Police stop traffic on the campus of Virginia Tech after a possible gunman… (Associated Press )
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — Virginia Tech lifted a lockdown Thursday more than five hours after three youths reported seeing a man carrying what may have been a gun covered with a cloth on the campus where 33 people died in a mass shooting four years ago.
Authorities scoured the campus and even released a composite police sketch of the man, but uncovered no new information.
At 2:41 p.m. EDT, the university posted a note on its website declaring an end to the lockdown under which students, faculty and others had been asked to remain indoors. But the school said a "large police presence" would remain on campus.
In 2007, the Blacksburg, Va., school was the scene of a massacre that left 33 dead, including the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed himself at the end of the rampage. It remains the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.
The sighting Thursday of a man carrying what appeared to be a gun brought the 2007 incident to the minds of officials from the university to the White House. Classes were canceled, and students were asked to remain home.
"Stay inside. Secure doors," the university said about 9:30 a.m. in a web alert to the campus community. The school said a white male, about 6 feet tall with light brown hair and possibly holding a gun, had been seen near Dietrick Hall in the middle of the campus. He was wearing a blue-and-white vertically striped shirt, gray shorts and brown sandals, officials said, and had no facial hair or glasses.
Authorities rushed to the scene, but no gunman was found, according to university officials briefing reporters. The lockdown remained in effect as a precaution, Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations said at a televised news conference.
Officers from at least five law enforcement agencies, including the Virginia State Police, were dispatched to the campus, according to authorities.
According to the university, the drama began at about 9:09 a.m., when three juveniles attending a camp on campus reported seeing a man holding what may have been a weapon covered by a cloth.
Most of Virginia Tech's 30,000 students are on vacation break, but several thousand people are attending summer classes, officials said. About 6,500 employees also were on campus Thursday.
President Obama was briefed on the situation, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
"These kinds of situations are frightening, regardless. But happening as it is now at Virginia Tech, we're reminded of the horrible tragic event there in 2007," Carney said.
Goldmacher reported from Washington and Muskal from Los Angeles.