The Yale community expressed shock and concern at a shooting rampage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute that left 32 people and a gunman dead Monday morning.
Students with links to the school spent the day trying to determine if their friends and family were harmed, while Yale President Richard Levin reached out to Virginia Tech’s president to offer his condolences. The shootings, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, involved two incidents over a span of about three hours during which a residential dormitory and a classroom building were targeted. Yale Police Department officials said past shootings on school campuses have impelled police departments across the country, including the YPD, to establish protocols for responding to such incidents.
In a message to Virginia Tech President Charles Steger on Monday afternoon, Levin wrote that he and the University would be ready to help Virginia Tech recover from the tragedy.
“The entire world looks on with compassion for the terrible ordeal that your campus suffered today,” Levin wrote. “Those of us in universities feel most especially the fragility of our communities and their vulnerability to those who do not live by our values of civility and respect for others.”
Students with connections to Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, Va., where the school is located, followed the news closely today and attempted to get in touch with friends and family through phone calls, text messages and the Internet.
Claudia Setubal ’07, a Blacksburg resident whose father is a professor at Virginia Tech, said that for much of the day she was unable to reach family in Blacksburg because phone circuits were overwhelmed. She said her father stayed in his building for several hours while the campus was locked down.
“There was a real sense of anxiety as the news got big,” she said. “The gravity of the tragedy then came apparent, and people started getting very upset. I knew my whole family was OK, but I got pretty anxious about the whole thing thinking something like this could happen in Blacksburg.”
Chris Rhodes ’09, a native of Norfolk, Va., who said he knows at least 50 students at Virginia Tech, said he spent much of the day trying to get in touch with people he knew there. Some of his friends told him they were disappointed with the way security and police at Virginia Tech handled the situation, Rhodes said, especially since the second shooting at Norris Hall took place almost three hours after the first shooting in West Ambler Johnston Hall.
“People are angry about how the first shooting was at [7:15] and the security and police were so disorganized that he was able to come back two hours later and do another shooting,” Rhodes said. “They could have shut down the campus.”
Virginia Tech officials maintained Monday that the university had acted as best it could with what information it had following the first shooting.
“We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,” Steger said.
Steger said authorities believed the gunman had left the campus after the first shooting took place. Steger said the university shut down the dorm after the first shooting took place and sent an e-mail out to students at about 10 a.m. Before the e-mail was sent, the university had also sent people to knock on doors, warning students to stay inside and away from windows, Steger said.
“We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time,” Steger said. “You don’t have hours to reflect on it.”
YPD Sgt. Steven Woznyk said his department, working in conjunction with the New Haven Police Department, has modified its procedures to respond to such an incident, largely in response to the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were killed.
“Columbine made police departments look differently at how they respond to active shooters,” he said. “An incident like this is an incident officers have been training for since Columbine.”
Woznyk declined to elaborate on the YPD’s planning for such an incident. But he said all YPD officers are trained to handle active shooter situations without the assistance of special units.
Woznyk declined to comment on how police at the Virginia Tech responded because not enough details had emerged yet about the incident.
Craig Kafura ’09, whose father is also a professor at Virginia Tech, said he found the shootings especially disturbing because he has spent so much time on the campus and could recognize all the places in photographs and videos of the incident. His father, he said, was supposed to have a meeting in Norris Hall, where the second round of shootings took place, which had been cancelled earlier that morning.
Levin said in an interview Monday night that tragedies like this one can happen anywhere and should affect even those who are not affiliated with specific schools.
“You’d like to think that this type of thing never happens,” he said. “It’s a tragedy, but I don’t think you can attribute it to the fact that it happened at a college.”
The police have not yet established a definite link between the two shootings. Two students were killed during the first shooting, and at least 31 people were killed during the second, with 15 others injured.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.