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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Revisiting Virginia Tech: The Conclusion

Three students, fighting for their lives, had kept Seung Hui Cho out of German class where he had come to finish them off. (

Cho pumped five or six shots into the door in frustration. Then he turned and walked across the hall to Room 204/ Solid Mechanics class. He was in for a surprise.

The class had been in high alert from the moment Prof. Liviu Librescu saw Cho, gun in hand, leaving the room next door, Room 206, about three minutes earlier. Librescu told his students to get to the back of the room while he kept watch by the door. Two male students had bolted for safety, only to wind up right in front of Cho, who shot one of them twice.

Back in Room 204, the students were doing what they could.

"Everybody just got down on the ground," said Richard Mallalieu, 23. "We used desks to shield ourselves. One of my friends (Alex Calhoun - ed.) called 911."

"Somebody went up to the door to see if we could get out."

That was Matt Webster, 23. He said he put his head out to see what was going on.
"I heard a girl scream and what sounded like gunshots."

"One student tried going out the front door but as soon as he opened it, it sounded as if the gunshots started coming towards us. Dr. Librescu shut the door and stood guard after the student ran back into the classroom. " recalled Josh Wargo.

The scream most likely came from Room 207, German class, and may have been Erin Sheehan, who said later she screamed when Cho killed her teacher in front of the class.

Webster ran to the back of the room, leaped onto the windowsill and began kicking out the screens. Three windows were swung open but the gunshots got louder, he said.

"It sounded like he was going out into the hallway," Mallalieu said.

Students began jumping. It was almost 20 feet to the ground outside.

Jesse Wells was the first one out. "At this point I opened the window and removed the screen and shouted out that there was a bush to jump on...I made it safely to the ground."

Jeff Twigg landed hard and broke his leg is two places (the tibia and fibia).

Caroline Merry, 22, tossed her knapsack and windbreaker out the window and climbed out: " I hung from the window from my fingertips and I just closed my eyes and said to myself, "Here we go." She landed on her back and lay there stunned.

"I knocked the wind out of myself for like 30-45 seconds. I'm sitting there thinking I made it out of the classroom, but what's gonna stop him from looking out the window since I can't even move...I'm still in trouble, but two of my classmates came back for me at least."

She landed next to Kelly Swinson who twisted her ankle when she jumped.

Richard Mallalieu hung from the window ledge, then let go.

"For me, it wasn't a choice [to jump out the window]. It was kind of a grassy area, so it wasn't like falling on stairs or concrete. I just kind of fell and rolled, so I wasn't hurt at all."

Andrey Andreyev tried to pull Prof. Livescu to the back of the class, but his teacher pushed him away. He encouraged his students to get out as fast as possible.

"As I got ready to jump out the window," said Andreyev, "I turned back to look at the professor. He just stood there, holding the door. The last I saw him, he was blocking the door."

Josh Wargo was one of the last to get out.
" When I landed I was in a daze, standing outside of the building. Then I heard shots going through glass, that's when it hit me that I had to get out of there."

Jake Grohs was hanging from the window when Cho came into the room. He dropped, hearing people being shot.

Cho pushed his way into Room 204 past the 76-year-old professor who was blocking the door with his own body. Prof. Livescu was shot in the face at point blank range. Student Minal Panchal, standing beside him and possibly helping him hold the door shut, was shot next.

Alex Calhoun, 20, was at the windows but held back to the last minute.

"Before I jumped I turned around and looked at the professor, who stayed behind to block the door. He had been killed. I could see the people jump in front of me, and a couple of people broke ankles, legs.

So I aimed for a bush and I hit the bush first, so I ended up OK."

But time had run out for the last two students waiting to jump.

Matt Webster dropped to his knees and curled up in a ball "tornado-drill style." He was shot from three feet away. A bullet grazed his forehead and ricocheted into his right bicep.

Justin Klein was shot three times -- twice in his right leg and once in his left elbow. He stayed down and pretended he was dead.

But Cho must have felt cheated again. Expecting a whole class, he found only four people. He vented his anger on Prof. Livescu on his way out. Livescu's body had five bullet wounds, said a rabbi at his funeral.By this time the police were swarming the area at last.

Back in Room 211/French, the Virginia Tech Police Lt. Debbi Morgan was still talking to Emily Haas.

According to the account of the call in Washington Post:
Morgan: "Stay under the desk." "Keep talking to me. We're hurrying. They'll be there in a minute."
Haas: "Thank you."
Morgan: "Are you there?"
Hass: (whispering) "Yeah, I'm here."
"We need an ambulance."
Was the door locked? Morgan asked.
It doesn't lock, Haas replied.

The police arrived three minutes after the Haas 911 call began, the chief of police said later.

The Washington Post says Blacksburg Police Sgt. Anthony Wilson and four other officers ran to the front double door of Norris Hall. They found that the thick wooden doors chained shut from the inside. They could hear shots---and people screaming.

They ran to another door, where they with SWAT team officers. That door was also chained shut.

"Shoot the chain," they yelled in unison, recounted the Washington Post. Twice an officer fired a shotgun at the chains but couldn't break them. Cho had run out of schoolrooms. He began zigzagging along the hallway, retracing his steps.

According to an early story in the New York Daily News, Cho went back to German class, Room 207, a third time. (OUT OF THE HORROR EMERGES A HERO, ANDREA PEYSER, April 17, 2007)

"He could hear us talking," said Derek O'Dell.

But this time, he could not get the door open at all. So he shot another round or two into the door and left. No one was hit.

