --- around 3 bullets into each person in the classroom."

Goddard still held onto his cell phone, with the 911 Operator on the other end. Wanting to draw as little attention as possible, he dropped the phone to the ground. He said "a girl named Heidi picked it up, begging the police to hurry." That was likely Heidi Miller, who would be shot three times in the leg.

Cho turned toward them. "I think he heard the police on the phone," Goddard said. "He shot some people near me, he shot the girl across from me in the back. Then I felt a very forceful rush of air and a pinch or a sting in my leg."

Kristine Heegan had been shot in the back. A bullet hit Colin in the knee.

Goddard said he flinched when bullet hit, but played dead. "Nobody tried to get up and be a hero," he said.

He's wrong. There was one hero in Room 211.


A Virginia Tech professor who was also a deacon of St. Mary Parish in Blacksburg rushed to Norris Hall as soon as the shooting stopped and was met by a state trooper who was a parishioner from St. Mary. The trooper allowed Deacon Michael J. Ellerbrock to speak to law enforcement officers at the scene.

This is what Ellerbrock told CNS (Christian News Service):

"One officer told me an ROTC student grabbed (Cho) from behind and got a bullet right to the head," Deacon Ellerbrock said recalling the awe that struck him in the first minutes afterward as he stood on the lawn of the classroom building where the massacre took place. "It's beyond comprehension how one person could kill so many with just two guns."

That ROTC student was 20-year-old Air Force ROTC sophomore Matthew La Porte, of Dumont, N.J.

The parents of fellow ROTC cadet Paul Jarrett supplied more chilling detail of what happened in Room 211. They told the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, that Paul was too shaken up to talk because of what he had learned.

"They said Paul was not ready to talk about his experience. A cadet in Paul's Navy ROTC unit died trying to take out the gunman in Norris Hall as he lined up victims against a wall, Stephen Jarrett said. He said the cadet's last name was LaPorte."(Canceled class kept student from Charleston out of shooter's path, Prentiss Findlay, The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, April 18, 2007)

Eventually, the shooting stopped and Cho left the room.

It looks like Cho went directly across the hall to Room 206, Hyrdology class to finish off the wounded.


In what appears to be a pattern, Cho walked along the rows of desks, shooting everyone execution style.

Guillermo Colman had already been shot by Cho. A 9 mm. bullet grazed his head and the bleeding helped fool Cho into thinking Colman was already dead.

Still, Colman's heart must have skipped several beats when Cho returned to the room and his shoes literally touched Colman's.

"I couldn't see him because my face was buried in the ground in blood," Colman said.

Then he heard the familiar sound of shots. Colman said the bullets struck Lumbantoruan, who had also been hit earlier and whose body had fallen over Colman, likely sparing his life. Colman believes his colleague was already dead when Cho returned...

By the time Cho stopped shooting, nine of the 15 students and the professor were dead. Only two students escaped without any injuries---Lee Hixon, a 31-year old grad student, and Nathanial Krause.

Hixon has said he played dead and was lucky not to be shot. Krause has not been interviewed, but we found this account of his experience from an e-mail sent by a friend of his.

One of the two men was so sticken with survivor's guilt that he sent his friends to Virginia radio station WDBJ7 Roanoke to pass on a message to the family of one of the victims of the massacre who probably saved his life.

" There was also one friend, Nathanial, and he told the most horrible story, I don't know how he will ever be able to live with this memory. Nathanial was in one of the classrooms the shooter went in and he reported the following: The shooter entered the classroom, shot the professor in the head and then every single student in the classroom, all of them in the head...all of them but Nathanial. He stood 2 feet away from him but he didn't shoot him. Then the shooter left, went on to the next classroom shot people there and came back. Nathanial, in shock still in the classroom. The shooter tried to spot everybody who was still moving and shot them again...but again spared Nathanial...then he left. "

One of the men who walked out of Room 207 was so sticken with survivor's guilt that he sent his friends to Virginia radio station WDBJ7 Roanoke to pass on a message to the family of one of the victims of the massacre, the man who saved his life.

The story by reporter Rachel Depompa said that Egypt born Waleed Shaalan had been shot twice the first time Cho came to the room, but he deliberately put himself in the line of fire the second time as Cho tried to shoot a fellow student.

The third bullet he took was a fatal head shot; Shaalan was killed, giving his life for the other man.


While this was going on, Virginia Tech caretaker Gene Cole was looking for a colleague, Pam Tickle, after being informed police were evacuating Norris Hall. He had gone up to the second floor when he spotted a person lying in the hallway with "blood all over him, all around him." In a Southern accent as thick as Manitoba gumbo, Cole told NPR it looked like the man wanted to get up, but he couldn't "because he hurt too bad."

Cole was about to go to the man's side when Cho stepped out of a classroom " three doors down"---20 to 30 feet away. Cho raised his gun and fired five shots at Cole who ran for his life down the back stairs, taking them two at a time. He said he could feel "the bullets whiz by my head."

