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David Hines [userpic]

Unhappy gun-blogging: on VA Tech

April 17th, 2007 (08:22 am)
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Details are still coming out about the massacre at Virginia Tech. All I know right now is what you do: there are more than thirty killed, and almost that many wounded, in two separate incidents apparently involving one shooter. Between 7:15 and 7:30 AM, he killed two people in a dormitory. reportedly, one of the first two victims was the shooter's girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, and there's another rumor going around that the other victim was the proverbial "other man." A brief lockdown was issued, but then the campus police lifted it, on the theory that he'd fled. At around 10:00 AM, the killer showed up at Norris Hall and began murder in earnest. The media says that nobody knows what he was doing for the intervening two and a half hours. Bullshit; I can tell you: he realized he had nothing else to lose, so he started loading magazines.

The investigation is ongoing, and all information leaked to the media is necessarily sketchy. One report has it that the shooter used two 9mm pistols; another that his body was found with one 9mm and one .22 pistol. The body count is *extremely* high for that level of armament, especially if one was a .22. This asshole murdered more people than Charles Lee Whitman did, and Whitman was a trained Marine firing rifles from an elevated, fortified position. Either a lot of wounded people died waiting for evacuation, or the shooter was skilled and very, very methodical. Some accounts have the piece of shit in question wearing a bulletproof vest; some say just that he wore a vest with pouches for lots and lots and lots of magazines (my guess would be the latter).

The murderer was reportedly a Virginia Tech student in his early twenties, and some reports have it that he came to VA Tech from China on a student visa. According to MSNBC, the authorities had some trouble identifying him: his suicide shot disfigured his face, he had no ID, and "an initial check on his fingerprints came up empty," so identification took a little while. I don't know if we're fingerprinting folks on student visas these days. I have seen handgun suicides before, when I worked as a death investigator, and I've never seen a pistol suicide that disfigured somebody. The only thing I can think of that would do it would be that he put the gun under his chin, got the angle wrong, and sent a bullet through the front of his face rather than his brain. If that's what happened, he would have spent his remaining time on earth in considerable agony, so I really hope that's what he did.

I posted something about Kimveer Gill's rampage in Montreal, but was off-line at the time of the follow-up murder in the Amish schoolhouse. Those of you in an academic setting: WATCH OUT FOR COPYCATS. I am dead serious on this one. The proliferation of the internet makes research easy on all subjects, and I believe that the Amish schoolhouse gunman was inspired, not by Gill, but by the Montreal college shooting years ago in which the gunman deliberately targeted women. That event was mentioned in lots of news stories, and I strongly suspect the schoolhouse gunman, who targeted girls, saw it as an inspiration.

I'll repeat what I said on Montreal: if you are ever in a situation like this, God forbid, you have two options: 1) run away or 2) jump the gunman. Unless you have solid cover for your retreat, you may be better off if you attack, especially if there is more than one of you. Get close fast, bring them down, *keep* them down, and yell like hell for people to help you.

My prayers are with those who died, and their families. Except for the gunman. Let him rot.

Comments

Posted by: Sonja (zing_och)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 07:34 am (UTC)

AFAIK, everyone entering the US these days is fingerprinted.

Posted by: cyano (cyano)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 12:14 pm (UTC)

same here.

I can ask some of my grad students from PRC about it too.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
plane

I asked an Australian friend, and she says every time she enters the US she gets photographed and has fingerprints taken of her two index fingers. My guess is those single prints wind up in the FBI's database, but I don't know how they get there -- if another agency turns 'em over or what.

In my experience, police do two different levels of fingerprint checks when identifying a body. The local search comes first, so if the individual has a local record or was printed by local officials for a background check, there's no need to bother anybody else. If the individual doesn't show up locally, they fax the prints to the FBI's processing center in West Virginia, and the Feds have EVERYBODY. So the delay in identifying is a little ambiguous: either they just mean the guy didn't have a local record, or there could have been a delay on the second level if the FBI had to get his records from border control or something.

Posted by: Sonja (zing_och)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)

That seems the most plausible explanation - I saw it mentioned somewhere that they proved his guilt in both shootings via fingerprints on the guns and immigration documents.

