Virginia massacre probe begins

Most of the dead were students attending classes in Norris Hall, site of Virginia Tech's science and engineering school.

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But America's deadliest college shooting began more than two hours earlier when a male and a female were killed in a dormitory on the other side of the sprawling campus.

Asked why the university took so long to go into lockdown Virginia Tech President Charles Steger says authorities believed the dorm incident was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus.

The gunman, who shot himself after the rampage, is yet to be identified.

Police have not confirmed whether the same gunman was responsible for the dormitory shooting and the classroom massacre.

CNN reported that police were investigating a "person of interest" in the dormitory shootings, but that person was not in police custody and it was unclear if the person had any links to the gunman in the second shooting.

"We are working very, very hard to determine if these two incidents are related," campus police chief Wendell Flinchum told reporters after the shootings.

One student told CNN a gunman went from door to door shooting into classrooms. Some 30 people were killed in the engineering building, before the gunman killed himself.

Fifteen other victims were being treated at local hospitals, with some witnesses reporting some students jumping from third and fourth story windows.

"Some of the doors were chained," Mr Flinchum said.

Student Michael O'Brien told Fox News he was walking across the school's drill field when he heard a gunshot and saw students fleeing the building.

"You could see students carrying what looked like bodies out of Norris Hall

(the engineering building) and there were ambulances out there that drove down to pick them up and sped off towards the hospital," he said.

Mr Flinchum gave only sketchy details of the killings, but noted victims were found in "multiple locations" in the classroom building.

Local television quoted witnesses as saying the gunman was a young Asian man, but little else was known about the shooter, including whether or not he was a student.

"We have not confirmed the identity of the gunman because he carried no identification on his person," university president Charles Steger said.

US President George W. Bush lamented the loss of life at the university some 425 kms southwest of Washington.

"Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning," he told reporters. "When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community. Today our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones at Virginia Tech."

Virginia Tech, located amid rolling hills in the Blue Ridge mountains, cancelled classes and locked down the sprawling engineering and research university which has some 28,000 students.

The chaos was captured in dramatic cell phone video footage shot by a student.

Television showed heavily armed police rushing across the grounds while witnesses reported scenes of terror and panic with school officials urging people to stay indoors.

Some students were questioning why classes continued hours after the first shootings.

"I was very surprised of that," one unnamed student told Fox. "I was not too worried, but I do think that the school should have had everybody go home.

Why didn't they shut down the campus?"

Mr Flinchum said preliminary information indicated the first shooting was

"domestic in nature" and that the decision was made not to cancel classes.

"You can second guess all day, but we acted on the best information we had at the time," he said.

The incident also renewed concern over school security and access to guns that was rekindled last year by a rash of shootings. Virginia has some of the country's most lax gun laws and Virginia Tech itself is no stranger to violence.

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