Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bomb Scares Rattle 3 More Colleges as Virginia Tech Mourns Victims of Massacre

Gunman Who Killed 33 (Including Himself) and Wounded 26 More in Virginia Tech Rampage Was 'A Sullen Loner' Whose Violence-Laced Writings Alarmed University Officials


Virginia Polytechnic Institute students sign a condolence book at a makeshift memorial to the 32 people killed in a hail of bullets by gunman Cho Seung-Hui on the university's campus in Blacksburg. (Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters)

(Updated 9:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 17, 2007)

By Matt Apuzzo, Sue Lindsey and Adam Geller
The Associated Press

BLACKSBURG, Virginia -- The gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre was a sullen loner who alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids.

A chilling picture emerged Tuesday of Cho Seung-Hui — a 23-year-old senior majoring in English — a day after the bloodbath that left 33 people dead, including Cho, who killed himself as police closed in.

News reports said that he may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic. Despite the many warning signs that came to light in the bloody aftermath, police and university officials offered no clues as to exactly what set Cho off on the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

"He was a loner, and we're having difficulty finding information about him," school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Threats Reported At Three More Campuses

As the Virginia Tech community gathered Tuesday to mourn the victims of the massacre, campus bomb scares and perceived threats forced lock-downs and evacuations at universities in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In Austin, authorities evacuated buildings at St. Edward's University after a threatening note was found, a school official said.

Police secured the perimeter around the campus and were searching the buildings, St. Edward's University spokeswoman Mischelle Amador said. She declined to say where the note was found and said its contents were "nonspecific."

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, officials ordered three campus administration buildings evacuated for almost two hours Tuesday morning in response to a telephone bomb threat. The city's bomb squad searched the buildings but found nothing, campus spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.

Cantrell said there was no reason to believe the bogus threat was related to the shootings at Virginia Tech, but "we just chose to err on the side of caution today."

The third scare, at the University of Oklahoma, also was determined to be unfounded. It started with a report of a man spotted on campus carrying a suspicious object, officials said.

The man was carrying an umbrella and not a weapon, and he later identified himself to authorities, University of Oklahoma President David Boren said in a statement. He initially had said the person was believed to carrying a yoga mat.

"We now consider the matter closed," Boren said. "We always want to err on the side of caution in a situation like this."

Cho's Obscene, Violence-Laced Writings Emerge

A student who attended Virginia Tech last fall provided obscenity- and violence-laced screenplays that he said Cho wrote as part of a playwriting class they both took. One was about a fight between a stepson and his stepfather, and involved throwing of hammers and attacks with a chainsaw. Another was about students fantasizing about stalking and killing a teacher who sexually molested them.

"When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of," former classmate Ian MacFarlane, now an AOL employee, wrote in a blog posted on an AOL Web site. He said he and other students "were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter."

"We always joked we were just waiting for him to do something, waiting to hear about something he did," said another classmate, Stephanie Derry. "But when I got the call it was Cho who had done this, I started crying, bawling."

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of Virginia Tech's English department, said she did not personally know the gunman. But she said she spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department's director of creative writing, who had Cho in one of her classes and described him as "troubled."

"There was some concern about him," Rude said. "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

She said Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws.

Report Gunman Left Behind a Note of Grievances, Stalked Women

The Chicago Tribune reported on its Web site Tuesday that Cho left a note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances. Citing unidentified sources, the Tribune said he had recently shown troubling signs, including setting a fire in a dorm room and stalking some women.

Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, the newspaper reported.

Paperwork found in Cho's backpack allowed authorities to trace one of the two handguns Cho used in the shootings, though the serial numbers for both weapons were wiped clean, CBS News reported Tuesday.

Ballistics tests show one of the guns found was used in both shootings, at the dormitory and at the classroom building, police said.

Virginia Tech's president, Charles Steger, acknowledged at a news conference earlier Tuesday morning that Cho was the gunman in at least the second of the two campus attacks. Though he did not explicitly say that Cho was also the gunman in the first shooting, Steger said he did not believe there was another shooter at large.

