Alex Bishoff heard five gunshots from inside his dorm room at Delaware State University and looked out his window to see people scattering. He immediately thought of the Virginia Tech shootings in April.
So did Delaware State officials. Even as two students who were shot were being transported to hospitals, campus police and residence hall advisers were knocking on doors and telling students to stay in their rooms.
Administrators mindful of the Virginia Tech massacre ordered a swift shutdown of the campus Friday, lowering gates to keep anyone from coming onto it, while police searched for the gunman.
“The biggest lesson learned from that whole situation at Virginia Tech is don’t wait. Once you have an incident, start notifying the community,” said university spokesman Carlos Holmes.
Students were warned within about 15 minutes, said Bishoff, 20, a freshman from Washington, D.C. “I think they handled it pretty well,” he said.
The shootings, reported to police at 12:54 a.m. Friday, occurred as a group of students were returning from an on-campus cafe. A 17-year-old male student was in stable condition with a wound to the ankle; a female student, also 17, was shot in the abdomen and in serious condition.
John Stokes, a spokesman for the District of Columbia schools superintendent, identified the victims as Shalita Middleton and Nathaniel Pugh. Middleton attended Washington’s Woodrow Wilson High School, and Pugh attended Dunbar High School, Stokes said. He said he did not know what year they graduated.
University police said they had identified two persons of interest, both students. Both were interviewed and then released, university spokesman Carlos Holmes said Saturday morning. Police had identified no suspects.
A federal law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, had said the male victim refused to answer questions by police about the shootings, raising the likelihood that he knew his attacker.
But Holmes, who spoke to university police about the investigation, said that report was incorrect. “They said (the victim) is answering their questions,” Holmes said.
The students were shot on the Campus Mall, between the Memorial Hall gymnasium and Richard S. Grossley Hall, an administrative building. Investigators believed the shootings may have been preceded by an argument at the cafe, and officials said it did not appear to be random.
“This is an internal problem,” university President Allen Sessoms said. “There are no externalities … this is just kids who did very, very stupid things.”
Campus officials acted much more swiftly than officials at Virginia Tech did five months ago, when administrators delayed notifying students nearly two hours after gunman Seung-Hui Cho killed his first two victims. By then, he had already started shooting 30 other people in a classroom building across campus.
A report by a panel appointed by Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine concluded that lives could have been saved if alerts had been sent out earlier and classes canceled after Cho killed his first two victims.
At Delaware State, officials didn’t wait. By 2:11 a.m., Overton was meeting with another university official to discuss the school’s response. Notices were posted in dormitories and the school Web site by about 2:40 a.m., and the decision to cancel classes was made shortly after 5 a.m., well before the school day started.
At Virginia Tech, the rampage began at 7 a.m. as students thronged the campus and headed to morning classes; at Delaware State, it happened in the middle of the night, when many students were in their dorm rooms.
The panel that investigated the response to the Virginia Tech shootings noted that it would have been tough to shut down the 2,600-acre Tech campus; Delaware State is only about 400 acres. But it appears Delaware State responded to the crisis well, said Gerald Massengill, who led the group.
“I think just like post-9/11, there’s a post-April 16 mentality,” he said.
Officials said access to the campus would remain limited Saturday, and that Saturday classes, a weekend farmers market and an alumni meeting had been canceled.
Delaware State, a historically black, 400-acre school with 3,690 students, began the school year mourning four victims of the Aug. 4 shootings that occurred at an elementary school in their hometown of Newark, N.J. The only survivor, helped police identify six suspects who have been arrested.
Holmes said there was no indication that Friday’s shooting was related in any way to the New Jersey killings.
Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan and Brett Zongker in Washington contributed to this report.
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