BLACKSBURG, Va. – Norris Hall was cordoned off behind yellow police tape Tuesday as police officials said the building where the bulk of Monday’s killings took place would remain closed throughout the remainder of Virginia Tech's school year.
Still, it was a center of activity as reporters, students and faculty sought to understand the previous day's violence while police stood watch outside to keep the open crime scene closed.
Steven Hanson, a graduate engineering student from Iowa City, Iowa, spoke to reporters after he was turned away by police. He said he had been in the building when the fatal shooting spree took place, and he hoped to get his belongings: wallet, cell phone, identification.
He said at first, he thought the gunfire was construction noise. Like so many others, it was only when police arrived that he realized the seriousness of the situation.
With memories of the events barely 24 hours old, Hanson’s face wrenched before a group of reporters when he began discussing a friend of his who died, who he did not name.
“I’m mortified. The way he died was horrible,” Hanson said.
He said there was panic in the halls outside his laboratory just after the shootings. Undergraduate students trying to leave their classes found themselves locked in the hallways. Hanson said people in his lab let them stay there until police released everyone.
“There was just a lot of cops around. We didn’t know what was going on,” Hanson said.
Jonathan Hess, 22, is a senior mechanical engineering major. He and his friends helped erect a makeshift memorial on the campus drill fields. By midday, the memorial was filling up with handwritten messages from students in honor those slain on Monday.
“It’s sad, depressing that one guy can do this. A little bit angry toward him. I feel that the memorial is the least I can do,” said Hess, of Council, Va.
He said most of his friends were holding up pretty well, and he hoped for a fast recovery.
“It can only go up, right? We’ve got to recover and rebuild.”
As Hess spoke, students behind him filed past the memorial, either leaving mementos or signing a book. From what he’d heard, Hess said there had been a steady flow of students since the memorial was put up the night before.
Jimmy Kruyne, 21, was dressed somberly as he stopped by the drill field memorial. He said he wasn’t close friends — as far as he knew — with any of the victims, but he had kept in touch with one of them, Daniel Perez Cueva. Kruyne said both of them graduated from C.D. Hylton High School in Prince William County, Va.
Kruyne said he wasn’t struck with grief until after he began to see the names and faces of the victims. Now he said it feels like his world has been invaded.
“I guess no matter where you are, it’s real, no matter where you live in the world. … To see this happening, it’s unreal.”
Matthew Dockins, 19, is a freshman civil engineering major. He said he lives on the sixth floor of “West A.J.”, the building where students Emily Hilscher and Ryan Clark were killed. He said that while he knew Clark, he lost an even closer friend, Reema Samaha. The two went to Centreville High School together.
Passing by Norris Hall, Dockins said it’s been difficult dealing with the loss.
“I don’t want it to set in because once it does, it’s going to be hard,” Dockins said.
He expressed his discomfort with the way university officials handled the situation, saying he’d like to learn more about what the school did, “and why it took them so long” to get the information out.
He said he’s heard that people have been using the on-campus counseling, “but I’m sure more people will.”
Dockins said that because of the enormity of Monday’s events, he’s just one of many who lost good friends.
“Everyone probably will know someone because it was just such a massive scale,” he said.
Diane Hase, 22, and her friend Melissa Webster, 20, were standing near West A.J. when they began to have a strong, but friendly disagreement over how university officials should have handled the shootings.
“I stand behind this campus 100 percent. … I know they have our safety in mind. They only person to blame is that guy running around with guns,” Hase said.
Webster said she thought the university could have at least shut down part of the campus.
“I just want to know why everything happened … where this person went for two hours,” Webster said.
Webster said she was close to West A.J. at the nearby swimming pool when the shooting happened.
But asked if they felt safe now, they both agreed:
“Absolutely,” Hase said.
“Yeah,” Webster added.