They are the witnesses who were in the line of fire on Monday when Seung-Hui Cho went on the deadliest shooting spree in American history. Here, in excerpts from PEOPLE’s cover story, those who saw the horror firsthand recall the chaos of those terrifying moments – and one professor’s stunning bravery.
At 9:30 campus housekeeper Pam Tickle, 50, was beginning her rounds in Norris Hall when a student reported something odd: One of the building’s exits had been chained shut.
TICKLE: I was dust-mopping the hall, and when I got to the end, a student was trying to get out the door, but it had a chain around it with a lock. That was weird. I’ve never seen that. The student said, “What’s going on?” I said, “I don’t know, but I’m going to call my boss.”
At about that time, sophomore Trey Perkins, 20, was in his German class on Norris’s second floor.
PERKINS: I saw this guy come in and start shooting. I turned over two desks just to get some kind of barricade. People around me were hit. After he left, he tried to come back in, but I and two other classmates, a guy and a girl, barricaded the door with our feet and arms. He shot through the door about five times. We saw bullets splinter the wood. But we kept him out. He never said a word the whole time. After he left, I tried to find anyone who was conscious. There was so little we could do. I gave my jacket to a guy who was shot in the thigh. Another girl was shot in the mouth. I gave my stocking knit cap to her to try to stop the bleeding.
On the first floor, Gene Cole, 52, a Virginia Tech custodian, was talking to his supervisor Johnny Long.
COLE: This guy came up and said, “There’s shooting going on.” Then I saw people come running out of the lab and say, “Somebody got shot in there.” I went upstairs to the second floor to get my coworker Pam Tickle. I got off the elevator, and I saw blood all over the hallways. I went around the corner toward her [utility] closet, and I saw something laying in the hallway.
As he drew closer, Cole realized it was a body.
COLE: That’s when this guy jumped out of a classroom and started shooting at me. He fired five times from about 40 feet away. I thought I was gone. I felt the bullets behind my ears when they were floating by.
Nearby, Richard Mallalieu, 23, and fellow students in Prof. Liviu Librescu’s engineering class in Norris 204 heard a commotion outside their classroom.
MALLALIEU: About halfway through class, I heard something coming from the room directly behind us. I thought it was gunshots. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t. But it was.
Also in class was Andrey Andreyev, 19.
ANDREYEV: Once we heard the screams, there were no longer any questions about what was happening.
MALLALIEU: At first everybody got down on the ground. Somebody went to the door to see if we could get out. But there were gunshots in the hall. We weren’t going to be able to get out that way.
Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, moved toward the classroom door, blocking it with his body.
ANDREYEV: His English was not good, and it must have been hard for him to communicate in this situation, so he talked to us with his hands. He used his hands to tell us to get back. We heard the sounds getting closer. The shots were moving toward us, down the hallway.
Andreyev grabbed Librescu and tried to pull him to safety, but the 76-year-old professor refused to budge.
ANDREYEV: He pushed me back. He stood at the door and wouldn’t move. He pushed me toward the back of the room, a corner. He himself would not move. He just stood there.
As the gunman moved from classroom to classroom, Gene Cole managed to escape by dashing for the building’s rear stairwell. Housekeeper Pam Tickle was safe as well. She and coworkers locked themselves in a student lounge and waited out the gunfire. Meanwhile, in Norris 204, Professor Librescu continued to barricade the doorway as his students escaped.
MALLALIEU: I think 12 or 15 students went out the windows. Four students and our professor were in the room when the gunman got in. I think all four are going to be okay. But our professor died.
ANDREYEV: He saved everyone in the classroom. He saved our lives. As I got ready to jump out the window, I turned back to look at the professor. He just stood there, holding the door. The last I saw him, he was blocking the door.
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