BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman killed a Virginia Tech police officer Thursday at a campus parking lot and then apparently shot himself to death nearby in a baffling attack that shook up the school nearly five years after it was the scene of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
The shooting took place on the same day Virginia Tech officials were in Washington, fighting a government fine over their alleged mishandling of the 2007 bloodbath where 33 people were killed. Before it became clear that the gunman in Thursday’s attack was dead, the school applied the lessons learned during the last tragedy, locking down the campus and using a high-tech alert system to warn students and faculty members to stay indoors.
“In light of the turmoil and trauma and the tragedy suffered by this campus by guns, I can only say words don’t describe our feelings and they’re elusive at this point in time,” university president Charles Steger said. “Our hearts are broken again for the family of our police officer.”
The officer was killed after pulling a driver over in a traffic stop. The gunman — who was not involved in the traffic stop — walked into the parking lot and ambushed the officer. Police did not know what the motive was.
The officer was identified as Deriek W. Crouse, a 39-year-old Army veteran and married father of five who joined the campus police force about six months after the 2007 massacre, the school said. He previously worked at a jail and a sheriff’s department.
While authorities wouldn’t reveal specific details about the gunman or his identity, they released a timeline of events.
At about 12:15 p.m., the officer called in the traffic stop. After a few minutes passed without hearing from the officer, dispatch tried to get in touch with him, but didn’t get a response. About 15 minutes later, police received the first call from a witness who said an officer had been shot at the Cassell Coliseum parking lot and the gunman had fled on foot.
Local, state and federal officials responded. At 1 p.m., an officer saw a suspicious man in a parking lot known as The Cage. The man had a gunshot wound and a gun was nearby.
Authorities said they responded to numerous other calls of suspicious activity, but found no threats and lifted the campus lockdown, about four hours after the initial alerts.
Asked if police still were looking for the shooter, state police Sgt. Robert Carpentieri said: “I think the investigators feel confident that we’ve located the person. I can’t give you specifics and I don’t want to confirm that, but you can kind of read between the lines so I won’t specifically address that question.”