Students received alerts throughout the day.
Virginia Tech students said they received a nearly constant stream of text message and eMail updates from school officials after a gunman killed a campus police officer and himself Thursday afternoon.
Virginia Tech’s homepage provided updated information about the shootings, the suspect, and what students and faculty members should do while police scour the campus. Students and the campus’s student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, tweeted updates throughout the afternoon.
At 2:59 p.m., about three hours after the first reports of a police officer shot to death during a routine traffic stop, final exams were postponed. Exams were slated to start Dec. 9. Police would not confirm if the second body found in a nearby parking lot known as “the cage” was that of the gunman’s; however, a law enforcement official who had knowledge of the case and spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that the gunman was believed to be dead.
A campus police spokesperson said they did not believe the shooter was in the car when the officer made the traffic stop.
Police said the shooting suspect is a white male wearing gray sweatpants and a gray hat with a neon brim. Students received this information through the school’s VT Alert notification system.
Virginia Tech was the scene of the worst gun-related massacre in U.S. history when, in April 2007, an English student opened fire and killed 32 people before killing himself. Campus officials were criticized when it became known that students and faculty weren’t informed of the shootings via text message or eMail until two hours after the police were told about shots ringing out on campus.
The notification system went off without a hitch during the most recent shooting, which prompted a four-hour campus lockdown.
“Every student has received copious amounts of text messages and eMails giving play by plays of everything going on today,” said Ryan Waddell, a junior political science major at Virginia Tech who was in his dorm room when he received the first text alert. “We feel confident in Virginia Tech’s ability to alert and protect us. … None of us feel like we’re in immediate danger.”
Rumors circulated that students and others on campus heard gunshots after the bodies were found by authorities. The university used its official Twitter account to debunk the swirling hearsay and direct students to the Virginia Tech website.
“Reports of recent sounds ID’d as gunshots and suspicious activity on campus have been investigated and are unfounded. Stay where you are,” the university announced in a tweet.
The campus of about 30,000 students in Blacksburg, Va. was eerily quiet Dec. 8 because it was Reading Day, the day before final exams. No classes were scheduled.
“Campus seems very calm,” Arielle Retting, a journalism student at nearby Radford University who covered the shooting as it unfolded. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this empty.”
Waddell said he was skeptical of the original campus alert because of an incident last summer in which children reported seeing a gunman on Virginia Tech’s campus.
“I wasn’t sure how serious to take it until a little later, after the reports started coming in,” he said.
Waddell commended the university for delaying final exams.
“Some people are obviously more prone to panic than others, so I could see it being a big distraction from their studies,” he said. “You’re supposed to be able to study unencumbered from distractions on Reading Day.”