VIRGINIA

Motive still unknown in Va. Tech killing of Deriek Crouse

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A woman who answered the door at the Crouse home at the end of a three-unit townhouse building Thursday night said it wasn't a good time to talk, and they were trying to get the children to bed. A group of people were sitting around a table inside.

(Photo: Kendis Gibson)

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.

"In light of the turmoil and trauma and the tragedy suffered by this campus by guns, I can only say words don't describe our feelings and they're elusive at this point in time," university president Charles Steger said. "Our hearts are broken again for the family of our police officer."

The school was a bit quieter than usual because classes ended Wednesday. About 20,000 of the university's 30,000 students were on campus when the officer was shot. Exams, set to begin Friday, were postponed.

"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.

Harry White, 20, a junior physics major, said he was in line for a sandwich at a restaurant in a campus building when he received the text message alert.

White said he didn't panic, thinking instead about a false alarm involving a possible gunman that locked down the campus in August. White used an indoor walkway to go to a computer lab in an adjacent building, where he checked news reports.

"I decided to just check to see how serious it was. I saw it's actually someone shooting someone, not something false, something that looks like a gun," White said.

The shooting came soon after the conclusion of a hearing at which Virginia Tech appealed a $55,000 fine by the U.S. Department of Education in connection with the university's response to the 2007 rampage.

The department said the school violated the law by waiting more than two hours after two students were shot to death in their dorm before sending an email warning, and the message was too vague because it mentioned only a "shooting incident." By then, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho was chaining the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more people and then himself.

The school has since expanded its emergency notification systems. Alerts now go out by electronic message boards in classrooms, by text messages and other methods. Other colleges and universities have put in place similar systems.

Andrew Goddard, who has crusaded for stiffer gun control laws since his son Colin was wounded in the 2007 shootings, said Virginia Tech's response seemed substantially better this time.

"It sounds like things moved very, very fast this time as opposed to the time before," said Goddard, whose daughter and nephew go to the school. "That doesn't surprise me. Virginia Tech really did get the message in the sense that when bad things are happening, you have to ask quickly."

Monica Borza, a senior majoring in biological studies from Virginia Beach, said in an email to the AP that she chose to attend Virginia Tech because she thought she would be able to feel safe there.

"The dedication of the officers today confirmed my decision," said Borza, who was at the Blacksburg public library when she got a text alert about the shooting.

"Within minutes, all my friends and family checked in with me to make sure that I was safe," she said. "For the next couple of hours, my phone was constantly going off with text messages and phone calls saying, `Are you okay?' `Praying for VT!"'

During about a one-hour period on Thursday, the university issued four separate alerts.

Derek O'Dell, a third-year veterinary student at Virginia Tech who was wounded in the 2007 shooting, was shaken.

"It just brings up a lot of bad feelings, bad memories," said O'Dell, who was at his home a couple of miles from campus at the time of the shootings.

"At first I was just hoping it was a false alarm," he said. "Then there were reports of two people dead, and the second person shot was in the parking lot where I usually park to go to school, so it was kind of surreal."

Police would not rule out a connection between the shootings and an armed robbery Wednesday in Radford, about 10 miles from Blacksburg. According to media reports, Radford police were looking for a man they considered armed and dangerous after an armed robbery at a local real estate office.

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