Back across the hall he went, to Hydrology class, Room 206 again.

He sprayed the room with bullets, shooting dead and wounded alike.

Nathaniel Krause had miraculously been spared during Cho's first attack on the class. Cho had come to finish everyone off, but once again his incredible luck saved him, but at the expense of a fellow classmate's life.

As Cho went along the front row shooting into bodies he was approaching Krause when Waleed Shaalan, 32, in the the second row, stood up to attract his attention. Cho shot and killed Shaalan, who fell over Krause, shielding him.

Cho poured shots in the direction of Gil Colman, who felt two or three strike the body of Partahi Lumbantoruan as it lay across Colman.

Lee Hixon, cowering in the back of the room, said Cho fired four times in his direction, without hitting him.

Outside, Blacksburg Police Chief Kim Crannis and Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum were waiting at the entrance to Norris Hall for bolt cutters to break through the chains holding the doors closed.

Janitor Gene Cole had come up to the second floor to find his co-worker, Pam Tickles, and get her out of the building. As he looked down the hallway he saw someone on the ground, writhing and trying to get up. It was Prof. Kevin Granata, although Cole didn't know it at the time.

He was about to go to help the injured person, when Cho stepped out of Room 206 and spotted Cole. "I was looking at somebody else who was already shot," Cole said. "I was shot at five times."

Cole took the back stairs two at a time as the bullets whizzed by his head so close he could hear them.

Room 211, Emily Haas could hear the gunshots again, getting louder. So could Lt. Morgan over the 911 line.
Haas: (whispering) "He's in here."

It was 9:48.
Cho had returned to Room 211.
Pop. Pop.
Morgan heard Haas scream. A blood-curdling, hysterical scream.

Haas: "I just got hit." Cho was walking through the room, determined to kill anyone left alive

Hillary Strollo told her brother "... he fired approximately 5- to 6- clips around 3 bullets into each person in the classroom."

Strollo was shot in the left side of her stomach and buttocks and a bullet grazed her head. One bullet lodged near her spine. "Blood was running down her face, so she thinks he thought she was dead and he didn't come back again."

Clay Violand said he continued to play dead. "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."

Heidi Miller was shot three times in her left side, in her knee, buttocks and thigh. She had already been shot in the lower abdomen. Doctors had to put screws in her shattered knee and a titanium rod in her femur (thigh bone).

Haas was grazed in the head by two bullets. (The wounds were minor and she left the hospital the day of the shooting.)

The terror of the moment is heard on the 911 call to police:
Over the phone, Morgan heard another loud gunshot. And another. She heard Emily Haas' breathing quicken.

Haas: "He's reloading."
Morgan: "Okay, there's units there. Stay calm. Try to stay calm. Ease your breathing."
Morgan: "What's your name?"
Haas: "I can't talk."
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Morgan: (to a dispatcher) "Still shooting in Norris."
Haas screamed.

Outside, student Jamal Albarghouti noticed policemen running by with their guns out.

"I thought there was just another bomb threat. Then I started hearing some gunshots far away... And then all the cops were trying to get into Norris Hall..."

He started shooting the action with his cellphone video.

"... and they used like a bomb or something to open one of the doors. Probably they dropped a bomb in the building. There was a person on the second floor of Norris trying to tell the cops that he's in there. And probably trying to guide him in."

Lt. Curtis Cook, leader of the Virginia Tech SWAT team, was at the back of the building with some of his men. They saw a wooden door next to the one chained shut was locked with a deadbolt. One officer blasted the lock with a shotgun and the police went into Norris Hall.

They split up. Some, including (Sgt. Anthony) Wilson, the Blacksburg SWAT team leader, started up a staircase. Cook and his group moved down the first-floor hall, checking classrooms in an "emergency clearing" tactic, and headed up another staircase, at the other end of the hall, so they would have both sides of the second floor covered. (Washington Post, June 26, 2007)

Colin Goddard watched as Cho "made multiple passes around the room and shot multiple people multiple times. He had been shooting very rapidly in succession and reloading quickly. He reloaded in our room a few times. He kept dropping clips and changing them out."

Goddard tried to play head, but that didn't matter to Cho anymore. He came so close his boot nearly brushed Goddard's leg--and he shot Goddard two more times. One bullet entered his right armpit and went out his shoulder. The other went into his right buttock.

Goddard tried to keep still. He heard one shot. Then another.

At 9:51, as Lt. Cook and Sgt. Wilson moved up opposite stairwells, they heard the last gunshot.

In Room 211 the silence was overwhelming.

Goddard turned to his friend Kristina Heeger, who had been shot in the back, and asked,"Is he here?"
Allison Cook, 19, opened her eyes. Emily Haas, her sorority sister, was near her, still on the cell phone.
Clay Violand was across from Cook who lay wounded with gunshot wounds to her side, shoulder and lower back.
One bullet entered her ribs, collapsing a lung.
"You're going to be OK," Violand told her.

Lt. Morgan was still talking to Emily Haas.
Morgan: "Stay calm."
"The officers are inside, so just stay calm. Stay with me. Stay calm."
A few minutes later, police were banging at the door shouting and trying to push their way in. But the door was blocked.

Morgan asked Haas to open the door and let the police in. Haas went to the door and found the bodies of Prof. Jocelyn Couture-Nowak and a classmate. She tried to open the door, but didn't have the strength. Police pushed their way in.

Goddard said he heard one of them shout, "The shooter is down! The shooter is 'black'!"

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