Page 2 of 5   <       >

8 Minutes After 911 Call, A Rescue From Madness

Va. Tech Lt. Debbi Morgan calmed student Emily Haas, who called 911 from Norris Hall, and kept her on the phone. Haas's information was vital to police. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

* * *

Nineteen-year-old Emily Haas's call to Morgan helped unleash Virginia's largest police and emergency response since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The 911 call came at 9:43 a.m. April 16, just as Seung Hui Cho's Norris Hall rampage began, and Haas and Morgan stayed on the phone until Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police officers rushed into Haas's classroom and found Cho dead. Interviews with Morgan, Haas and more than three dozen police officers, emergency responders and federal agents provide for the first time an inside look at the enormous rescue and investigative effort that followed the shootings.

They also reveal details about what happened inside Norris as Cho killed 30 people, then himself. Even before he chained the doors at Norris and began his rampage, Cho had reconnoitered the Gothic-style building. The morning of the shootings, he poked his head into several classrooms before the attack. With methodical precision, he moved from room to room along a second-floor hallway and shot anyone who moved with his two handguns. When he was done in each room, he closed the door behind him. Then he went back to rooms where he'd already been, found students who were still alive and executed them at point-blank range. Of the 30 people who died at Norris, 28 of them were shot in the head. Cho shot some four or five times.

Within eight minutes of Haas's call, Blacksburg and Virginia Tech police broke into Norris Hall. They worked frantically to save students clinging to life. Medics performed triage and rushed victims to safety as SWAT teams moved through the building to confirm that Cho had acted alone. In the critical first 20 minutes, when ambulances could not pull close to Norris Hall because they hadn't been given the all-clear by SWAT teams, one officer placed wounded students in his sport-utility vehicle and ferried them over sidewalks and lawns to get to the ambulances, parked blocks away.

* * *

Emily Haas, a French major from Richmond, was lying against a wall, partially behind a desk, in the back of her classroom. With her blue eyes squeezed shut, she held a cellphone to her ear with her right hand. Around her middle finger was the silver "angel band" of her Pi Beta Phi sorority. She was wearing jeans, an old yellow T-shirt of her mother's and a new pair of brown Sperry Top-Siders; a baseball cap covered her blond hair. The smell of burnt gunpowder swirled around her as a silent Cho fired his handguns.

"Try to stay calm," Morgan, 42, a mother with three young children, told Haas. "Ease your breathing."

Two minutes into the call, Morgan asked Haas whether she still heard the gunshots. Yes, Haas said, but they were farther away. The gunman had spent 120 frightening seconds in her classroom, then gone next door.

"Stay under the desk," Morgan said. "Keep talking to me. We're hurrying. They'll be there in a minute."

"Thank you."


"Are you there?" Morgan asked.

<       2              >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company