Cell Phones, Blogs Enable Live Reporting Of Virginia Tech Shooting

Students and faculty communicated with each other during the crisis through use of social networking sites like Facebook, as well as text messaging and e-mail.
Virginia Tech students and staff reported on what appeared to be the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus as it unfolded, using blogs, social networking sites, podcasts, and cell phones to do it.

With their Web server down, contributors to the campus newspaper the Collegiate Times filed blog entries on their parent company's Web site beginning at 9:47 a.m. as they attempted to confirm information about two Monday morning university shootings, which left at least 22 people dead and many more injured. ABC reported 29 dead by Monday afternoon.

According to the student newspaper's blog, 20 students died in Norris Hall, a 72,375-square-foot building that houses the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. The department focuses on materials, material systems, biomechanics, and computational methods, among other subjects.

Students and faculty communicated with each other during the crisis through instant messaging and e-mail. A student captured the sound of several gunshots on campus.

By the afternoon, the university had posted a podcast of statements from its president, Charles Steger. He said police were investigating the first shooting when they received reports of a second shooting. He said the school was shocked and horrified by a tragedy of "monumental proportions." He also said he felt a great personal loss.

The Virginia Tech Web site also posted information about support for students and their families.

Facebook participants almost immediately questioned the university's decision not to cancel classes after at least one person was shot and killed around 7:15 a.m. in Ambler Johnston Hall, a dormitory -- an estimated two hours before a gunman fatally shot 20 more people in Norris Hall, which is on the other side of the campus. Others said it was too soon to assign blame.

The campus newspaper had reported on bomb threats around the university in recent weeks.

According to a report from Collegiate Times Associate News Editor Kevin Anderson, the school shut down three buildings and cancelled classes on Friday after someone sent letters stating that explosives had been placed inside three buildings. Those buildings were not the ones where Monday's shootings occurred. One of the three buildings, Torgersen Hall, was mentioned in a similar letter two weeks earlier.

Several weekend events had been cancelled or rescheduled as a result of the second bomb threat.

Anderson also contributed to Monday's live reporting, sharing a byline with Saira Haider for an afternoon blog entry stating that police were investigating whether the two shootings Monday were related to each other or the earlier bomb threats.

"The police are sure that the campus is secure but advise everyone to remain indoors," the students wrote in an entry stamped 1:19 p.m.

Earlier entries indicated that shots had been fired. They confirmed at 10 a.m. that a gunman was loose on campus. Four minutes later, an entry warned: "The university is encouraging everyone to stay indoors and away from windows. West Ambler Johnston and Squires are currently on confirmed lock down." By 10:20 a.m., the student paper's blog reported that all classes were cancelled. The students said they confirmed 22 fatalities at 12:23 p.m. The university's president also confirmed that number.

According to the newspaper's emergency blogs, high winds prevented medical responders from flying helicopters, so they used vehicles to evacuate the injured.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing