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Students describe chaos of Victoria College shooting

By KBell , ErinPradia
Sept. 21, 2011 at 4:21 a.m.
Updated Sept. 22, 2011 at 4:22 a.m.

Victoria College freshman Marc Rodriguez bumped into a stranger on his way to the weight room Wednesday afternoon.

Rodriguez, 21, had never seen the man in the white shirt and blue cap. As they approached a narrow passageway in the College Sports & Fitness Center, Rodriguez let the other man go through first.

The man seemed disoriented and not in a sound state of mind, Rodriguez thought briefly.

A few minutes later, Rodriguez went to get a drink at the water fountain and noticed the man exchanging heated words with one of Rodriguez's fellow basketball players.

"He started using slang and vulgar terms," Rodriguez said. "I knew it was going to get serious when the man pulled out a gun."

The man started waving the gun around in the direction of Rodriguez and the other basketball player.

"Literally, upon first instinct, it was about getting my friend to the ground," Rodriguez said.

After Rodriguez knocked his friend to the ground and crouched for safety, he saw the man fire toward the ceiling and the far side of the room.

The shooter left the center amid the screams and cries of other students.

Some 10 to 15 minutes later, about 4:30 p.m., law enforcement arrested Marcus Washington, 40, of Victoria.

No one was injured, and the campus was on lockdown for slightly more than an hour.

Washington was arrested on suspicion of two counts of possessing a weapon where prohibited, a third-degree felony; and two counts of aggravated assault, one a second-degree felony, the other a third-degree felony.

Charges may be amended or added, according to the arrest report.

This was the first shooting in the campus' history, VC President Tom Butler said.

Before the shots were fired, VC student Garret Griffith, 20, said he saw the shooter having an argument about religion with one of the basketball players.

Griffith said the shooter yelled, "You're wrong," before running out of the building.

The man returned a few minutes later, appeared to hesitate, then pulled out a gun and pointed it at the man with whom he had been arguing.

"I walked right by him and didn't even know he had a gun," Griffith said.

Before the gun was fired, Griffith witnessed Rodriguez knock his friend to the ground.

"I think he saved his life," Griffith said.

Griffith said the shooter appeared flustered and fired about six shots around the sports center, some into the roof and some at a ping-pong table.

When the shots went off, Griffith said the girls in the building started to cry.

"It was like a zoo in there. I ran toward the door the shooter had come in," Griffith said. "I wanted to see what was happening and make sure everyone was all right."

Police, some armed with rifles, found Washington hiding in a backyard on the north side of campus near Loma Vista Avenue.

He appeared to have discarded his gun, which police also found, Victoria Police Chief Jeff Craig said.

Craig declined to specify the type of gun used in the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.

Police also seized from Washington a switchblade knife with black tape on the handle, according to the police arrest report.

VC Police Chief Matt Williams confirmed Washington was not a VC student.

Within minutes of the shooting, VC activated its alert system, sending out to students, employees and board members emails and text messages that read, "Shots have been fired on the Victoria College main campus. All buildings should be locked and all individuals on campus should stay inside their current location. Law enforcement officers are on site."

The college released another message after Washington was arrested, encouraging those on campus to remain inside while police ruled out the possibility of another shooter.

VC President Tom Butler applauded the quick response and collaboration from the VC Police Department, the Victoria County Sheriff's Office and the Victoria Police Department.

"Working together they were able to clear this incident very quickly with the best possible outcome."

Student Megan Driver, 19, was outside the Technology Building when she heard the shots and saw groups of people scatter.

Driver was outside the William Wood Building several minutes after police had arrested Washington, waiting for her friends who were locked inside and gathered near the doors.

She said her immediate thoughts were that the shots came from around the William Wood Building, which is near where police found Washington.

"As soon as I heard the gun shots, my heart dropped. I thought, 'Oh my God, they're in that building,'" she said.

Driver and her friend, Kristen Fulberg, 19, said word of the shooting spread via text and Facebook within just a few minutes. The alert from the college, which both women received, helped clarify and dispel any rumors.

"It helped because at least I knew what was going on," Fulberg said.

VC sophomore Gabriella Mendieta was with a study group in the nearby health and science center when she heard the gunshots.

She ran out of the building with some of the other students but was met by a college official yelling at them to stay put.

"We were hiding behind tables and chairs," Mendieta said. "But the room we were in was all glass, so someone came and told us to relocate."

People were trying to stay calm as they called their loved ones, but there were several students crying and hyperventilating, Mendieta said.

The police, fire and self defense classes increased the 19-year-old Mendieta's confidence, but she said she still had a thousand thoughts running through her head as she waited to be released from the lockdown.

"Even with all that, I was still freaked out," Mendieta said. "I tried to stay strong, but when I got home, I completely broke down."

Mendieta said she believes this incident will make a big difference in how safe the students feel.

"This incident was pretty big," Mendieta said. "But it is not going to stop me from going for my education."



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