Transcript

Virginia Tech Shootings

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Anthony Della Calce
Executive Editor, Planet Blacksburg
Monday, April 16, 2007; 4:00 PM

Anthony Della Calce, executive editor of Planet Blacksburg, a news Web site run by Virginia Tech students, discusses what things are like on campus in the wake of today's shooting.

Della Calce was online Monday, April 16 at 3 p.m. ET

A transcript follows.

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Anthony Della Calce: At approximately 10:20, I awoke to my roommate informing me there was a shooting on campus and classes had been cancelled. Like the rest of the Virginia Tech community, I was shocked at the initial news of a gunman loose on campus. At the time, there was only one fatality reported. Then came the news of the second shooting. When I heard there were 20 dead -- a total that has reportedly increased to 31 at this time (30 plus the shooter). It truly is devastating news and my thoughts go out to the victims, their families and their friends. Words fail to describe the magnitude of this tragedy.

I have spent the entire day in my dorm trying to keep up with the news by watching TV, going on the Internet and checking my e-mail. It's been very difficult to make cell phone class from campus so if you are trying to get through to loved ones, be patient. If you can, use e-mail because that seems to be the quickest way.

It's been a difficult day and I think it's going to take awhile for today's events to sink in within the Virginia Tech community, Virginia and around the country. I hope I can answer some of your questions about what has gone on and what the reaction has been among students. As a student journalist for planetblacksburg.com, I have been doing my best to gather information so I'll do my best to tell you what I know. I hope my answers are helpful.

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Montreal: I am a Canadian journalist in Montreal. Were you on campus when the shooting happened? Can you describe how things happened?

Anthony Della Calce: I was in my dorm, which is located a short walk from West AJ, where the first shooting was. Norris Hall, where the second shooting was and most of the fatalities occurred, is on the academic side of campus about a 10-15 minute walk from where I am. I have been in my dorm all day and everything I have seen has been on TV or the Internet. Even now, there are very few people walking around.

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New York, N.Y.: I don't own a gun and I live in NYC, but there can be no debate about gun restriction in this case whatsoever -- but someone this sick would have killed people with a knife or driving a car into students, or used a broken bottle if he could. This is purely the act of someone so void of civilized and moral thought that his life, family and friends should be examined and reexamined so thoroughly that we all know who he was, what his thoughts were, what books he read, what TV he watched, who his friends were, etc.

The man is a monster and he alone is to blame, but we must open his life and associates and family to a microscope and find the concrete answer as to why!

Anthony Della Calce: 'Why?' is certainly the biggest question at this time. I hope we find out although I'm not sure it will provide much comfort.

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Graduate, Class of 1997: As a graduate of VA Tech who loved my experiences down in Blacksburg, my thoughts and prayers are with all the students and victims of this tragedy. I was born and raised in upstate NY, spent my college years at Tech and NOVA and lived in D.C. There is no place I've felt safer than when living in Blacksburg.

Anthony Della Calce: I agree. I am from Connecticut and I have always felt safe as a student here. Thanks for your concerns

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Washington, D.C.: My condolences to the students and their families. How did the gunman get access to the dormitories? Did he commit suicide? Where there any warning signs? If so, were they ignored?

Anthony Della Calce: I don't have any of that information at this time.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the NRA and the politicians who support that organization are partly to blame and should be held responsible for what happened today?

Anthony Della Calce: I think it's too early to enter that debate. But it might be something to address after we know more.

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Baltimore: Why didn't they lock down the entire campus after the first shooting was reported at West AJ? You would think that would have been the first thing they did -- it should be standard protocol after lessons learned from other shootings.

Anthony Della Calce: I don't know. I do know that University Relations, Tech police and Blacksburg police have always done a great job in handling tough situations -- the two recent bomb threats and the Morva incident last August. I'm not sure you can ever be prepared to handle an incident like this though.

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Garner, N.C.: I was on campus at FSU at the time of the Bundy killings. I sat next to a man in an office in Denver who had two children in the cafeteria at Columbine. Neither of these was close to what has happened today. I cannot imagine how a campus can return to normal after something like this. What can be done to help the people at Tech come to grips with this event, if anything?

Anthony Della Calce: I think it's going to take time. This affects a lot of people in many different ways -- ways that probably not all of us can comprehend right now. I think the Virginia Tech community and all those affected are going to have to lean on one another for support. The healing process is going to have to be a group effort.

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Potomac, Md.: My condolences go out to the entire VT family. Any idea yet who the shooter was?

Anthony Della Calce: His name has not yet been released and I haven't heard anything about possible motives.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any idea when the names of the victims will be posted?

Anthony Della Calce: I do not. I imagine families will have to be notified before that can happen. It's hard to say how long that process will take.

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Baltimore: Is it known yet if the shooter was a student? Or if he/she had an accomplice?

Anthony Della Calce: Not yet. Still awaiting that information.

