Student Describes Surviving Classroom Killing Virginia Tech junior Clay Violand was in French class at Norris Hall on Monday morning when Seung-hui Cho entered the classroom and began shooting. Violand said he doesn't understand how he escaped being shot by Cho.
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Student Describes Surviving Classroom Killing

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Student Describes Surviving Classroom Killing

Student Describes Surviving Classroom Killing

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

More details today about Seung-hui Cho, the student-turned-gunman who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, before killing himself. Classmates remember his writings as twisted and macabre.

NORRIS: Cho was an English major. Poet Nikki Giovanni was one of his professors. She told CNN that was, quote, "something mean about this boy." Cho so unnerved students that she threatened to quit unless he was removed from her class. And there's more.

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum told reporters that Cho was twice accused of stalking female students in 2005. Flinchum also said an acquaintance of Cho's told police that he might be suicidal.

Mr. WENDELL FLINCHUM (Chief, Virginia Tech Police): Out of concern for Cho, officers asked him to speak to a counselor. Based on that interaction with the counselor, a temporary detention order was obtained and Cho was taken to a mental health facility.

SIEGEL: How long Cho's stay to that facility is unclear. Our co-host, Melissa Block, is in Blacksburg. And today, she talked with a student who is in one of the classrooms that was attacked. He has not told his story publicly before.

MELISSA BLOCK: Clay Violand is okay. He wasn't shot and that's astonishing, given what's happened to those all around him in his French class. Today at his home off campus, friends came by to say hello and exchange big hugs of relief.

Unidentified Woman: Hey, Clay.

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND (Student, Virginia Tech): Katie(ph).

Unidentified Woman: How are you?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I'm fine.

Unidentified Woman: No. Oh, (unintelligible)

BLOCK: Clay Violand is 20, a junior, majoring in International Studies. He is slim with a beard and light brown hair that falls over his face. I talked with him in the bedroom of the house he shares off campus about what happened on Monday and what's happened since.

Clay was sitting in his French class on the second floor of Norris Hall. He had biked to school and because it was so windy that day, it slowed him down. He was late. So he wound up in the back row. He figures 15 or 20 students were in class that morning. Around 9:30, they started hearing sounds. They thought it was construction, realized it was gunshots, and called 911.

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: And the next thing I know, there is, like, this gun coming through the door followed by a man. I did catch a glimpse of him. I mean, he's like an Asian man.

I thought he looked like a student; he looked younger. He had a utility belt, kind of on, for ammo and stuff, and…

I just kind of dove under a desk and, kind of, prepared to die, I guess. And he just started picking people off with the gun.

I kind of, heard it more than I saw it but I just, kind of, expected, like, after every bullet, I just prepared myself for the hit, you know. But it never came for me. Then he left the room and the room was pretty silent except for, like, some sounds, some cries and some pretty gruesome sounds. And I told everybody to stay quiet and play dead.

I remember saying that especially to this girl that was next to me. She kept crying for a friend and I said, you know what? Just told her to stay quiet and play dead, you know. And then the gunman came back. He just started shooting again, and I'm assuming he just unloaded another round, and at everybody - even who had already been shot. And I think he must unloaded, like, three rounds because he stopped, I think, to reload - and then he'd do it again. And I just never got hit.

And at the end of it when the cops came, I think they said, if you can get up, get up and put your hands up. And I was the only one initially to get up. And then this girl next to me got up too. She had gotten Cho in the back but I think she's okay. I'm not sure yet. But she walked out with me.

BLOCK: Do you have any idea how it was that you were not hit? Was it - you were under a desk?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I was under a desk. I have no idea. He shot the person to my left and to my right, and he didn't shoot me out. I don't understand. There's a possibility he didn't see me or something, but I doubt it. Maybe just in the chaos of the moment he just skipped over me or something. I don't know. But he did, he skips over me repeatedly, which was what I don't get, you know.

