Students Recount Shootings

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007; 3:10 PM

Kristen Bensley, 18, a freshman who lives on the third floor of West Ambler Johnston Hall, just below the floor where the first shooting at Virginia Tech occurred this morning, learned of the violence when her resident adviser knocked on her door and instructed her and her roommate not to leave their room. Bensley, from Bel Air, Md., said police cars lined the road outside her room, and an amplified announcement blared across the campus urging students to remain indoors.

She, like many other students locked down in their rooms in Blacksburg, spent their morning receiving e-mails, contacting loved ones to let them know she was safe and watching the news about their own campus on national television. They traded rumors and bad news and eventually shared their grief.

"I have a few friends on the fourth floor," Bensley said. "They were all evacuated, and they weren't allowed to go back there."

Dustin Lynch, 19, sophomore, from Churchville, Md., north of Baltimore, was out on Drill Field at the time of the shootings, raising money for philanthropy with fellow fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He saw police officers carrying unresponsive students out of Norris Hall, a classroom building where most of the shootings took place. He also saw many students evacuated from the building.

"I had seen a bunch of cop cars and heard a lot of sirens," he said. "They were already booking it around Drill Field. I saw them all converge on this one building. The next thing I know, I see different spurts, it looked like different classrooms had gotten out. Hundreds of kids were running out with their hands up showing that they were harmless. There was a small wall that they had to jump over in the grass, and everybody was just running frantically in different groups. After most of the groups got out, I saw a lot of ambulances, probably three or four ambulances, go up as close to the buildings as they could."

Lynch, who said he saw police officers literally carrying students out, also said he and his fraternity brothers were still trying to reach friends they knew were in engineering classes at Norris Hall at the time of the shootings. "We know one brother was in the building. We cannot reach him and we're worried about him."

Zachary Candler, 20, a junior engineering major, was taking a compressible aerodynamics class in the Randolph building, which is next door to Norris. Candler said around 9:40 a.m. police converged on the building ordering the students not to leave and to get away from the windows.

"We didn't know the seriousness of what was going on at first until they told us the building was locked down indefinitely," Candler said.

He said he was worried about one of his classmates who was in the Norris building. He heard the classmate had escaped by jumping out of a window and had broken his leg.

Amie Steele, editor in chief of the Virginia Tech student newspaper, Collegiate Times, said that the newspaper's campus office was evacuated this morning as a precaution and the student journalists were working from an off-campus site.

She said that all entry points to the university were closed down by State Police and that students and staff who were trying to leave the campus had a long wait. "There is a mile-long line of cars of people trying to leave the campus," Steele said.

The newspaper reported on its Web site that law enforcement officials said they were unable to use helicopters for medical evacuations because of the high winds generated by a storm that had hit most of the East Coast.

Justin May, 19, a Silver Spring freshman, was in a calculus class this morning in a building next to McBride Hall and near a construction site. "We heard several bangs in a row. We thought it might be jackhammers," he said. But a student in the class had a laptop and pulled up an e-mail sent by campus officials.

May's class was in lockdown for about 20 minutes before he and his fellow students were instructed to run back to their dormitories. He ran to his dormitory, Montieth Hall, which was in total lockdown. Students were told to lock all dorm doors on the outside, close and lock windows and to close the blinds.

He said they could hear ambulance and police sirens going by. When he was able to look out a window, he saw a security man wearing a bullet proof vest and armed with a pistol "This is an emergency, stay indoors," the officer announced over a megaphone. The sound of ambulance and police sirens was constant.

"It hasn't even registered to us," May said. "This is so much worse than Columbine. We don't even know what to think of it."

Staff writers Amy Gardner, Jackie Spinner, Timothy Dwyer, Susan Levine, Keith Alexander, Stephen Fehr and Monica Norton contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company