VIRGINIA

Motive still unknown in Va. Tech killing of Deriek Crouse

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Investigators believe the gunman who killed a Virginia Tech policeman acted alone and that he changed clothes after fleeing the scene, then killed himself with his handgun when another officer spotted him, state police said Friday.

(Photo: Kendis Gibson)

Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said investigators have not found anything connecting the gunman and the slain officer, Deriek W. Crouse, who was shot in his car on a campus parking lot after pulling over a driver for a traffic stop. The motive remains a mystery, she said.

"That's very much the fundamental part of the investigation right now," Geller said at a news conference.

The gunman was not a student at Virginia Tech, the scene of the deadliest gun rampage in modern U.S. history in 2007. Geller said investigators were confidant they know the gunman's identity but she declined to say anything more about his name, age or hometown until the medical examiner confirms his identity and next of kin are notified.

The campus shooting prompted officials to lock down the university for hours Thursday while police and SWAT teams searched the school.
Authorities have in-car video from officer Deriek W. Crouse's cruiser that shows a male suspect with a handgun at the officer's car at the time of the shooting.

Crouse was killed after pulling a driver over in a school parking lot. Police said the gunman was not involved in the traffic stop. Instead, he approached, shot the officer and then fled on foot before apparently killing himself in another.

The events unfolded on the same day Virginia Tech officials were in Washington, fighting a federal government fine over their handling of the 2007 massacre where 33 people were killed. The shooting brought back painful memories. About 150 students gathered silently for a candlelight vigil on a field facing the stone plaza memorial for the 2007 victims. An official vigil is planned for Friday night.

Crouse was an Army veteran and married father of five children and stepchildren who joined the campus police force in October 2007. He previously worked at a jail and for the Montgomery County sheriff's department.

Crouse was one of about 50 officers on the campus force, which also has 20 full- and part-time security guards. Crouse received an award in 2008 for his commitment to the department's drunken driving efforts. He was trained as a crisis intervention officer and as a general, firearms and defensive tactics instructor.

The university also said its counseling center would be open all day Friday for students.

"A lot of people, especially toward the beginning, were scared," said Jared Brumfield, a 19-year-old freshman from Culpeper, Va., who was locked in the Squires Student Center.

Police said Crouse called in the traffic stop at 12:15 p.m. After a few minutes passed without hearing from the officer, dispatch tried to get in touch with him, but didn't get a response. About 15 minutes later, police received the first call from a witness who said an officer had been shot at the Cassell Coliseum parking lot and the gunman had fled on foot.

Authorities refused to say whether Crouse was able to defend himself or fire back at his assailant.

Local, state and federal officials responded immediately. At 1 p.m., an officer saw a suspicious man in a parking lot. He had a gunshot wound and a gun nearby.

This time, though, the school applied the lessons learned during the last tragedy, locking down the campus and using a high-tech alert system to warn students and faculty members to stay indoors.

Heavily armed officers swarmed the campus and caravans of SWAT vehicles and other police cars with emergency lights flashing patrolled nearby.

Crouse was an Army veteran and married father of five children and stepchildren who joined the campus police force in October 2007. He previously worked at a jail and for the Montgomery County sheriff's department.

He was a jokester who enjoyed riding his motorcycle and rock music, his friend Aaron Proden told the AP. The two recently saw Metallica in concert in Charlotte, N.C. Crouse recently invited Proden to go on a ride-along "just to see what he does, his job, his lifestyle," the friend said.

"He was a standup guy," said Rusty Zarger, a former neighbor whose two young daughters used to play with Crouse's sons at the townhouse complex where they lived. "He was very mild-mannered, very confident. You could tell he was strong in believing in himself, but very comfortable."

Zarger said that after the Fourth of July, Crouse had leftover fireworks and went around the complex knocking on doors to get neighbors - especially the children - to watch him set them off.

"He came over and got all the kids to come outside and watch it - made it a very community thing when he didn't have to," Zarger said.

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