Two hours after two people were killed at a dormitory Monday, 30 more people were killed at a campus building by Cho, who finally killed himself with a shot to his head. The bloodbath stamped the campus in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains with unspeakable tragedy, perhaps forever.

As of Tuesday afternoon, authorities had still not determined a motive for the attack.

The massacre Monday took place almost eight years to the day after the Columbine High School bloodbath near Littleton, Colorado. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

'A Tragedy of Monumental Proportions'

"The university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," Steger said on Monday. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."

On Tuesday afternoon, thousands of people gathered in the basketball arena for a memorial service for the victims, with an overflow crowd of thousands watching on a jumbo TV screen in the football stadium. President Bush and the first lady attended.

"As you draw closer to your families in the coming days, I ask you to reach out to those who ache for sons and daughters who are never coming home," Bush said.

Steger received a 30-second standing ovation, despite the criticism of the school administration.

With classes canceled for the rest of the week, many students left town in a hurry, lugging pillows, sleeping bags and backpacks down the sidewalks.

Jessie Ferguson, 19, a freshman from Arlington, headed for her car with tears streaming down her cheeks. "I'm still kind of shaky," she said. "I had to pump myself up just to kind of come out of the building. I was going to come out, but it took a little bit of 'OK, it's going to be all right. There's lots of cops around.'"

She added: "I just don't want to be on campus."

Holocaust Survivor Died Saving Students' Lives

Stories of heroism and ingenuity emerged Tuesday.

Liviu Librescu, an Israeli engineering and math lecturer who survived the Holocaust as a child, was killed after he was said to have protected his students' lives by blocking the doorway of his classroom from the gunman. And one student, an Eagle Scout, probably saved his own life by using an electrical cord as a tourniquet around his bleeding thigh, a doctor reported.

As darkness fell, thousands of Virginia Tech students, faculty and area residents poured into the center of campus to grieve together. They held thousands of candles aloft as speakers urged them to find solace in one another.

"We will move on from this. But it will take the strength of each other to do that," said Zenobia Hikes, vice president for student affairs. "We want the world to know we are Virginia Tech, we will recover, we will survive with your prayers."

Controversy Remains Over University's Response to Initial First Shootings

Steger and other Virginia Tech officials found themselves having to face difficult questions about the university's handling of the emergency and whether it did enough to warn students and protect them after the first burst of gunfire.

Some students complained bitterly that they received no warning from the university until an e-mail that arrived more than two hours after the first shots rang out. They said that there were no public-address announcements. "I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident," said Billy Bason, an 18-year-old freshman who lives on the seventh floor of the dorm.

"If you had apprehended a suspect, I could understand having classes even after two of your students have perished. But when you don't have a suspect in a college environment and to put the students in a situation where they're congregated in large numbers in open buildings, that's unacceptable to me."

Virginia Tech Prexy Defends Officials' Response, But Admits 'Difficulty' In Communications

Steger defended the university's conduct, saying authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought Cho had fled the campus.

"We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur," he said.

Steger emphasized that the university closed off the dorm after the first attack and decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to spread the word, but said that with 11,000 people driving onto campus first thing in the morning, it was difficult to get the word out.

He said that before the e-mail went out, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people out to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

"We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it," Steger said.

Laura Wedin, a student programs manager at Virginia Tech, said the first notification came in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m., more than two hours after the first shooting.

The e-mail had few details. It read: "A shooting incident occurred at West Amber Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating." The message warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.

'Heads Will Roll' Over Lack of Warning By University, Student Says

Everett Good, a Virginia Tech junior, said of the lack of warning: "Someone's head is definitely going to roll over that."

Edmund Henneke, associate dean of engineering, said that he was in the classroom building and that he and colleagues had just read the e-mail advisory and were discussing it when he heard gunfire. He said that moments later SWAT team members rushed them downstairs, but that the doors were chained and padlocked from the inside. They left the building through an unlocked construction area.

