A HUGE police operation was in force yesterday to track down a gunman who shot dead two people, one of them a police officer at a US university which was the scene of a mass shooting four years ago.
Virginia Tech campus went into lockdown after reports of shooting at the campus where 32 people died in 2007.
Officials urged staff and students to lock themselves indoors while the hunt for the suspect got under way.
A news release from the university, which has about 30,000 students, said the police officer was shot after pulling someone over for a routine traffic stop shortly after noon.
Witnesses told police the gunman, described as a white male, wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, hat and backpack, ran towards a car park on campus where a second person was later found dead.
Text and online messages were sent out alerting staff and students to the incident. They said: “Gun shots reported – Coliseum Parking lot. Stay Inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help.”
Further Twitter and text updates kept those locked in buildings aware of what was going on while the armed police response swung into action.
In a press conference school spokesman Mark Owczarski said the second body had not yet been identified.
“We have many law enforcement agencies here. They have a description of the suspect. They are searching all buildings, all public areas, outdoor, indoors, we are looking absolutely everywhere for the person that matches the description of the suspect,” he said.
Virginia State Police is taking the lead in the investigation, he added.
“It’s crazy that someone would go and do something like that with all the stuff that happened in 2007,” said Corey Smith, a 19-year-old who had been heading to a dining hall near the site of one of the shootings, but stayed inside after seeing the alerts.
The shooting came on the same day as Virginia Tech was appealing a $55,000 (£35,200) fine imposed by the Education Department in connection with its response to the 2007 rampage by a student gunman.
US Department of Education chiefs had told the school the sanction should have been greater for its slow response when student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and staff, then himself.
A report found it broke the law by failing to issue a timely warning to the Blacksburg campus after the 23-year-old shot dead two students in a dormitory early on April 16, 2007.
The university sent out an email to the campus more than two hours later, about the time Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and staff, then himself.
The report also determined the school failed to follow its own procedures for providing such notification.
Harry White, 20, a junior physics major, told reporters in a phone interview he was queuing for a sandwich at a campus restaurant when he received a text message alert about yesterday’s shooting.
He did not panic, thinking instead about a false alarm about a gunman which caused the campus to be locked down in August. He used an indoor walkway to go to a computer lab where he checked news reports.
The report of a possible gunman at Virginia Tech on August 4 set off the longest, most extensive lockdown and search on campus since the 2007 bloodbath.
No gunman was found during the August 4 hunt and that incident marked the first time the entire campus had been locked down since the 2007 massacre by the student Cho.