2008Breaking News Reporting

'Pop, Pop, Pop': Students Down, Doors Barred, Leaps to Safety

By: 
Michael E. Ruane and Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
April 17, 2007

Yesterday morning. Second floor. Norris Hall. In Room 207, Mr. Bishop's German class is underway. A few doors down, Professor Librescu is posting slides for his engineering students in 204. Outside, the Virginia Tech campus is gray and chilly but pretty normal for a Monday.

"It couldn't have been much more normal," said Richard Mallalieu, one of Liviu Librescu's students.

Suddenly, sometime after 9 a.m., a young man walked into the German class with two handguns and shot instructor Christopher James Bishop in the head.

Then he began firing at the students. Shot after shot, "some 30 shots in all," said Trey Perkins, who was seated in the back of the German class. He shot a girl in the mouth, a boy in the legs.

There were about 15 students, and Perkins said the relentless gunman had a "very serious but very calm look on his face."

"Everyone hit the floor at that moment," said Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va., a sophomore studying mechanical engineering.

The gunman left, and Perkins, sounding shaken in a telephone interview yesterday, said "three or four" students appeared to be dead.

In Room 204, the engineering students were watching Librescu's slides on the subject of virtual work when they began to hear shots from what sounded like an adjacent classroom, said Mallalieu, 23, a student from Luray, Va.

"At first I tried to convince myself they weren't gunshots, that if anything, maybe a presentation was going on, to try to convince myself it wasn't," Mallalieu said in a telephone interview from his Blacksburg apartment. "It became evident pretty quick what was going on."

Plus, he said, "there were a few screams." At first, he got down and hid behind a desk as Librescu held the classroom door closed. Then the students went to the windows.

As they pondered whether to jump, the gunshots went on. "A steady pop, pop, pop, pop," Mallalieu said. The gunfire was "more or less continuous." He said he heard 20 to 30 shots as he and other students noticed there was grass below and decided it was time to jump. "It was scary," he said, "but it wasn't as panicked as you might think it was."

The engineering students pushed open the windows.

On the first floor, custodian Gene W. Cole, 52, was preparing to clean a bathroom when someone reported a shooting in a second-floor lab. Cole took an elevator and got off at 2.

"I walked around the corner, and I saw something in the hallway there," Cole said in a telephone interview. "As I got closer, I saw it was a girl lying on the floor jerking around as if she was trying to get up. There was blood all over her and all over the floor around her."

A man dressed in bluejeans, a dark sweat shirt and a hat stepped out of a classroom and flashed a black handgun.

"He acted like he was angry," Cole said. "I just thought, 'Oh my God, he's fit to kill me.' He didn't say nothing; he just started shooting. He shot at me five times."

Bullets zipped past Cole's head. He ran down some back stairs, saw that several exits had what looked like new chains and locks on them, and escaped through an auditorium. Cole, who has worked at Virginia Tech for 20 years, said the chains and locks had to have been put on the doors shortly before the shooting because they were not there earlier that morning.

Back in Room 207, Perkins, a student named Derek and a female student headed toward the heavy wooden classroom door and held it shut with their feet.

Other students were crying. One vomited. Two minutes later, Perkins said, the gunman came back. But now he couldn't get in. So he started shooting through the door, Perkins said, before leaving again. "Fortunately, we were lying down and weren't in front of the door," he said.

Whispering and trying to compose himself, Perkins, an Eagle Scout, said he told Derek and the female student to keep their feet on the door in case the gunman returned.

Perkins said he went around the room, tending to the wounded students. A student named Garrett was shot in both legs. Perkins wrapped his gray pullover sweater around Garrett's right leg.

Perkins used Garrett's tank top to wrap the other leg. Perkins saw a sweat shirt on a desk and covered the girl with the mouth wound.

"He knew exactly what he was doing," Perkins said of the gunman. "I have no idea why he did what he decided to do. I just can't say how lucky I am to have made it."

In 204, the students had opened the windows and were jumping for their lives.

"It's kind of hard to believe that something like this would happen," Mallalieu said. "You hear things about Columbine... But you never think you'd be involved in that. But at that point I realized it was really happening."

Mallalieu, the son of a chemist, said he climbed out, hung for a moment from the ledge, looked down and let go. "I kind of tried to roll when I landed," he said.

He suffered some scratches. He's not sure everybody got out. Those who did ran for a nearby campus building. As they did, Mallalieu said it sounded as though the gunshots, and the screams, were now coming from 204. He said he heard about 40 shots in all.

There was little conversation as the students fled. "At that point, it was just, get away," he said. "I think everybody kind of had the same feeling about what was going on. We didn't really need to talk about it.

"I don't think it's settled in yet," he said. "I haven't heard how my other classmates who I think were still left behind, you know, what happened to them, be it good or bad."

A man identifying himself as one of Bishop's relatives said the family had no comment. Last night, a woman who answered the phone at Librescu's home and identified herself as his wife said she did not know whether he had survived.