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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
US media soul-searching over US shooting
News of the Virginia Tech tragedy has dominated US media outlets and mainstream blogs, while student blogs and social networking websites gave information online as the drama unfolded.

The New York Times calls for stronger controls over the weapons that caused the tragedy.

"Yesterday's mass shooting at Virginia Tech - the worst in American history - is another horrifying reminder that some of the gravest dangers Americans face come from killers at home armed with guns that are frighteningly easy to obtain.

Should metal detectors be ubiquitous in American classrooms and dormitories?

"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 defenceless people."

But the Los Angeles Times sees the tragedy as an argument for relaunching the debate on gun ownership.

"So the ghastly death toll - perhaps inflicted by one man with a pair of semiautomatic handguns - becomes an obvious argument for enhanced gun control. Or, conversely, for the right to bear arms because Virginia Tech is a 'gun-free zone', and the Virginia Legislature last year killed a bill that would have allowed students to carry guns on campus."

The Washington Post also raises the question of whether the tragedy would have occurred if the state of Virginia had outlawed guns.

"Should metal detectors be ubiquitous in American classrooms and dormitories? And why are gunmen so apt to carry out their lethal rampages at American schools?"

It also asks whether the carnage could have been avoided:

"More particularly, what more, if anything, could the authorities at Virginia Tech have done to prevent yesterday's carnage?

"Were possible warning signs, such as bomb threats in the weeks before the incident, adequately investigated?

"And between the first shootings around 0700, when two people were killed in a dormitory, and the second ones two hours later, when 31 died at a classroom building, did the city and campus police take all possible steps to lock down the university and scour it for the shooter?"

The Huffington Post says the US has to be honest about what price it has to pay if gun ownership is to stay legal.

"What I would like is for the gun-toting right wing to admit that there is a price we pay, that senseless accidental deaths and traumas are a national cost and that it's not so clear that it's worth it, but hey, we pay it anyway because so many guns are in the hands of so many people that there would never be any getting rid of them.

"I would like the right wing to admit that guns are not 'good' and that the right to bear arms is not an absolute virtue and that the deaths in the US caused by guns are at least as problematic, philosophically, as abortion. But I'm not holding my breath."

Email warnings

A large part of the drama unfolded online, with blogs, social networking websites and instant messaging services spreading information about what was going on.

Most students at Virginia Tech are thought to have first heard of the shootings through e-mails.

One entitled "Please stay put", sent at 0950, said: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows."

We put a table against the door and when the gunman tried to shoulder his way in and when he saw that he couldn't, he put two shots through the door
Ruiqi Zhang
student

Another, entitled "All Classes Cancelled; Stay where you are" sent at 1016, said:

"Virginia Tech has cancelled all classes. Those on campus are asked to remain where they are, lock their doors and stay away from windows. Persons off campus are asked not to come to campus."

Students reported the news on local online student newspaper Planet Blacksburg, which has been posting regular updates during and since the shooting.

Ruiqi Zhang, a computer engineering student, was in his class when the shooter turned up.

"A student rushed in and told everybody to get down," he told Planet Blacksburg.

"We put a table against the door and when the gunman tried to shoulder his way in and when he saw that he couldn't, he put two shots through the door.

"It was the scariest moment of my life."

Accounts of what happened were also posted on messaging services and networking websites such as Facebook, used by US students.

Online updates

There were also regular updates on Virginia Tech's student newspaper the Collegiate Times.

One student, Erin Sheehan, who was in a German class, was one of only four of about two dozen people in the class to walk out of the room. The rest were dead or wounded, she told the newspaper.

She said the gunman "was just a normal-looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout-type outfit. He wore a tan button-up vest, and this black vest, maybe it was for ammo or something".

One student describes his experience on his blog, Bryce's Journal, and included some video footage and pictures of what he could see from his dormitory.

In one update entitled "Safe and rather scared" posted at 1048 on Monday, he writes:

"My friends and I got out of class at about 9:50. Walked across campus. The wind blew with flurries about. Sirens were in the distance and I saw an undercover cop car go about 80 down one of the drives. That was odd. In front one of the dorms, West AJ, were several police cars, lights off and parked. We started talking about how there are always situations that cops rush across campus for and we never hear about.

"Then several people walked by and told us there was a shooting and campus was closed. No-one is allowed to cross the drill field. Hmm. We went ahead to eat some food as cops were stationed in front, checking ID for everyone.

"I walked with my friend to his dorm to get his stuff as an omniscient announcement echoed across campus: 'This is an emergency. This is an emergency. Take shelter indoors immediately. Stay away from windows and remain inside.'

Another student had the following exchange on a messaging service with his brother:

Sugad (1:08:03pm): "So he came into your class?"

Trey (1:08:08pm): "Yeah."

Trey (1:08:17pm): "I didnt think there was any way id live."

Trey (1:08:52pm): "He finally left, me and the one other guy that wasn't shot ran to the door and held it shut."

Trey (1:09:04pm): "And he tried to come back in and was shooting through the door."

Sugad (1:09:27pm): "Holy shit."

Sugad (1:09:48pm): "What kind of gun was it?"

Trey (1:09:55pm): "Pistol."




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