Posted by: C-Chan (cchan8)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
blinking

He might not be an exchange student. It was reported that he was of Asian descent, he could have been an Asian American. If he didn't speak during the whole thing, it might be presumptuous to assume he is a foreigner.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 12:33 pm (UTC)
plane

True enough, but some news stories, while stepping cautiously around such details as the shooter's name, have described him as being from PRC. This information may, of course, be wrong.

Posted by: C-Chan (cchan8)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
blinking

I think what can be verified is that the witnesses described him as Asian. Perhaps the news stories (or witnesses) are making the logical jump - probably there are a lot of exchange students there. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't expect an exchange student from China to be such a sharp shooter or have access to guns, ammo, etc. like an American does. Of course he might have been in the States for several years and perhaps learned. Isn't the gun culture in that part of Virginia pretty strong?

Posted by: C-Chan (cchan8)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I was half right.
blinking

The news media reported that he is from South Korea. He's 23, so that means he probably served in the military.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure what the laws are on non-citizens purchasing guns. I think it's legal if they meet certain requirements, but it's not something I have personal experience with. I've run into foreign students from my university at my pistol range, but the range does rent firearms, and I didn't think to ask if they were using their own weapons. The foreign graduate student who went on a shooting spree at U of Iowa in the early nineties bought his gun legally, from what I understand.

Now that the killer has been named, we know he's a) Korean and b) a permanent resident of the US, so he was clear to purchase firearms legally. He bought the guns from a local store in March. The store owner posted some information a gun forum after he got a visit from the ATF. The killer had had the receipt in his pocket, which strikes the store owner (and me) as odd, considering he got the guns a month ago. But it's convenient that he did, considering that he had eradicated the serial numbers from his weapons. (To me, that's the weirdest part: it suggests he thought he might escape detection, and was planning on throwing the guns away so they wouldn't trace back to him, so maybe he didn't always plan to suicide.)

Posted by: mendori (mendori)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)

-sigh-

This probably speaks horribly of me, but my first thought was "oh god, please don't let me match the profile of this one this time" - seeing as how after Columbine I had the security officer of my High School Following me around and was afraid to wear my trench.

On thoughts in terms of his armorment - he had to have something bigger than a .22 unless he was a VERY good shot. And it would make more sense to carry two weapons of the same gauge if you are planning on carrying that much ammo.

And yeah, if he did in fact shoot himself in such a way as to disfigure his face he either did as you described, or was even more of an idiot and put it against one of his facial bones directly which is a very awkward position to fire from.

Posted by: mendori (mendori)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)

Also.... as I was standing in front of my class teaching this morning I had the following thought: "Thank you god that half my class is ex mil, and would have the decency to use something of a high enough caliber that I would never feel it for very long."

Posted by: Persephone (persephone_kore)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)

Either a lot of wounded people died waiting for evacuation, or the shooter was skilled and very, very methodical.

The earlier report I had a link to now has the updated count -- but I was seeing counts of 22 dead at one point and I believe that included the gunman. The first mention I saw of 32 dead was actually an IM from my mother, who said in association that they had not been able to use helicopters to get to the hospitals because of the high winds.

I suppose it's also possible they hadn't found everybody, or the first count was a mistake when I saw it, or something, but I wouldn't be surprised if delay was a factor.

Posted by: Smitty (smittywing)
Posted at: April 17th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
Thinking

Those of you in an academic setting: WATCH OUT FOR COPYCATS.

Man, I hadn't even thought of that when I was thinking about what I wanted to say about this. Thank you for pointing it out. I just keep thinking that we have this weird conflation of shock/not shock about it - they should have shut down the school as soon as the first shooting happened but they thought it was a domestic thing that was over. As if that wasn't bad enough. And the shock - no one thinks about it so no one really plans for it. And I don't mean the school president and security - but the professors should be cognizant of how far they are from the ground, how to get the windows open fast, what can be tipped over to use for cover, etc. And students? We should all be thinking about what we might do in different circumstances - like fire drills when we were kids. Really, a little forethought would help in a lot of situations - office buildings, schools, hospitals, etc. I'm sitting here 3 seats from the door in a classroom with the desks bolted to the floor, the chairs attached to the desks, and no windows. However, I am fairly confident that my Civil Procedure book could take a .22 for me. It's certainly the only useful thing about it.

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