The details are now starting to emerge from the shadows of rumors after yesterday's massacre at Virginia Tech. The shooting is now the deadliest civilian attack [not quite; see update] in our nation's history, with 33 dead, including the gunman, and "several dozen" wounded. None of the wounded appear in danger of losing their lives at this point, a welcome piece of news in an avalanche of tragedy.
Despite rumors yesterday that the gunman was a Chinese national on a student visa, the Washington Post reports that the gunman was of Korean descent whose family lives in Fairfax County, Virginia:
Virginia Tech president Charles W. Steger said today that the gunman who rampaged through the campus on Monday leaving 32 dead was a student who lived in one of the school's dormitories.
The name of the assailant has not been publicly released, but Steger, in an interview on CNN, said he was an Asian male who was "a resident in one of our dormitories."
A range of sources, including federal and local officials with knowledge of the case, have told the Washington Post that the assailant was of Korean descent. His parents live in Fairfax County, one official there said.
Authorities are expected to identify the gunman at a news conference this morning, the first official event in a day of mourning that includes a 2 p.m. convocation service with President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in attendance. A student vigil is scheduled for 8 p.m. on the university drill field.
Officials today lifted a blockade of the campus, though classes have been canceled and staffing is at a minimum.
ABC News identified the gunman as Seung Hui Cho, a permanent resident and Korean immigrant:
Seung Hui Cho, a permanent resident of the United States, a Korean national and a Virginia Tech student has been identified as the gunman in the shootings that left 33 people dead on the Virginia Tech campus Monday, ABC News has learned.
The student left a “disturbing note” before killing two people in a dorm room, returning to his own room to re-arm and entering a classroom building on the other side of campus to continue his rampage, sources said.
Cho’s identitiy has been confirmed with a positive fingerprint match on the guns used in the rampage and with immigration materials. It is believed that he was the shooter in both incidents yesterday. Sources say Cho was carrying a backpack that contained receipts for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol, sources said. Witnesses had also told authorities that the shooter was carrying a backpack. Sections of chain similar to those used to lock the main doors at Norris Hall, the site of the second shooting that left 31 dead, were found inside a Virginia Tech dormitory, sources confirmed to ABC News.
Plenty of questions will arise from the massacre, and not least the security arrangements at VT. The campus had a couple of bomb threats over the past two weeks, and people will wonder why security didn't have more of a presence in Norris Hall and other places on campus. The university also failed to keep the campus locked down after the first shooting, even though they did not have a suspect in custody, which allowed him to find students trapped in the classrooms.
Thankfully, the revelation of the shooter's identity will end the impulse to tie immigration policy to the shooting. When the rumor of the "Chinese national" started making the rounds, it began a boomlet of debate on visa policy, especially regarding student visas. That will get put aside for a debate on gun policy, and the New York Times wasted not even a day before editorializing on the subject:
Not much is known about the gunman, who killed himself, or about his motives or how he got his weapons, so it is premature to draw too many lessons from this tragedy. But it seems a safe bet that in one way or another, this will turn out to be another instance in which an unstable or criminally minded individual had no trouble arming himself and harming defenseless people.
In the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre — in which two alienated students plotted for months before killing 12 students, a teacher and themselves — public school administrators focused heavily on spotting warning signs early enough to head off tragedy. ...
Our hearts and the hearts of all Americans go out to the victims and their families. Sympathy was not enough at the time of Columbine, and eight years later it is not enough. What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss.
It should be pointed out that a university is not a high school. Administrators of the latter have a great deal more control over the student body than administrators of the former. Many students do not live on campus; I believe that the ratio mentioned yesterday runs to 2:1 for non-residential students. For those who do, they still do not have the kind of oversight to "detect warning signs", as students change teachers every semester or quarter. That seems to be a rather impossible standard for any college, let alone a large university like VT.
Going to the gun issue, it isn't as cut-and-dried as the Times paints it, nor as blameworthy as gun-rights activists want it to be. The campus already had a gun ban; students and faculty were not allowed to carry guns on campus. That seems to have only been effective for the law-abiding students, as Cho apparently kept his weapons and ammunition in his dorm room. If the school insisted on disarming its student body, then it should have provided the requisite security to protect a campus full of publicly-disarmed potential victims, and it failed to do so despite the bomb threats of earlier this month.
However, concealed=carry permits would not necessarily have prevented this, either. As my cousin Mike pointed out in the comments yesterday, such permits require the holder to be 21 years of age or older. That would have disqualified at least three-quarters of the students on campus. It would have only taken one or two to confront the shooter in this case, and at Appalachian Law (also in Virginia), armed students successfully ended a rampage. However, that student was a former law-enforcement officer who retrieved his service pistol from his car, not just a student with a carry permit.
We should take care to make instant analyses based on tragedies such as this. The truth is that a free society will always be vulnerable to lunatics and terrorists, and that gun control does not and has never prevented tragedies such as this. No-gun zones and ownership restrictions only apply to those who want to obey the law. The solution lies in finding better means of securing public areas so that another gunman like Cho cannot run wild on campus.
UPDATE: Imprecision strikes me again. I should have said worst civilian shooting spree ever. As many have pointed out, the Bath School Massacre killed 45 in three bombings. Thanks for the many hat tips from CQ readers.