All the papers banner and devote most of their Page One space to, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, yesterday’s massacre at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg that amounted to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Two shooting rampages left 33 people dead and approximately 30 injured. The gunman (although it is still unclear whether there was only one) shot himself as police closed in on him. “I’m really at a loss for words to explain or to understand the carnage that has visited our campus,” the university president said. All the papers front the same dramatic picture of police officers carrying students from a campus building.
The tragic day began at 7:15 a.m. when two people were killed in a dormitory. But the worst came more than two hours later, when a gunman went into Norris Hall, a science and engineering building, and began shooting students and professors. Officials didn’t release the name of the shooter but witnesses described him as a young Asian man and the New York Timesgets word from federal law-enforcement officials that he might have recently arrived in the United States. The Washington Postsays the shooter carried a 9mm semiautomatic and a .22-caliber handgun, “both with the serial numbers obliterated.” The Los Angeles Timessays 26 people, mostly students, were being treated at several area hospitals. In a nice piece of Page One design, USA Todaygoes across the top with the excerpt of an e-mail sent out by the university at 9:50 a.m.: “A gunman is loose on campus. …” Everyone spends time looking at this and other e-mails (the first came approximately half an hour earlier) as sadness turned to anger and more people questioned whether university and police officials could have done more to prevent most of the deaths.
After the first shooting, police believed it was a “domestic” case and that the gunman had left the campus so they chose not to send out an e-mail alert until two hours later. Even after the shooting started it seems as though university officials had no plan to guide students. USAT talks to a student who says he was driving to school at 10 a.m. when he heard about the shootings from strangers who stopped him and urged him to turn around. At that point he called the school’s information line: “I say to them, ‘I hear everybody’s getting shot, is class canceled?’ And the lady tells me, ‘All I can say is proceed cautiously.’ Proceed cautiously? Meaning what? Avoid 9mm bullets?”
By that time the gunman had already entered Norris Hall, chained some of the doors from the inside, and started shooting. The WP and LAT both have accounts from students inside the building, where one of the most harrowing scenes appears to have played out in a German class. The shooter simply walked into the class and shot the teacher in the head. The WP talks to a student who says the gunman had a “very serious but very calm look on his face.” The LAT and NYT quote another student in the class who told the college newspaper she was one of only a few people to have left the classroom unscathed. Interestingly enough, the same student also said the gunman “peeked in twice … like he was looking for someone, somebody, before he started shooting.” In other classrooms in the building, students struggled to decide what to do as they realized they were in the middle of a shooting rampage and that they could be next. Some decided to jump out of windows, later telling how they heard shots in the classroom they had just escaped as they were running away from the building.
There was almost immediate outrage from students and their parents, who questioned why police and university officials didn’t react more aggressively to the first shooting and put the campus on lockdown. But USAT talks to experts who make clear that putting a large campus on lockdown is no easy feat. The WP notes that although officials say there was a “lockdown” in classrooms, most students simply didn’t know there was anything going on. In a story inside, the LAT does a good job of plainly going through several of the remaining open questions. Besides the late response time, there is also the nagging question of whether there was only one gunman. If so, does that mean police were pursuing and interviewing the wrong suspect while the gunman roamed the campus?
In its lead story, the NYT mentions Virginia’s lax gun laws make it relatively easy for anyone to purchase a handgun. Inside, the LAT notes that those who advocate for stricter gun controls said yesterday’s events show the need for tougher regulations. Those who oppose tougher gun laws have, for the most part, remained silent.
While the university was late in bringing information, the LAT fronts a story looking at how students (“members of the most wired generation in history”) were quick to use the Internet to describe their feelings, check on their friends, report new developments, and, of course, post videos and photos.
The LAT and WP both go inside with stories that wonder how the massacre will affect a university whose reputation and popularity had been steadily increasing. Meanwhile, officials at universities across the country are likely to begin reviewing their security procedures.
In other news, the NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, that Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr pulled his six ministers from the Iraqi Cabinet. Sadr said he was removing his ministers because the Iraqi government refuses to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The U.S. military reported the death of seven American troops.
All the papers go inside with the Senate judiciary committee postponing the testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, scheduled for today, until Thursday because of the killings at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, the papers get word that Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ former chief of staff, gave more details over the weekend on how the attorney general’s previous statements about the firings of U.S. attorneys might have been inaccurate. In a private interview with congressional investigators, Sampson said Gonzales took part in discussions about the firing of two U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias of New Mexico and Carol Lam of San Diego. In addition, Sampson said that Gonzales told him that President Bush had complained about Iglesias.
The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, the Pulitzer Prize winners. The only newspaper to win more than one prize was the WSJ, which received the public service award for its stories on the backdating of stock options and the international reporting Pulitzer for its series on the effects of China’s emerging capitalism. The LAT got the award for explanatory reporting in recognition of its series that looked into the degradation of the world’s oceans. The NYT won the feature writing prize for its stories about an immigrant imam in the United States. The Boston Globe picked up a national reporting award for a series of stories about Bush’s use of “signing statements.” Lawrence Wright won the general nonfiction prize for his book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and Cormac McCarthy got the fiction award for the novel The Road.