A memorial service is being held today on the campus of Virginia Tech, a day after a gunman shot dead 32 people in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger: “I’m really at a loss for words to explain or understand the carnage that has visited our campus. I know no other way to speak about this than to tell you what we know and what we do not know. It is now confirmed that we have 31 deaths from the Norris Hall, including the gunman. Fifteen other victims are being treated at local hospitals and Roanoke facilities. There are two confirmed deaths from the shooting at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory. That’s in addition to the 31 at Norris Hall.”
School officials say the gunman was a student who lived on campus. He shot dead two students at the dormitory shortly after 7 o’clock on Monday morning. Two hours later the gunman attacked an academic building. He shot dead 30 students and professors and then killed himself. Students have criticized school officials for failing to issue warnings following the early morning double murder.
Student “I think we should have been informed. They probably should have cancelled class, obviously, there was a threat on campus, and we had no idea. They put a lot of students at risk.”
President Bush addressed the nation on Monday afternoon.
President Bush: “Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning. 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. We hold the victims in our hearts, we lift them up in our prayers, and we ask a loving god to comfort those who are suffering today.”
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence criticized the lax gun laws in the state of Virginia. The state allows individuals to buy used weapons at gun shows without background checks. Virginia’s law is also broad enough to allow individuals to buy an unlimited number of assault guns and magazines, including AK-47s and Uzis. According to the Brady Campaign, assault weapons are as easy to buy in Virginia as hunting rifles. Hours after the Virginia Tech shooting, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked what more the White House will do on gun issues. Perino said, “The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed.”
In Iraq, the U.S death toll has surpassed 3,300. At least 58 U.S. troops have already died in April, putting it on pace to be one of the deadliest months of the war for U.S. forces. The conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for U.S. troops. More soldiers have died since October than in any other six-month period of the war.
In Baghdad, residents of the al-Amil district have accused U.S. forces of opening fire randomly on people during a raid late on Sunday. Four people from one family died. Two others were wounded. Eyewitnesses blamed U.S. troops.
Iraqi man: “People were sleeping when the U.S. forces raided the area. Shooting started, and people came out to see what happened. Two were killed in the shooting. A mother and her son came out, too, to see what happened, and they were also killed during the shooting. So we have four killed and two others wounded.”
In a separate incident in western Iraq, three Iraqi police officers have died after being mistakenly shot by U.S. troops. The shooting occurred during a U.S. raid on suspected members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. soldiers say they did not realize that Iraqi police forces were also in the area. In a statement, the U.S. military said the troops had to take “appropriate measures for self-defense.”
In northern Afghanistan, nine Afghan police officers have died in a suicide bombing. Twenty-five others were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has found that civilian deaths in Afghanistan have skyrocketed over the past 15 months. The group said the attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups accounted for nearly 700 deaths. Meanwhile, at least 230 civilians died in operations of the American-led coalition or NATO.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed its hearing on the U.S attorneys scandal until Thursday because of the Virginia Tech school shooting. The hearing will center on testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The Sudanese government has cleared the way for the United Nations to send in 3,000 U.N. police and military personnel troops and attack helicopters to Darfur to boost support for the African Union force already there. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the announcement.
Ban Ki-moon: “This is a very positive sign, and I and African Union intend to move quickly to prepare for heavy support package and hybrid forces.”
Sudan has refused to agree to a proposed larger force of more than 20,000 peacekeepers.
In Italy, a U.S. Army specialist goes on trial in absentia today for shooting dead Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari. Calipari was killed in Iraq two years ago shortly after he helped free the kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena. The United States has insisted that the NY Army National Guardsman, Mario Lozano, followed the rules of engagement and shot at the car carrying the Italians because it was speeding toward the checkpoint. Italian ballistics experts concluded that the car was driving at a normal speed and that the U.S. unit gave no warnings before opening fire. Giuliana Sgrena was asked on Monday about her feelings on the opening of the trial.
Giuliana Sgrena: “It is a mixture of anguish and of hope. Of course, as I wanted this trial, I am very happy that now it will start. But of course, for me it means to go back to two years ago and what happened two years ago. And so it is very painful for me to think of these things and the details, because at the trial we need to go into details, so it is very painful for me. But we have to face the trial because it is a very important step.”
Last week Mario Lozano broke two years of public silence and defended the shooting. In an interview with the New York Post, he said, “If you hesitate, you come home in a box — and I didn’t want to come home in a box. I did what any soldier would do in my position.” He went on to say, “You have a warning line, you have a danger line, and you have a kill line. Anyone inside 100 meters is already in the danger zone … and you’ve got to take them out.”
In business news, Wal-Mart has reclaimed its position as the largest corporation in the United States, edging out ExxonMobil. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has succeeded in winning a gag order to stop a fired security operative from speaking out about the company’s spy operations. Earlier this month Bruce Gabbard told The Wall Street Journal that Wal-Mart is running a sophisticated surveillance operation that targets employees, journalists, stockholders and critics of the company. Gabbard also revealed that the company had infiltrated an anti-Wal-Mart group. In addition to the gag order, a judge has order Gabbard to name every person with whom he has discussed Wal-Mart over the past three months. Wal-Mart alleges that Gabbard has violated trade secrets law by revealing confidential information about Wal-Mart security systems and operations.
In Britain, colleagues of kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston held a vigil in London on Monday. Gunmen seized Johnston in Gaza a month ago. He has not been heard from since.
Jonny Dymond of the BBC: “We have not forgotten you. We will not forget you. We ask, and I beg, that you release him now, today.”
Meanwhile in Brussels, Leila Shahid, the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the EU, made appeals for Johnston’ release. Shahid also blamed Israel and the international community for isolating the Palestinian territories.
Leila Shahid: “There is more than lack of security. There is total chaos that led a few weeks ago to almost a civil war in Gaza. Let’s be frank. When you destroy a central authority, when you do away with the Palestinian address, when you bomb the ministries, when you destroy secret service agencies, you can’t expect that this emptiness will not be occupied by those who, either for political reasons or for financial reasons, will try and use it to install their own authority.”
Up to 5,000 protesters marched to the U.S. Capitol on Monday to demand voting rights for residents of Washington, D.C. Organizers said it might have been the largest demonstration ever for D.C. voting rights. House Democrats are expected to pass a bill this week to give the District a seat in the House, but the White House has threatened to veto the legislation. The rally was held on Emancipation Day, which marks the freeing of slaves in the District.
Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson apologized to the Jewish community on Monday after stating that earning money is “part of the Jewish tradition.” Thompson made the remark during a speech before the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. After being made aware that his remarks were problematic, Thompson returned to the podium and said, “I didn’t in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding business people, and I compliment you for that.” Tommy Thompson is the former governor of Wisconsin and served as the secretary of health and human services under President Bush.
1.8 million gallons of wastewater used to neutralize the deadly nerve gas VX is being transported by the U.S. Army on a 1,000-mile trip from Indiana to Texas. The tanker trucks are scheduled to drive through eight states: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The watchdog group Chemical Weapons Working Group attempted to block the shipment because of health and environmental concerns. The Army initially tried to send the chemical waste to be treated in Ohio and New Jersey, but community opposition blocked the shipment. Activists in Port Arthur, Texas, are now trying to stop the Army from incinerating the waste in their town.
And in Washington, Tina Richards was arrested on Monday outside the office of Nancy Pelosi while calling on the House speaker to stop funding the war. Richards is the mother of an Iraq War veteran who made headlines last month after confronting Democratic Congressman David Obey. She has been trying to meet with Pelosi since November.