Virginia Tech shooting: Was gunman stalking officer?
Virginia Tech shooting investigators have ruled out a possible history between the gunman and the police officer he killed on Thursday, but they stopped short of calling the murder-suicide a "random" act. And there are early indications that the gunman was making his way to the Virginia Tech campus and targeted Officer Deriek W. Crouse before taking his own life.
Law enforcement officials in Blacksburg, Va., are looking into the possibility that the gunman tried to steal a rental car in nearby Radford, and then took a shuttle bus to the Virginia Tech campus.
Officer Crouse had just pulled over a vehicle for a routine traffic violation. The gunman approached Crouse while the officer was still in his patrol car, then opened fire. Crouse was unable to return fire.
Then, authorities said, the gunman changed his clothing, possibly to elude the intense manhunt that was unleashed by local, state and federal authorities.
Authorities were tight-lipped about the gunman at a news conference Friday morning, stressing that they are still in the midst of their investigation.
An autopsy is being performed Friday and his identification will be released following a positive identification and notification of his next of kin, police said. Geller also declined to discuss any details that authorities might have about his metal state and whether he has a criminal background, citing Virginia privacy laws.
Although authorities declined to label it a "random" shooting, they also said there was no apparent tie between the gunman and the officer, and that the gunman was not a current or former student.
The male driver pulled over by Crouse is a Virginia Tech student, and he is cooperating with police and has no connection to the shooter, said Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police.
Crouse was an Army veteran and married father of five.
The gunman is believed to have been carrying a black backpack at the he time of the shooting. The backpack was found abandoned along the path the gunman took as he fled the shooting scene and made his way into a student parking lot, Geller said.
When authorities recovered the backpack, they found a cap and top shoved inside that matched the description of the gunman's clothing. Geller would not discuss other contents of the backpack.
Once in the parking lot, the man was spotted acting suspiciously and making "furtive movements" by a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy who had joined the manhunt, Geller said. By the time the deputy reached the gunman, he was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, she said.
Geller was asked about writing found scrawled on a wall near the spot where the gunman's body was found. She said that she did not know what it said, or whether it was related to the gunman, but that it would be considered as part of the investigation.
The incident rattled a campus that remains the scene of the bloodiest rampage in U.S. history. In April 2007, a mentally ill gunman killing 32 people there before taking his own life.
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Photo: A man stands at a memorial on the campus of Virginia Tech for the slain Officer Deriek W. Crouse. Students were among those who left flowers, notes and other mementos to honor the officer and his family. Credit: Chris Keane / Reuters