BLOCK: When you got up, Clay, to leave that room, when you were seeing what had happened for the first time, can you describe that?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I didn't look around when I got up. I kept my eyes fixed on the police so I was just in amazement. I don't remember looking around at the room when I got up. Then, I remember putting my hands up and asked him if I'd gotten shot. I didn't know what it felt like really.

I remember assuming I got shot at one point. I remember thinking, this really doesn't hurt so bad, you know. And the girl I was with, who was really brave, she didn't cry the whole time and I know she got shot in the back. And I was looking at her in the eyes most of the time, when we're under these desks, like, just, kind of, staying human, you know. I don't even know her name, actually, but I didn't talk to her much in class, but we just kept the eye contact a lot of the time. And they sat her down and I looked her gunshot wound. I remember they said it's superficial or something and she'll be okay. And I was just really glad to hear them. I gave her a hug.

BLOCK: Clay Violand thinks he was the only one in his class to emerge unscathed. He talked to police, made his way to a phone and called his mother, Sandy, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. His first words, I'm OK. She called her husband, Chuck Violand, and soon he was in a car, speeding the more than 250 miles to Blacksburg to see his son.

Mr. CHUCK VIOLAND (Clay Violand's Father): I took off. I get down to Virginia Tech. I get down here in an hour less time than I normally would and I burst into the room here. Clay was, you know, obviously surrounded by - there were incredible numbers of people here. I burst and gave him a hug and that's the experience. It was just unbelievable. And it's been several days of just comfort, and sorrow, and support, and emotion, and happiness, and sadness. It's indescribable.

BLOCK: Clay, you chose to stay here these last couple of days instead of going home. Why is that?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I know if I go home and I don't have much to do, I'll just be thinking about this, you know. I really want to be here because it really - I think it is important for me to talk to parents who had kids in my class. It's really therapeutic for me as well. I just want to be surrounded by this right now. I mean, it happened. I don't want to forget about it right now - and I want to deal with it and help people deal with it. I mean, I wouldn't expect that a person on my position would feel like that, but I do.

BLOCK: Clay and Chuck, too, have you been getting any help? Have you been getting any counseling?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: Yeah, I met a really nice woman who I'm going to see on Thursday. I'm still kind of in shock, kind of, a little numb or something, and emotions haven't hit me in full yet, but I'm pretty aware that in time I'm going to need some help. It's going to be hard to walk away from this completely stable, I think. But I think I'm strong enough to be able to get over it. I'm going to make a point to become close friends with all the survivors.

BLOCK: Chuck, what about you? Have you been talking with anyone about this?

Mr. CHUCK VIOLAND: I'm not going to think about what I need at this point, but I think, you know, I've been talking with Sandy, call her every couple of hours and we cry and talk. We'll get through it. I think, you know, we going to look to Clay for strength here. He's the guy to give it to us, I think.

BLOCK: What happens now? What are you going to do, Clay?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I want to deal with this as long as I have to deal with it. I don't want to cut it short, you know, and just try to move on right away. I want to deal with this and help people who are dealing with it. And I would really like to get back to my normal life. That's the healthiest thing for me to do.

BLOCK: So when classes resume, you'll be going back to class?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I haven't decided that yet.

BLOCK: Do you know what your plans are for the summer?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: I was planning to stay here and take classes and work. I think I'll still do that. I think I'll still do that.

BLOCK: Still figuring that out?

Mr. CLAY VIOLAND: Yeah, it's a little frightening to be here, you know, two days after the incident. So I'm still a little paranoid. I think that's expected, though. I think I'll lighten up a little a bit over time and I still love the town so much, and I think I love the people here even more now.

BLOCK: Clay Violand's mother will join them here in Blacksburg tomorrow. Clay's younger sisters wanted to come to college here too, and her father says that's still the plan. There is no safe place, Chuck Violand says. And if anything, the outpouring of support they've seen here this week has only made them appreciate Virginia Tech more.

I'm Melissa Block in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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