Cho Had Amassed Enough Ammo to Kill Many More

Virginia Tech Rescue Squad Officers Matthew Johnson, left, and Colin Whitmore tell the panel about their actions on the day of the rampage.
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad Officers Matthew Johnson, left, and Colin Whitmore tell the panel about their actions on the day of the rampage. (By Matt Gentry -- Roanoke Times Via Associated Press)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 21 -- State police officials disclosed Monday that Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho was armed with at least 377 rounds of ammunition when he began his deadly rampage in Norris Hall last month, causing officials to conclude that he planned to kill far more people if he had a chance.

Col. W. Steven Flaherty, testifying before the panel investigating the April 16 massacre, said police recovered 203 live rounds on Cho or scattered on the second floor of Norris Hall. Within nine minutes, Cho, a senior from Fairfax County, had fired 174 rounds, killing 30 people and wounding 24 others, at Norris before apparently sensing police were pursuing him. He shot himself in the head at 9:51 a.m.

"He would have continued to go methodically through the rooms and shoot people, but the police response changed his mind," Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, told the eight-member review panel, which privately toured Norris Hall and the dormitory where Cho first killed two students.

Flaherty said the number of unspent rounds indicated that the massacre -- the deadliest in U.S. history by an individual -- could have been worse had police waited longer to storm the building. Cho had chained the doors shut, but police used a shotgun to shoot through the locks, Flaherty said. As police moved to the second floor, Cho killed himself.

Police said that Cho acquired the ammunition legally over several months. In Virginia, there are no laws against stockpiling ammunition, and police can't track how much a person buys, Flaherty said. Cho used a 9mm pistol and a .22-caliber handgun.

Besides the live ammunition, Flaherty said, police recovered a straight-blade knife, a folding knife and a claw hammer from Cho's backpack. He added that police, in their continuing investigation, have not determined a motive or evidence linking Cho to any of the 32 victims. But Flaherty told the panel that Cho apparently was "very deliberate" during his rampage.

"There didn't seem to be nothing panicky at all about what was taking place," Flaherty said.

The review panel, which held its first meeting two weeks ago in Richmond, spent Monday in Blacksburg to hear testimony from Flaherty, Virginia Tech officials and hospital and emergency management officials.

University officials defended their decision to keep the campus open after the first shooting, at the West Ambler Johnston dorm.

"My thinking was, let them get into classrooms," said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, noting that thousands of people could have been stranded in open spaces had police locked down the campus.

The panel's tours of Norris Hall and West Ambler Johnston, as well as a separate, two-hour police briefing, were closed under Virginia laws that protect students' privacy and certain law enforcement briefings. Several news organizations, including The Washington Post, objected to the closings, citing the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Panel members emerged somberly from Norris Hall after their 20-minute tour. Although the building was cleaned, visible signs of the shooting remain, including patches over numerous bullet holes, university officials said.

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