Witnesses Recall Memories of Norris Hall Shootingsby Omar Maglalang and Tricia Sangalang
News Staff Writers
April 16, 2007
A typical morning in Norris Hall is pretty quiet for the housekeepers who work there. Most classes do not start until 9 a.m., and various classes from German to Engineering are held there every day.
But on this one day in April, when wind gusts roared like a snowstorm in January, a gunman shattered the quiet nature of the quaint building, which like many at Virginia Tech is constructed with the distinctive “Hokie Stone.”
Ruiqi Zhang, a junior computer engineering major, experienced the incident first hand in his class on the second floor of Norris.
“A student rushed in and told everybody to get down,” said Zhang. “We put a table against the door and when the gunman tried to shoulder his way in and when he saw that he couldn’t, he put two shots through the door.
“It was the scariest moment of my life.”
Pam Tickle, who works as a housekeeper in Norris, was moving through another quiet, easy morning at her post in the second floor of Norris when a little after 9:30 a.m., she heard numerous gunshots coming from the hallway.
“We weren’t quite sure what happened at first,” said Tickle. “We didn’t hear anybody screaming, but we heard lots of shots.”
Gene Cole, a building worker from the Pulaski County community of Belspring, had heard the shots and was on his way to look for Tickle, when he came around a corner on the second floor of Norris and saw a body on the floor.
“Across the hall, I caught sight of the shooter, and he loaded his gun at me,” said Cole. “I ran down the steps to get out of the there.”
Cole, who has worked for more than 20 years at Virginia Tech, saw bloodied hallways and also a hint of what the suspect looked like. Cole noted that the man had a hat on and was wielding a black automatic handgun.
Meanwhile, Tickle and several Virginia Tech students had rushed to the student lounge on the second floor, locked the door, and waited for police officers to evacuate them.
Their wait would last almost two hours, an anxiety-filled two hours.
“We peeked out the door one time, but more shots were fired,” said Tickle. “We stayed in there not knowing what happened. When we heard police out in the hallway after 11, we let them in. They body searched us, and led us away to evacuate from the building.”
Tickle did feel a sense of relief when a little after 10 a.m., she heard an announcer on the radio who said, “Shooter’s down!”
Police led Tickle and students in the lounge to Randolph Hall, behind Norris, after the gunman was pronounced dead, and they stayed there until police cleared the area.
“I thank God because he was watching me today,” said Tickle.
Tickle has worked for about three years as a housekeeper in Norris. She said she enjoyed the hustle and bustle of students and professors there. She particularly liked the quiet atmosphere and the neat look of the hallways.
By mid-afternoon, however, yellow caution tape lined the entire perimeter of Norris and the academic buildings around it.
By afternoon, the building was Virginia Tech’s own ground zero of sorrow, the bed of yellow tulips in front of the building tossed in the stiff wind, as evidence technicians and other officers came and went from a building that will surely live in infamy. An abandoned red backpack sat next to the entrance and bicycles were also left in a rack nearby, signs of the quiet, carefree student life so terribly shattered.
That student routine and quiet atmosphere was now obliterated as police cars, ambulances, SWAT teams, and investigators mulled about the crime scene.
The stern faces of the evidence collection team and other huddled-up officers in their bulletproof vests seemed stunned at the sight of what had happened in Norris.
Officers gathered outside of the academic building to deal with the particulars of the crime scene while others stood to guard the perimeter with shotguns.
Nick Pheil, an accounting and information systems major, had an exam on the third floor of Norris in the morning. He finished and on his way back to his residence he noticed police officers everywhere. Like many Tech students, he watched and listened as the news worsened by the minute.
“I’m in a state of shock,” said Pheil later. “It seemed low-key and contained earlier when they reported one dead, several wounded, but things escalated very quickly when the numbers shot to 17 and then 22 dead. I’m still in a state of shock.”
On one of the chilliest days ever on record this month in Blacksburg, the site of Norris Hall will be remembered for the sight of yellow tape lined around its perimeter, blowing in the cold wind, a wind that will break hearts for as long as hearts can be broken.