By Michael D. Shear and Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 21 -- A hunt for an escaped inmate accused of killing a sheriff's deputy and a security guard ended with his capture Monday at Virginia Tech, where students were told to stay in their rooms, and classes were canceled on the first day of school.
William C. Morva, 24, described by state and local law enforcement officials as an "anti-government survivalist," was found hiding shirtless and shoeless in a briar patch near campus athletic fields and less than 150 yards from where he is alleged to have shot and killed a popular and highly decorated sheriff's deputy Monday morning.
His capture came hours after edgy police officers interrupted what started as a placid first day of school for the 32,000 students and staff at Virginia Tech. The campus was shut down, and students were sent into locked-down dorms.
Little information was provided, and rumors swirled about a gunman on the loose as hundreds of officers -- with machine guns and dogs and supported by helicopters -- searched the campus and surrounding area. Students were confined to their rooms and other school buildings while their parents watched the scene play out on national television.
"A woman came screaming and yelling, 'Don't go down the stairs,' " as students left class, recalled Shivani Handa, 17, a freshman from Centreville, who said she was just getting over the anxiety of going to her first college class when she heard about the gunman. No one knew what was going on, Handa said, and scores of students waited in a study area linking a classroom building and the library. "We were just stuck there," Handa said.
Authorities said the search began Sunday morning at Montgomery County Regional Hospital in southwestern Virginia after Morva overpowered a deputy, seized his gun and killed an unarmed hospital security guard, Derrick McFarland, 26, then disappeared into the night.
Sheriff Tommy Whitt declined to describe how Morva escaped but said prisoners are usually shackled on the ankles and handcuffed to chains around their waists when taken to the public hospital. News reports said Morva, who had been in jail awaiting trial in an attempted robbery of a local deli, had complained of a sprained ankle.
"We'd be foolish not to look at our procedures," Whitt said.
Law enforcement officers searched through the night, encountering Morva about 7 a.m. Monday on Huckleberry Trail, which connects the campus to the nearby town of Christiansburg. There, authorities said, Morva shot Cpl. Eric Sutphin, 40, a sheriff's deputy from Virginia's Montgomery County on bike patrol. Sutphin had been awarded the state's medal of valor in 2004 by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) for his role in capturing a suspect in the killing of a police officer. Sutphin was shot twice in that incident.
Local authorities, who appeared devastated by Sutphin's death, declined to describe the circumstances of his shooting. They said doing so could compromise the case against Morva, who has been charged with capital murder, firearms violations, felony escape and assaulting an officer.
"We lost two very good people," Montgomery County Commonwealth's Attorney Bradley W. Finch told reporters as he announced the charges against Morva. "We now feel that we can grieve for that fallen officer. After that, we will pursue justice against the perpetrator."
Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Morva "essentially ambushed" Sutphin on the bike trail.
McDonnell said Morva appears to be a "Timothy McVeigh-like anti-government type," referring to the man who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. "He is one of those self-described anti-government survivalists who apparently has some great opposition to authority and government," said McDonnell, who was briefed on the incident Monday.
Whitt confirmed that assessment. He said Morva had previously expressed "anti-government, anti-social and anti law-enforcement" views to other police officers.
McDonnell said Morva grew up in Blacksburg and is familiar with the dense woods near the Virginia Tech campus.
Many in Blacksburg knew Morva from coffee shops around town, where he hung out barefoot in the summer and coatless in the winter, drinking coffee, playing backgammon, reading and arguing. "He was a happy guy, and everyone liked him," said Andrew Mullin, 18, of Blacksburg, who was close to Morva.
Mullin described him as a survivalist -- someone who got by on his own, who owned a gun and who went camping and hunting for long stretches, drifting from place to place -- and militant.
"He sort of denounces society's view of what's normal," Mullin said. "He didn't like the government -- taxes and police and control, and he sort of felt like money and materialism kind of held you down."
In capturing Morva, police credited the huge armed presence that descended on the area. More than 24 agencies, including officers from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police and neighboring police departments, blanketed the campus and its surroundings.
Kurt J. Krause, vice president for business affairs at Virginia Tech, said the cordon of heavily armed officers was designed to keep Morva from escaping, and he said he ordered students and others to stay inside to keep them away from Morva.
"There were just too many rumors, too many people walking around," he said of the decision to cancel classes and essentially quarantine students.
Susan Ruggiero was doing yard work at her Stafford County home when her freshman daughter, Sarah, 17, called.
"Here she goes to her first day of class, and this happens," said Susan Ruggiero, who checked the news all day, watching for updates. "The whole thing with this moment in time -- when you allow your child to go off to college, you can't protect them from the world."
Havens Smith of Reston was filling out forms in her first class -- biology -- when a police officer burst into the auditorium carrying a big gun, she said, and told everybody to leave the building immediately.
When she was safely back in her room, she tried to call her parents but couldn't get through on her cellphone. Finally, her father called the land line in her room: Her grandparents in Florida had seen Virginia Tech on the news.
"As a parent, you work so hard to get your kid to have this opportunity," said Mark Smith, her father. "In our case, Havens is our only child. You get 'em all geared up for this experience in life, you get 'em down there, all moved in and everything, and you never dream -- two days later you wake up, listen to the news, and this is going on."
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report from Richmond. Kinzie reported from Washington.