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Athens, Ga.: As a college professor -- this is always a worry and it is horrifying that it has happened.

Do you think the administration has done enough to keep everyone in communication today?

What can other schools learn from it?

Anthony Della Calce: I think the biggest thing we can learn is that something tragic can happen anyway. Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are not places known for having a high crime rate. This is something that you just can't expect and you can never be prepared for. I think the university has done a great job of communicating with the students -- via e-mail, the Web site, press conferences, etc. I'm sure they will evaluate the steps they've taken in coming days and see if they could have done something different. I hope other universities will look at their crisis communication plans and make sure they have good ones in place. Today is shown that you never know when tragedy can strike close to home.

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Washington, D.C.: What time do classes typically start at Virginia Tech? Have you been in the classrooms at Norris Hall? How big are some of the classrooms? Are they auditorium style or desks and chairs?

Anthony Della Calce: Classes start at 8 a.m. I have had class in Norris Hall. The one I was in had standard desks and chairs and probably could hold 50 students are so.

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New York, N.Y.: Have you spoken to your family and assured them you're okay?

Anthony Della Calce: Yes, I have. I am on campus so it took a while to get through. I used the dorm phone (land line) instead of my cell because I couldn't get my call to go through. For anyone trying to contact loved ones on campus, I suggest trying their dorm phones, e-mailing or IMing. If you're using a cell, you're going to have be patient.

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Windermere, Fla.: Planet Blacksburg reports two additional people taken into custody. Any idea who and why? Witnesses or accomplices?

Anthony Della Calce: I heard about arrests earlier but I don't think that was accurate. I really can't confirm that information one way or another. Last I heard, there was just a lone gunman, who is now dead.

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London: At what point in the academic year is VT? I feel so awful not only for the victims (obviously) but also the rest of the student body, especially because this is often the time in the academic cycle when students are coming to the end of their courses and are synthesizing the material in preparation for final exams and papers. It seems as though this will disrupt one of the most satisfying (even if it was stressful) times of the academic year.

Anthony Della Calce: We have about one month left. Exams start May 4 and graduation is May 11. As a graduating senior, this has certainly put a new perspective on my situation. I suspect many other students, seniors and otherwise, feel the same way.

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Danville, Ky.: Our grandson has been accepted by the Honors Program at Virginia Tech for the school year 2007-2008.

What words of advice do you have for him and our family in the aftermath of this tragedy?

Anthony Della Calce: I have had a wonderful four years at Virginia Tech. I have lived on campus my entire Tech career and I have always felt safe. You just can't predict or expect anything like this to ever happen. It certainly makes you think about your safety. But, I don't think in any way this event characterizes our school or campus. It's a tragedy that we're all going to have to get through together.

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Arlington, Va.: My heart goes out to everyone involved in this tragedy.

Are students, for the most part, in their dorm rooms alone? Have they been able to come together to mourn, to listen, to talk to each other?

Anthony Della Calce: I am in my dorm with my roommate. I suspect many students in the dorms are with their roommates and suitemates watching the news. There is a university wide event planned for Cassell Coliseum (on-campus basketball arena) tomorrow to give students a chance mourn and come together.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you feel about the lack of communication to the students and those on campus about the first shooting?

Anthony Della Calce: I think it's too early to criticize the university. We don't have all the facts about what they did and what they were doing behind the scenes. I trust the professionals in University Relations and believe they did what they felt was correct as today's events unfolded. Time will tell if changes in Tech's crisis communication plan will have to be made.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any information as to whether or not the shooter was attempting to murder his girlfriend/ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend? The reason I ask is because it seems strange that the shooter brought a weapon and enough ammunition to shoot 60-plus people with only two intended targets. I also heard a second person was arrested, any idea what his/her involvement was?

Anthony Della Calce: I have only heard of the one gunman, who is now dead. I have heard a rumor about the boyfriend/girlfriend scenario but that has not been confirmed. We'll have to wait on more information.

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Fairfax, Va.: Thank you so much for chatting with us. I am sure many of us are sitting at our desks, horrified and very, very sad.

On The Washington Post and Fox News Web sites, there are photographs of a man being arrested. Any idea of who he was and whether he had a gun?

Also, on your Web site, it suggested this may have been perpetrated by a man searching for his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend. Where did this information come from?

Thank you again.

Anthony Della Calce: The reported lone gunman is dead. That is all I know at this time.

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Springfield, Va.: I spent six wonderful years in Blacksburg and I do not ever remember reports of any violent crime, let alone something so horrific. Norris Hall is an Engineering building, but, like many Tech buildings, house classes in a number of different disciplines. Is there any word as to which floor/classroom the shootings occurred in?

Anthony Della Calce: If I remember correctly, they reported two room numbers in the 200s for the Norris Hall shootings. Room numbers in the 200s are on the second floor.

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Herndon, Va.: How is the University providing information to the students? Is the campus still on lockdown?

