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Uni gunman was part-time student

The Virginia Tech gunman who shot dead a police officer then killed himself was a part-time college student.

Thursday's shooting sparked a lockdown on the campus that witnessed the United States' worst mass killing in recent memory four years ago.

The day before Thursday's shooting, 22-year-old Ross Ashley stole a sport utility vehicle at gunpoint from an estate agency office in nearby Radford, where he attended Radford University, police said. The car was later found on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.

Police said Ashley walked up to the police officer Deriek Crouse, 39, whom he did not know, and fired, then headed for the campus greenhouses, ditching his pullover, wool cap and backpack. He made his way to a nearby car park and when a deputy spotted him, he shot himself.

Neighbour Nan Forbes 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 his apartment. "It does freak us out because we live in this building, but there was not one peep of trouble, nothing unusual," she said.

Mr Crouse had been on the Virginia Tech police force for four years, joining about six months after 33 people were killed in a classroom building and dormitory on April 16, 2007.

He had pulled over a student on Thursday and was shot while sitting in his unmarked police cruiser. The student did not have any link to the gunman, state police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said.

Shortly before 12.30pm, police received a call from a witness who said an officer had been shot. About six minutes later the first campus-wide alert was sent by email, text message and electronic signs in university buildings. Many students on campus were preparing for exams and they were told to stay indoors.

Fifteen minutes after the witness called police, a deputy sheriff noticed a man at the back of another parking area nearby. The man was by himself, looking around furtively and acting "a little suspicious", according to Ms Geller.

The deputy drove up and down the car park rows and lost sight of the man for a moment, then found the man lying on the pavement, shot dead. The handgun was nearby.

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