After the shootings, all campus entrances were closed, and classes were canceled through Tuesday. The university set up a spot for families to reunite with their children. It also made counselors available and planned an assembly Tuesday.

Gregory Walton, a 25-year-old who graduated last year, said he learned from an ambulance driver that he lost a friend Monday.

"I knew when the number was so large that I would know at least one person on that list," said Walton, a banquet manager. "I don't want to look at that list. I don't want to. It's just -- it's going to be horrible, and it's going to get worse before it gets better."

It was second time in less than a year that the campus was closed because of a shooting. Last August, the opening day of classes was canceled when an escaped jail inmate allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the Tech area. A sheriff's deputy involved in the manhunt was killed just off campus.

The accused gunman in the August incident, William Morva, faces capital murder charges.

Carnage Eclipses 1991 Texas Cafeteria Massacre, 1966 'Tower Sniper' Shootings at UT Austin

Until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard plowed his pickup truck into a Luby's Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

The worst previous campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16 people before he was shot to death by police.

Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech is nestled in southwestern Virginia, about 160 miles west of Richmond. With more than 25,000 full-time students, it has the state's largest full-time student population. The school is best known for its engineering school and its powerhouse Hokies football team.

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Volume II, Number 20
Tuesday News Extra Copyright 2007, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, April 16, 2007

War Likely to Dominate '08 Campaign, But Few Candidates for White House Have Military Experience

Of the Six Leading Candidates, Only McCain Is a Military Veteran, Yet Despite the Vietnam-Dodging Bush's Gross Mishandling of Iraq War, Few Americans Say Past Military Service Is a Prerequisite For a Future Commander-in-Chief


President Bush departs the west wing of the White House on his way to the presidential retreat at Camp David. Of the six leading contenders running to succeed him in 2008, only John McCain has prior military experience. (Photo: Larry Dowling/Reuters)

By Ann Sanner
The Associated Press

The 2008 presidential campaign is long on war rhetoric and short on warriors.

Despite the high-profile roles of the battle against terrorism and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the presidential campaign, few of the candidates can claim military experience on their resumes.

Of the top tier of 2008 candidates, only Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has been to war and served in uniform.

Polls: Military Background Takes a Back Seat to Character

Yet, while the demand for a president with a military background might be expected to run high in the post-September 11 era -- combined with President Bush's lack of combat experience -- few see that as a determining factor in the 2008 race.

"It teaches you certain things, but I don't think it makes you a better candidate for higher office," said Navy veteran Edward Ferrari, 76, of Randolph, N.J. "It teaches you honor and duty. I guess you can get that in other places, too."

Polls indicate that while having a military background can be helpful to presidential candidates, a majority of adults don't see it as essential. Many people say candidates who've served as a governor, member of Congress or business executive are better prepared for the Oval Office than a general or admiral.

More broadly, an AP-Ipsos poll taken last month indicates leadership traits or experience are far less important to voters than character attributes such as honesty.

A Public Fed Up With Iraq War May Be Less Inclined to Back a Warrior

The 2008 lineup of candidates also makes clear that a new generation of political leaders has stepped forward, some too young to have been eligible for the Vietnam-era draft. Beyond that, fatigue with the Iraq war may have dulled the appetite for a warrior in the White House.

"We're sick and tired of war and I think that feeling is going to last for about a decade," said Stephen J. Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University.

Since at least the 1992 election, being a war hero hasn't been a ticket to the White House.

Bill Clinton, the first president from the post-World War II Baby Boom generation, never served in the armed forces, yet he defeated two World War II combat veterans — former President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and former Senator Bob Dole in 1996.

