BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech was locked down Thursday when three children attending a summer camp said they saw a man holding what looked like a gun on the campus where a 2007 massacre left 33 people dead.
The university issued an alert on its website at 9:37 a.m. Thursday telling students and employees to stay inside and lock their doors. University spokesman Larry Hincker said during a news conference later in the morning that the campus alert remained in effect and that people should stay indoors until further notice.
The university posted the alert on its website and its official Twitter account. The Roanoke Times also reported that the university sounded its emergency sirens and issued an emergency alert by phone and email.
Hincker said he was not certain when the lockdown might be lifted.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. “You get this report of a sighting that someone might have had a weapon. Then you’ve got this one-square-mile campus, 150 major buildings with several million square feet of space to search.”
The children told police they saw the man quickly walking toward the volleyball courts, carrying what might have been a handgun covered by some type of cloth. State and local police swarmed the area but said they could not find a gunman matching their description. The university said in a tweet posted just before noon that no other sightings had been reported but asked people to stay inside.
An alert on the school’s website said the gunman was reported near Dietrick Hall, a three-story dining facility steps away from the dorm where the first shootings took place in the 2007 rampage. A student from South Korea, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 30 more students and faculty and himself. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“We’re in a new era. Obviously this campus experienced something pretty terrible four years ago … regardless of what your intuition and your experience as a public safety officer tells you, you are really forced to issue an alert, and that’s where we believe we are right now,” said Hincker, the Virginia Tech spokesman.