BLACKSBURG, Va. - A part-time college student at a small school near Virginia Tech was identified Friday as the gunman who shot a police officer to death and then killed himself, triggering a lockdown on a campus still coping with the nation's worst mass slaying in recent memory.
The day before the shootings, police said Ross Truett Ashley, 22, stole a sport-utility vehicle at gunpoint from a real-estate office in Radford. He dumped the car on the Virginia Tech campus.
Authorities have not been able to say what led Ashley to kill a police officer he did not know at a school he had never attended.
"That's very much the fundamental part of the investigation right now," state police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said Friday at a news conference.
Police said Ashley walked up to Patrolman Deriek W. Crouse and fired, then took off for the campus greenhouses, ditching his pullover, wool cap and backpack. He made his way to a nearby parking lot and when a deputy spotted him, he took his own life.
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 Radford's main business section.
"It does freak us out because we live in this building, but there was not one peep of trouble, nothing unusual," she said.
Crouse, 39, was a trained firearms and defense instructor with a specialty in crisis intervention. He had been on the force for four years, joining about six months after 33 people were killed in a classroom building and dorm April 16, 2007.
At 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Crouse pulled over a student and was shot while sitting in his unmarked cruiser. The student didn't have any link to the gunman, Geller said.
Shortly before 12:30 p.m., police received a call from a witness who said an officer had been shot. About six minutes later, the first campuswide alert was sent by e-mail, text message and electronic signs in university buildings.
Fifteen minutes after the witness called police, a deputy sheriff on patrol noticed a man at the back of another parking lot about a half-mile from the shooting. The man was by himself, looking around furtively and acting "a little suspicious," according to Geller.
The deputy drove up and down the rows of the sprawling Cage parking lot and lost sight of the man for a moment. The deputy then found the man lying on the pavement, shot to death. The handgun was nearby.
Police said nobody witnessed the suicide, the parking lot apparently vacant because of warnings.