USF graduate student Ahmad Ragab’s father Saad said he first saw someone run by his classroom in Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall.
Then Saad, an engineering professor, heard what he first thought were loud construction noises.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
It didn’t take long for him to realize what he was actually hearing, Ahmad said.
Saad told his son he heard at least 60 pops. He said they didn’t stop for at least three minutes.
And then he heard the screams.
“He said that he knew something was very wrong by then,” Ahmad said.
So he and his students barricaded his classroom door. It was impossible for them to know that in another classroom inside the same building, 30 people had just been fatally shot.
Five minutes later, police stormed in, pointing their guns and ordering hands to the air. Saad and his students were eventually escorted to safety.
Ahmad said he got a call from his mother late Monday morning alerting him that there had been a shooting in his father’s building, but that he was OK.
“I finally talked to him about five hours later, and that’s when I knew for sure that he was all right,” Ahmad said.
The aftershocks of the shooting rampage through Virginia Tech on Monday that left 33 dead and 29 injured reached USF quickly. And they caused shock, anger and grief for those here who have a past with the Blacksburg, Va. technical college.
Susan Ariew, a USF library assistant, lived and worked in Blacksburg for 22 years before coming here in 2004.
“I’m just in shock,” she said. “You don’t expect something like this to happen in Blacksburg. It’s just a small, rural, pretty town. It has that small-town feeling and a feeling of safety. We go through life thinking we’re safe, but we’re not as safe as we think we are.”
Robert Sullins, Dean of Undergraduate Studies at USF, worked at Virginia Tech about 20 years ago, but was in Blacksburg last week to visit his daughter.
“It’s just one of those terrible tragedies,” he said. “It’s obviously a very difficult time for them up there. Thank God we don’t we don’t have to go through that here.”
Phil Winters is the president of Tampa Bay’s Virginia Tech Alumni Association. He also works at USF as a senior research associate at the Center for Urban Transportation Research. He said he was “absolutely stunned” when he heard the news.
“There’s no way to make sense of it,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit in with the vision of the University. It just goes to show that it can happen anywhere.”
Students on campus Monday had similar comments, expressing confusion, sadness and in some cases, fear.
“It’s scary as hell,” said Ryan Fisk, a freshman majoring in French and Spanish. “I can’t imagine having that much rage inside. It’s sad that he took his own life, but all those other innocent bystanders; it’s just so pointless.”
Some immediately thought about the possibility of something similar happening at USF.
“My first thought was if it happened at USF, where would they do it – the Marshall Center, Engineering, Education. Probably Cooper because there’s just so many people there,” said sophomore Ramara Taylor. “It made me think about escape plans, about what I’d do if something like that happened at USF. I’d probably just run. It doesn’t matter where you are, anything can happen to you at anytime.”
Kim Pace, a senior majoring in education, said she has good friend at Virginia Tech.
“My first thought was, ‘Is he OK?'” she said. “The shootings seemed totally random so you don’t know who it could be.”
Leah Shirley of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Tampa Chapter called the situation frightening.
“It’s something that could happen here,” she said. “There’s 35,000 people at this school and lots of them have problems. All it takes is for one person to snap.”