Cho may have followed Cole to the stairway. Student Tina Harrison was writing an accounting test on the third floor of Norris Hall when the class became aware of the shooting one floor below. They listened until:

"We heard him coming up the stairwell. We heard people being shot on the stairwell, which is very close to the room we were at."

If Cho did, indeed, chase Cole to the stairs and contemplate going up, he may have been deterred by the police who were swarming the building by this time.

In any event, he returned, one last time, to the French class in Room 211.


The terrified students, those who were alive and conscious at least, had had a brief respite estimated at between 3 and 10 minutes by Colin Goddard.

Emily Haas told CNN she picked up Colin Goddard's phone "so they would know we were still there. The 911 operator wanted me to keep talking and I said No I want to be quiet so he doesn't know we're here and she was in my ear the whole time saying 'just breathe, just breathe.' "

Goddard "heard the voice of the 911 operator, still squawking into his cell phone, and saw Christina, the girl who had been shot in the back. A male student on the floor near him was making a low, constant gurgling sound."

"The room was silent except for the haunting sound of moans, some quiet crying, and someone muttering "it's OK, it's going to be OK. They will be here soon," said Violand. "I [propped] my head up just enough to mutter in a harsh whisper, "play dead. If he thinks you're dead then he won't kill you."

But what he saw horrified him. "I think I'm screwed up for life," he later told a fellow student. "I never seen a dead person or a mauled person."

Asked what he meant by "mauled", he said: "
People's faces screwed up from bullets. People gurgling with blood. People moaning and wheezing with gunshots in their eye. Stuff like that I never thought I'd see."

He was about to see more when Cho came back into the room.

"My head was down the whole time. He began unloading what it seemed like a second round into everyone again - it had to be the same people. There were way more gunshots than there were people in that room. I think I heard him reload maybe three times," he told a reporter later.

Even in this time of trial there was time for a moment of humanity.

"There was a girl in front of me - I didn't know her well. I didn't know her name. (it was Kristine Heegan - ed) We kept eye contact from time to time. She was brave. I don't think she cried. We just stared at each other under the desks. She would have been the last person I had made eye contact with on this earth if I had died."

Goddard saw him walk down the rows of desks shooting people. When Cho reached Colin's row, the gunman shot him in the shoulder and the hip.

"My chest and torso were kind of underneath a desk, that's why I think I got shot in my extremities," he told NEWSWEEK.

"I squealed and I squirmed, you know, when I got hit, but that was one of the last bullets I heard."

Within seconds, Cho walked to the front of the room and fired a bullet into his own head.


Very shortly, police arrived at the door to Room 211. They asked the students to get up and leave. Only Clay Violand and Kristine Heegan could stand on their own.

The police swept through Norris Hall, clearing room by room.

They reached Pam Tickle's group in the student lounge. "When we heard police out in the hallway after 11, we let them in. They body searched us, and led us away to evacuate from the building."

Janis Terpenny, an associate professor of engineering, was holed up in the dean's office.

When police showed up, she told them about the note she found on one of the doors before the shooting began. It said there was a bomb and not to open the doors.

The note was written on white notebook paper, and she described the writing as so "scratchy" that it was either intentionally disguised or written by someone with very poor penmanship.

"Having gone through two bomb scares" on campus recently, she said, she did not take the note seriously and opened the door. It was then she saw another door that was chained from the inside. She went back to the dean's office.

Ambulances rushed the wounded and the dying to hospitals where, one final irony awaited their friends and family.

When Graham Doeren went to a hospital to try to find a friend who had been in class at Virginia Tech when the massacre started, he discovered "all the entrances and waiting areas near the emergency unit were being guarded by police holding automatic weapons."

With the worst shooting rampage over, authorities were out in full force-at the hospitals, protecting the victims from -- what?


Killed in Room 206 were:

Jarrett Lane, 22
Juan Ramon Ortiz, 26
Julia Pryde, 23
Matthew Gwaltney, 24
Brian Bluhm, 25
Daniel Patrick O'Neil, 22
Partahi Lumbantoruan, 34
Waleed Shaalan, 32
Jeremy Herbstritt, 27
Prof. G. V. Loganathan, 51,

Killed in Room 204 were:

Minal Panchal, 26
Prof. Liviu Librescu, 76

Killed in Room 207 were:
Maxine Turner, 22
Lauren McCain, 20,
Nicole White, 20
Michael Pohle, 23
Prof. Christopher Jamie Bishop, 35

Killed in Room 211 were:

Ross Abdallah Alameddine, 20,
Daniel Perez Cueva, 21
Caitlin Hammaren, 19,
Matthew La Porte, 20
Mary Karen Read, 19,
Reema Joseph Samaha, 18
Leslie Sherman, 20
Erin Peterson, 18
Austin Cloyd, 18
Rachel Elizabeth Hill, 18,
Henry Lee, 20
Prof. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, about 43 (High school Class of '81)

Killed in Norris Hall
Prof. Kevin Granata, 45

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