Jumat, 09 Desember 2011

Motive a Mystery in Killing and Suicide at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The man who shot and killed a campus police officer at Virginia Tech and then turned the gun on himself was a part-time student at a nearby college who had stolen a car at gunpoint the day before but had no apparent link to the officer, the police said Friday.

Officer Deriek W. Crouse

The gunman was identified as Ross Truett Ashley, 22, of rural Partlow, Va., and the police said he went to Radford University, a small college about 15 miles from Virginia Tech. Officials at Radford said Mr. Ashley was a business management major.

Why Mr. Ashley shot and killed the officer, Deriek W. Crouse, 39, around noon Thursday remained a mystery. The police said they had not been able to establish any connection between the men..

“There’s no prior contact, nothing has surfaced,” said Corinne Geller, the spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. “It is literally a random act at this point.”

Little was known about Mr. Ashley. He lived on East Main Street in Radford. He did not appear on Facebook or MySpace and had no criminal history. The only photograph the police could find was from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. Ashley walked into a real estate office in Radford, pulled a gun and demanded the keys to an employee’s car, a white 2011 Mercedes-Benz S.U.V., the police said. The car was found Thursday on the Virginia Tech campus.

Mr. Ashley appeared to have considered his moves carefully. He had a change of clothes and a backpack, the police said. He drove to the campus in the stolen vehicle. But the police said they were still trying to establish why he walked up to Officer Crouse during a routine traffic stop and shot him dead.

Mr. Ashley killed himself about a half hour later, the police said.

Investigators were trying to establish a motive and “to recreate Ashley’s movements in the days and hours leading up to the murder-suicide,” the state police said in a statement.

After shooting Officer Crouse, Mr. Ashley fled to an area near the campus greenhouses. There he changed some of his clothes, leaving a wool hat and a pullover in his backpack, as well as an ID card, Ms. Geller said.

Shortly after Officer Crouse was shot, which put the university on high alert, an officer on the response team noticed a man “making some furtive movements” in a parking lot with hundreds of cars not far from the greenhouse, Ms. Geller said.

The officer approached, she said, but the man fell from view, and by the time the officer reached him, the man, who turned out to be Mr. Ashley, had shot himself.

The shootings on this quiet campus in western Virginia was a frightening reminder of the shooting spree on April 16, 2007, when a student, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people before killing himself in the worst shooting ever on a university campus.

“It brought back vivid memories of April 16,” said Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech’s police chief. “I’m not sure I have words to describe how it felt.”

University flags flew at half-staff on Friday, and students planned an evening candlelight vigil, said Larry Hincker, a spokesman for Virginia Tech.

Ms. Geller said the student who was stopped by Officer Crouse was unrelated to the shooting and was helping investigators. She said that Officer Crouse, who had five children and was an army veteran, did not fire his gun during the attack, that the only bullets fired came from the shooter’s gun.

A jarring reminder of what had happened — a large blood stain on the asphalt of a back parking lot where Mr. Ashley’s body was found — was being scrubbed away on Friday.

Around 2 p.m., two university workers finished washing the pavement and painting a large black square over the area.

When asked what they thought when they heard what had happened Thursday, both said, almost in unison, “Not again.”(nytimes.com)

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