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2 shot at school; response is swift

September 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

dover, del. -- Two students were shot and wounded, one seriously, at Delaware State University early Friday, prompting administrators mindful of the massacre at Virginia Tech to order a swift shutdown of the campus while police searched for the gunman.

Police identified and questioned two students as "persons of interest" while students remained locked in their dorms and officers lowered gates to keep anyone from entering campus.

"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.

The shooting, reported to police at 12:54 a.m., happened as a group of students was returning from an on-campus cafe. A male student, 17, was in stable condition; a female student, also 17, was shot in the abdomen and in serious condition.

The two students were shot on the Campus Mall, between the Memorial Hall gymnasium and Richard S. Grossley Hall, an administrative building. Investigators believed the shootings might have been preceded by an argument at the cafe, and Holmes said it did not appear to be random.

The male student, who was wounded in the ankle, refused to answer questions about the shootings, raising the likelihood that he knew his attacker, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Campus officials acted 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. Tim 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. Within about 20 minutes of the shooting being reported to police, even as the victims were being taken to hospitals, campus police and residence hall advisors were telling students to stay in their dorm rooms, although not all were told there had been a shooting.

By 2:11 a.m., campus police Chief James Overton was meeting with another university official to discuss the school's response. Notices were posted in dorms and on the school website 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.

Friday's shootings happened under different circumstances than Virginia Tech's. The Virginia Tech rampage began at 7 a.m. as students headed to morning classes; at Delaware State, it happened in the middle of the night, when many students were in their dorm rooms.

President Allen Sessoms of the 3,690-student university said the shooting was not random.

"This is an internal problem," Sessoms said. "There are no externalities. . . . This is just kids who did very, very stupid things."

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