Clinton's successor and fellow Baby Boomer George W. Bush's National Guard duty helped keep him out of Vietnam, yet he defeated three veterans of that conflict — McCain in the 2000 GOP primaries, Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election and Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

Bush's Lack of Combat Experience Blamed for His Mishandling of Iraq

Many of Bush's fiercest critics, however, cite his lack of combat experience as a factor in what they say is his mishandling of the war in Iraq, from the planning to the execution to the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's ouster. Some have even called for a constitutional amendment that would make prior military service a required qualification for future commanders-in-chief.

To some, like Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, a war record still counts. "When you're a war hero, you have less to prove on the character front," he said, comparing McCain with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the front-runner in national popularity polls, who did not serve in the military.

And Vietnam veteran Audrey Birgstresser said presidents with military experience understand the sacrifices of deployed soldiers and how to deftly resolve conflicts.

"They know how to make decisions under pressure because that's what their life is all about," said Birgstresser, 59, of Harrisburg, Pa.

But Are Ex-Warriors Better Suited to Be Peacemakers?

Yet Fred Greenstein, a political scientist at Princeton University, doubts that even the few veterans in the race will make much of their service given the situation in Iraq.

"Now that we're in this period of an increasingly virulent insurgency, it would probably be more electorally effective, even for the people who have military experience, to say they are more suited to be peacemakers, not that they were suited to manage violent conflicts," he said.

Of the current Democratic front-runners, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, at 45, is too young to have been drafted during the Vietnam War. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, 53, had a number in the 1972 draft lottery that was never called.

And Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, 59, like most women her age, would not have been expected to serve; women weren't subject to the draft. And even if she did serve, she would have been barred from combat duty (Women weren't allowed to serve in combat until the Gulf War in 1991).

Among the other candidates in the Democratic race, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, now 62, served in the Army Reserve from 1969 to 1975.

Others In the Race Were Kept Out of Military Service By Health Issues

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, 59, who drew a low number in the 1970 draft lottery, received student and medical classifications that probably spared him from service in Vietnam, including one for a deviated septum.

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, 64, and Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, 60, also had medical conditions that kept them from serving in Vietnam.

Among the leading Republicans, only McCain -- the eldest candidate in the field at 70 -- has a military record. The Arizona senator spent more than 20 years in the Navy, almost a quarter of it in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

Giuliani, Romney, Got Deferments; Hunter Only Other Veteran In the Race

Draft deferments kept Giuliani, 62, of out Vietnam while he attended law school. In 1968, as the Vietnam War was escalating, he was classified 1-A, or draft eligible. After going to work for a federal judge, he received an occupational deferment. He was classified 1-A again in 1970, but drew a high lottery number and was never called.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 60, received a draft deferment while serving as a Mormon missionary in France during the war. He was eligible for the draft later, but, like Giuliani, was never called.

Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, 50, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, 51, came of age after the draft was abolished in 1973. Neither has military experience.

Another Republican, Representative Tom Tancredo, 61 -- who's making illegal immigration and national security the centerpiece of his campaign -- also received student deferments. He was available for service in 1969, but was reclassified in 1970 because of stress-related anxiety.

On the other hand, long-shot GOP hopeful Duncan Hunter, 58, a California congressman who describes himself as "the national security candidate," was an Army paratrooper and Ranger in the Vietnam War and has a personal connection to the Iraq war. His son, a Marine, has completed two tours of duty there.

Few Members of Congress Have Military Experience, Either

Congress has also seen a drain in the number of members with military experience.

Only 131 of the 535 members of the current 110th Congress have had some form of military service, according to a Congressional Research Service report. In sharp contrast, during the 93rd Congress from 1973 to 1975, 390 members were military veterans.

Even if a military background isn't essential to voters, a sense that a candidate can handle the role of commander-in-chief remains important to most Americans -- which could potentially be problematic for Senator Clinton in particular.

"I think that the voters in this post-9/11 era will take into account everything about candidates," said Dayton Duncan, who was an insider on the presidential campaigns of Democrats Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, "and part of that filter is, 'Are you capable of protecting us?'"

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Volume II, Number 19
Special Report Copyright 2007, The Associated Press
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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