BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman killed a Virginia Tech police officer Thursday at a campus parking lot and then apparently shot himself to death nearby in an attack that shook the school nearly five years after it was the scene of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
The shooting took place on the same day Virginia Tech officials were in Washington, fighting a government fine over their alleged mishandling of the 2007 bloodbath where 33 people were killed. Before it became clear that the gunman in Thursday's attack was dead, the school applied the lessons learned during the last tragedy, locking down the campus and using a high-tech alert system to warn students and faculty members to stay indoors.
"In light of the turmoil and trauma and the tragedy suffered by this campus by guns, I can only say words don't describe our feelings and they're elusive at this point in time," university president Charles Steger said. "Our hearts are broken again for the family of our police officer."
The officer, identified late Thursday as 39-year-old Deriek W. Crouse of Christiansburg, was killed after pulling a driver over in a traffic stop. Police said a gunman — who was not involved in the traffic stop — walked into the parking lot and ambushed the officer.
Shortly after, police found in a parking lot a man with a gunshot wound and a gun nearby. Authorities said he is suspected in the officer's slaying.
"The second victim is observed on the in-car video camera system with a weapon at the time of the initial encounter with the officer," state police Major Rick Jenkins said.
State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said investigators are trying to determine why the deceased suspect was wearing different clothing than that worn by the individual in the video and described by eyewitnesses.
Authorities said they did not know what the motive was and were investigating whether the officer was specifically targeted.
"At this point, we haven't been able to establish any kind of immediate connection between the officer and the shooter," Geller said. "That's obviously something that's being looked into."
Authorities refused to say whether Crouse was able to defend himself or fire back at his assailant.
Crouse was an Army veteran and married father of five children and stepchildren who joined the campus police force about six months after the 2007 massacre. He previously worked at a jail and for the Montgomery County sheriff's department.
A woman who answered the door at the Crouse home at the end of a three-unit townhouse building Thursday night said it wasn't a good time to talk, and they were trying to get the children to bed. A group of people were sitting around a table inside.
Rusty Zarger of Lynchburg, a former neighbor, remembered Crouse as polite, family-oriented and self-assured. "He was a standup guy," said Zarger, whose two young daughters used to play with Crouse's sons at the townhouse complex where they lived. "He was very mild-mannered, very confident. You could tell he was strong in believing in himself, but very comfortable."
Police late Thursday had not released the name of the gunman or other details. But they released a timeline of events.
At about 12:15 p.m., the officer called in the traffic stop. After a few minutes passed without hearing from the officer, dispatch tried to get in touch with him, but didn't get a response. About 15 minutes later, police received the first call from a witness who said an officer had been shot at the Cassell Coliseum parking lot and the gunman had fled on foot.
Local, state and federal officials responded immediately. At 1 p.m., an officer saw a suspicious man in a parking lot known as The Cage. That's where the second shooting victim was found.
Authorities said they responded to numerous other calls of suspicious activity, but found no threats and lifted the campus lockdown, about four hours after the initial alerts.