Police: Virginia Tech gunman identified

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Police on Friday identified the Virginia Tech gunman as a part-time college student from nearby Radford University.

Authorities say Ross Truett Ashley, 22, stole a Mercedes Benz SUV at gunpoint from a real estate office in Radford a day before Thursday's shooting of Virginia Tech campus police officer Derek Crouse.
Ashley acted alone and had no connection to either Virginia Tech or Crouse, a father of five children and stepchildren, who died at the scene, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
Geller said Ashley approached Crouse suddenly as he sat in his car during a routine traffic stop. Crouse, 39, was unable to return fire, she said.

Deriek W. Crouse

Deriek W. Crouse, 39, Christiansburg, Va.
Crouse joined the Virginia Tech Police Department on Oct. 27, 2007, and served in the patrol division. He is survived by his wife, five children and step-children, and his mother and brother.
He was trained as a Crisis Intervention Officer, General Instructor, Firearms Instructor, Defensive Tactics instructor and most recently completed training for Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response and Mechanical and Ballistic Instructor. Crouse was a member of the Virginia Tech Police Emergency Response Team since February 2011.
Source: Virginia Tech
Ashley died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a parking lot about a half-mile from Crouse after a Montgomery County deputy sheriff drove by and observed him "acting a bit strangely."
Ashley was a business management major at Radford, the school said on its website. He was from Partlow, Va., about 160 miles northeast of Virginia Tech. In Radford, he lived in a second-floor apartment above a yogurt shop, consignment store, barber shop and a tattoo parlor.
Neighbor Nan Forbes, a Radford senior, said Ashley was quiet, rarely seen or heard from. She said she knew he was in trouble when she saw two police officers guarding the door to Ashley's apartment overlooking the business section of Radford's main drag.
"It does freak us out because we live in this building, but there was not one peep of trouble, nothing unusual," she said.
Authorities are still trying to determine a motive behind the slaying.
Ashley was identified Thursday, but the state medical examiner's office wouldn't release the name until his family is notified. Asked if he had a history of mental health issues, Geller said, "At this point we're not going to comment on that."
She said a dashboard-mounted camera on Crouse's car captured Ashley's picture. Ballistics tests done just after midnight Friday confirmed that he and Crouse died from bullets fired from the same gun.
Wendell Flinchum, chief of the Virginia Tech police department, said a memorial fund was being set up for Crouse's family at the National Bank of Blacksburg.
"His death is a tremendous loss to our department," he said. "Words can't express the loss that we've experienced within our department."
The school was plunged into panic Thursday as word spread that two people had been shot and a gunman was on the loose. The campus was locked down for almost four hours. It was nearly five years after a Virginia Tech senior killed 32 people and himself in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Final exams set for Friday were delayed until Saturday as Virginia Tech students and officials tried to return to normal. The university said its counseling center would be open all day Friday for students. A candlelight vigil for Crouse will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET at Drill Field.
Students early Friday began leaving flowers, baseball caps and candles at the campus parking lot where Crouse was shot. As she stood with friends nearby, Emily Yeakle, a junior, said, "I definitely still feel safe here."
Asked about the campus alert system, Yeakle pulled out her iPhone, opened the text-messaging application and thumbed through a lengthy string of messages she received Thursday afternoon, all from campus security.
The first came at 12:49 p.m.: "Gunshots reported -- Coliseum parking lot. Stay inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help."
The next message, a few moments later, described in detail the suspect in the shooting.
At 1:31 p.m., a message arrived with more details on the shooting: "Officer shot … possible 2nd victim."
The messages came steadily, one after another, until finally, at 4:38 p.m., this message arrived: "Law enforcement agencies have determined there is no longer an active threat or need to secure in place. Resume normal activities."
Yeakle said it was both scary and comforting to get so many detailed messages.
She wasn't a Virginia Tech student in 2007, when the mass shootings took place, but said, "I can't imagine being here in '07 because just being here yesterday was traumatic."
Mike Benonis, a third-year electrical engineering graduate student, was at WUVT, the university's student-run radio station, doing engineering work early Thursday afternoon, when he got a text message with the first alert.
He wasn't scheduled to be on air at the time — his slot is 7-9 a.m. Wednesday mornings — but he and another student went live with the first alert and stayed on air for the next four hours, playing records and cutting in "as needed" when news dictated. "We kept the music going," he said. "No point in stopping it."
He said they were careful to disseminate information "while not raising tensions or raising fear levels."
The 6,500-watt station, "reasonably big for a student station," Benonis said, broadcasts to about 50 miles around the campus.
As reports of a shooting began coming in to the offices of The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech's student newspaper, editor in chief Zach Crizer said readers looking for information were beginning to overwhelm their website. "It was getting so much traffic that it kind of crashed," he said Friday.
And since many students had only their cellphones available during the lockdown, Crizer, a senior from Richmond, said, "We decided that Twitter was the way to keep people informed."
Crizer headed out to the scene of the first shooting and tweeted, using his cellphone, to confirm that Crouse was shot dead. For the next four hours, he and a small group of staffers tweeted updates, knocked down rumors and confirmed details of the shootings.
When he and a colleague were chased out of the newspaper's offices by police rounding up students, the pair took their cellphones, laptops and a police scanner into the lockdown room.
When college officials and police called a press conference around 5 p.m. in the football stadium, Nick Cafferky tweeted it live.
By Thursday evening, the paper's Twitter followers rose from just over 2,000 to nearly 21,000, Crizer said.
Contributing: Gary Strauss, Associated Press

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