Anthony Della Calce: Most students in the dorms -- which includes me -- are remaining inside their rooms. There is very little activity outside. We have been told to remain inside unless we need to go out. The university has been informing its students and faculty throughout the day via e-mails and postings on Tech's Web site. The university also held a press conference around noon.

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Ashburn, Va.: What is the mood of the students in your dorm? What kinds of questions are they asking? My nephew is an engineering student at Tech and I thank God he is okay.

Anthony Della Calce: My roommate and I have just been trying to take all this in. Like everyone else, we initially tried to contact our family in friends and make sure everyone was alright. My roommate had a friend in WEST AJ so he was worried until he finally got in contact with him. So far, everyone I know is okay. I think it's a general mood of shock and disbelief. I think everyone in the Tech community is still trying to comprehend what has happened here today.

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D.C. Hokie: As a 2006 graduate of VT I am shocked and saddened by this tragedy. Can you think of anything that myself or any other alums might do to help in the healing process of the students and the University?

Anthony Della Calce: Just send your thoughts and prayers. I think that's all any of us can do right now. In the coming days, there might be more opportunities to send support. I know the university and other groups are planning vigils and mournings for people to get together and hopefully help start the healing process.

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New York, N.Y.: Are your friends okay?

Anthony Della Calce: Yes, so far. Of course the names of the victims have not yet been released. Thanks for your concerns.

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"I cannot imagine how a campus can return to normal after something like this.": The best revenge against the shooter would be for the VT students and community to come together and convey their solidarity with one another.

Anthony Della Calce: I agree and I believe we will.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you know at what point students will be allowed to leave their dorm rooms? Is the campus expected to be secure in order to allow students to walk to the cafeterias? Will food be delivered for students who may not feel safe walking around on campus?

Anthony Della Calce: I don't know. Students in their dorms have been told to stay there. Although if they have a way to get off campus and stay with friends, they can do that. There's still lots of security on campus but it seems the danger has passed. Hopefully it has.

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Reston, Va.: Can you talk about the bomb threats that were made last week?

Anthony Della Calce: There were two bomb threats. One this past Friday, April 13 and one on April 2. The buildings affected were shut down and searched and, as far as I know, nothing was found. I don't know if they had a suspect or if it was some sort of prank. Also, there's no word on whether those threats are connected to this incident but people are wondering if it is.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm confused by the reports. There was one shooting or two? One gunmen or more?

Anthony Della Calce: Two shootings, one in West Ambler Johnston (a dorm) at 7:15 a.m. and one about two hours later in Norris Hall, an academic building. It appears there was one fatality in the dorm shooting and the rest of the fatalities occurred in the Norris Hall shooting. The gunman is now dead and it is believed he was acting on his own.

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Fairfax, Va.: I heard there will be a memorial service at Cassell. Is there talk of moving it to Lane Stadium instead?

Anthony Della Calce: I just heard it will be at Cassell Coliseum at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

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Falls Church, Va.: It's unimaginable what you all have experienced and are in the midst of experiencing. There is a nation thinking about you. I know this just happened, but as a student, what is offering you comfort today? What, if anything, would offer a sense of security?

Anthony Della Calce: I'm just drawing on support from my friends and family. I don't know anyone who was injured or killed in the shootings so I can only imagine what those people are going through. Names still haven't been released, so many students are going to have to wait to see if they did indeed know any of the victims. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families and friends.

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Lansing, Mich.: How did news about the lockdown spread? Did most people hear it or read it through e-mail? Do you know if VT had a plan in place for this kind of situation?

Anthony Della Calce: Yes, VT has an extensive crisis communication plan, which they used in the Morva incident this past August. They communicate primarily through e-mail and postings to the Tech Web sites. They also have a voicemail emergency system for the dorm phones.

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Arlington, Va.: I know it may be too early for this, but when will the school post the names of those injured or killed in the shootings? I am worried about friends...

Anthony Della Calce: They haven't been released yet. It's something many people are waiting for. I hope all your friends and family are okay.

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Richmond, Va.: My thoughts and prayers are with the Virginia Tech community in the wake of this tragedy.

I saw a couple pictures on another news site showing a young man being restrained and hand-cuffed. I thought the shooter was shot and killed. Are the police thinking there may have been accomplices involved?

Anthony Della Calce: They think it was just a lone gunman, who is now dead.

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How Many Gunmen?: Early reports indicated that the W. Ambler gunman was taken into custody, and that the Norris gunman was killed or killed himself. Some reports only mention one shooter. Can you clarify?

Anthony Della Calce: It is believed there was just a lone gunman, who is now dead.

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Anthony Della Calce: I want to thank everyone for taking the time to send in their questions as well as their thoughts and prayers. On behalf of the Virginia Tech community, I want to tell you that we all appreciate it. For those of you still trying to find out information, I suggest stay tuned to the news. For those of you who have loved ones in the area, I hope you have been able to contact them. I hope my answers were helpful. Thanks again.

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