RADFORD, VA. — Brittany Perry, a senior at Radford University, saw her friend Ross Ashley regularly in the past few weeks. The two used to work together as stagehands at the university’s Bondurant Auditorium, and he’d walk her home after late-night productions.
Perry said nothing had seemed amiss with Ashley. No drugs. No money problems. No mental-health issues that he spoke about.
“It seemed like he had his head straight,” Perry said.
On Monday, she waved at him as she headed to class. Days later, police said, Ashley, a 22-year-old part-time student, flashed a gun to steal a white Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle from a woman at a real estate company that managed his apartment building. On Thursday, they said, he abandoned that SUV at nearby Virginia Tech, fatally shot a campus police officer and then killed himself.
The violent turn shocked Ashley’s friends, who said they had seen no signs he was troubled or angry.
“I never would have expected this. I mean, he was a nice guy,” said Garrett Manion, 21, a senior geology major at Radford who lived with Ashley last year. “I didn’t believe it at first.”
Police, who are still searching for a motive in the attacks, identified Ashley as the gunman who shot Tech Officer Deriek W. Crouse, 39, as he sat in an unmarked squad car in a campus parking lot. The shooting prompted a nearly four-hour-long lockdown at Tech and drudged up painful memories of April 16, 2007, when a student gunman killed 32 people and himself in the worst campus massacre in history.
Police have said they had not found any connection between Crouse and Ashley, and they think Ashley acted alone. Virginia State Police continued to work on the case through the weekend but are not expected to announce any new information until next week, said spokeswoman Corrine Geller.
Ashley graduated from Spotsylvania High School in 2007, where he played football and won academic awards. He enrolled at the University of Virginia’s Wise County campus for the 2007-08 school year, then transferred to Radford, a small public school nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 15 miles south of Virginia Tech. Ashley was a senior business management major who enrolled in two classes this semester, according to a school spokeswoman.
Ashley looked like an average college student, Manion said, with his hair buzzed short and a wardrobe mostly composed of sweatpants and sweatshirts. He skateboarded, watched TV with his roommates and worked behind the scenes for theater productions.
Perry said Ashley liked Jay-Z and Motown, favored baseball caps and liked to work out at the gym.
Jade Jackson, who said she was Ashley’s resident adviser at Radford last year, said he got in trouble for breaking a chair in his dorm room, skateboarding in the hallways and smoking. But at his core, he seemed like a nice guy.
“Yes, he was occasionally in trouble, but he never seemed depressed. He never seemed to be having a hard time,” Jade Jackson said.
Doug Mead, the technical director for the Department of Student Activities at Bondurant Auditorium, hired Ashley to work on the stage crew at the auditorium more than a year ago. Ashley would help set up lighting and other elements for shows.
“He was a pretty typical college kid. He wasn’t a standout worker, but he wasn’t the worst I ever had,” Mead said. “It was a complete and utter shock what happened.”
Mead said Ashley did not seem troubled and did not have a reputation as a partier. The students that worked on his crew said Ashley was not a heavy drinker or drug user.
Ashley was supposed to work for Mead again this year, but he missed a mandatory meeting and Mead never heard from him again. He assumed Ashley no longer wanted the job.
This school year, Ashley lived off-campus in his own apartment in a gray three-story building in the heart of downtown Radford. Several of his neighbors said Ashley mostly kept to himself and was soft-spoken.
“He wasn’t out of the ordinary,” said Paul Stinnett. “He didn’t stick out.”
Staff writer Jenna Johnson reported from Washington.