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Tragedy strikes again at Virginia Tech

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Front Page


A university police officer and one other man died from gunshot wounds at Virginia Tech early Thursday afternoon, less than five years after the campus suffered the deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history. The April 2007 massacre that left 33 students dead sparked new debates at colleges across the country, including here at Brandeis, about emergency preparedness, mental health policies and possession of firearms by campus police.

When gunman Seung-Hui Cho opened fire and killed 32 students before killing himself at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, former President Jehuda Reinharz, along with an advisory panel, decided to arm Brandies Public Safety officers in September 2007, providing them with firearms before the 2008-09 academic year.

On Thursday, Virginia Tech police officer, Deriek W. Crouse, 39, of Christiansburg, Va., was conducting a traffic stop in a campus parking lot when a man approached and shot him before fleeing the scene, police said.

“The loss of any human life is a tremendous tragedy that is felt by the entire community,” Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said at a press conference. “This brings back some difficult memories of the past.”

The massacre in 2007 revealed a university unprepared to respond quickly to the emergency threat of a gunman on campus. Virginia Tech administrators were in Washington, D.C., this week for appeal hearings at the Department of Education over a $55,000 fine issued to the school for failing to notify students immediately about the 2007 shootings.

Following the tragedy, Virginia Tech implemented emergency alert systems, including the use of text messages to communicate with students.

On Thursday, communication was everywhere—including on Twitter, cell phones and the school website. Shortly after the shooting at about 12:15 p.m. in a parking lot by McComas Hall, the university sent a text message alert before 12:30 p.m., informing the community that gunshots had been fired and to stay inside buildings and lock doors.

Virginia Tech student Jimmy Brewbaker ’13, who lives in an off-campus apartment, said that he was confused by the first alert.

“I didn’t really know if that meant that a gun had been fired or somebody had been hit,” Brewbaker said in a phone interview Thursday night. “I wasn’t thinking of anything like 2007. At the time I was just thinking I’m not going to go anywhere.”

Law enforcement officials declined to say with certainty on Thursday that the second man found dead was the gunmen, but admitted they believed that was the case.

“We have recovered clothing items that would lead us to believe that he would be one and the same,” Major Rick Jenkins, deputy director of the Virginia State Police’s bureau of investigation, said in a conference call Thursday night, The New York Times reported. “We are not in a situation to say that definitively at this point.”

At a press conference earlier in the day, when asked by reporters whether the shooting was a murder-suicide, a police officer responded, “You can read between the lines, but I can’t comment.”

With the 2007 tragedy in its memory, the university entered lock-down mode Thursday, calling in hundreds of police officers and SWAT team members with machine guns before announcing at 4:30 p.m. that there was “no longer an active threat” on the campus.

“Once again, the campus and the community that we love so well have been visited by senseless violence and tragic loss. Tragedy again struck Virginia Tech in a wanton act of violence where our police officer, Deriek Crouse, was murdered during a routine traffic stop,” Steger wrote in a letter to the campus community. “… My heart goes out also to all of you, members of a strong and tightly-knit community that has had the sad misfortune to have weathered these storms before.”

Brewbaker said that national media instantly drew comparisons between the shooting Thursday and the one in 2007, even though they were different situations.

“I think people nationally were [writing we’re] in a 2007 repeat but we’re really not.”

Thursday was a study day before finals for students at Virginia Tech and with no scheduled classes. The university said exams on Friday would be postponed, according to The Times.

Six months after the massacre that reawakened the entire nation to the threat of violence on a college campuses, Deriek W. Crouse joined the Virginia Tech Police Department. And now, less than five years later, he is gone.

“I can only say words can’t describe our feelings. Our hearts are broken again,” Steger said on Thursday.

Now Deriek Crouse’s family—his wife, mother, brother and five children—are left searching for answers in the wake of grief and shock as a college community tries to recover once again from tragedy and heal the wounds it leaves.

Alex Schneider contributed reporting.