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Armed suspect stole car before killing Virginia Tech officer

By the CNN Wire Staff
December 10, 2011 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
Ross Truett Ashley, 22, had no prior connection to the officer slain Thursday, state police said.
Ross Truett Ashley, 22, had no prior connection to the officer slain Thursday, state police said.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: More than $31,700 is raised for the slain police officer's family
  • He stole a Mercedes at gunpoint Wednesday in Radford, according to police
  • Video from the slain officer's car shows a man with a gun before Thursday's shooting
  • He changed out of his clothing after that shooting, and eventually killed himself

For more information, check out CNN affiliate WCAV.

(CNN) -- A 22-year-old Virginia man stole a Mercedes SUV at gunpoint the day before he shot dead a Virginia Tech police officer and then took his own life, police said Friday.

Virginia State Police on Friday identified Ross Truett Ashley, 22, as the man who killed Virginia Tech Police Officer Deriek Crouse and then himself about 30 minutes later.

A part-time student at Radford University, 15 miles southwest of Blacksburg, Ashley had no connection to or contact with Crouse before Thursday's shooting, according to a news release from state police.

"State police investigators are continuing their work to establish a motive in the killing and to re-create Ashley's movements in the days and hours leading up to the murder-suicide," police said.

Ashley entered a real estate office in Radford with a handgun Wednesday and demanded the keys to a white 2011 Mercedes SUV, according to police. He drove off in the car, which was found the next day on the Virginia Tech campus.

That's where and when Ashley and Crouse were found dead, about a quarter mile away from each other.

Ballistics evidence shows that both were fatally shot with the same gun, state police said Friday. Police have said they believe Ashley matches the description of the man who shot the officer.

Thursday's double shooting conjured memories from April 16, 2007, when student Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 people at Virginia Tech in a mass shooting.

"Once again, the campus and the community that we love so well have been visited by senseless violence and tragic loss," Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said in a statement. "Tragedy again struck Virginia Tech in a wanton act of violence where our police officer, Deriek Crouse, was murdered during a routine traffic stop."

The scale and facts of Thursday's shooting differ significantly from the incident four years ago. Still, it served as a test of the policies the school has implemented since that tragedy.

The latest incident began about 12:15 p.m. Thursday, when Crouse, who had been a Virginia Tech officer for four years, pulled over someone during a routine traffic stop in the Cassell Coliseum parking lot near McComas Hall.

Officer Deriek Crouse was fatally shot during a December 8, 2011, traffic stop on the Virginia Tech campus.
Officer Deriek Crouse was fatally shot during a December 8, 2011, traffic stop on the Virginia Tech campus.

Cassell Coliseum houses athletic facilities. McComas Hall houses exercise facilities.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., police received their first call from a person who said he'd seen the suspect -- not the driver of the car that had been pulled over -- approach the officer's vehicle and open fire.

The shooter ran from the area. Police said Ashley changed out of his wool cap and pullover at the Virginia Tech greenhouses and put them in a backpack.

A Montgomery County deputy sheriff who was on-site because of the first shooting eventually spotted a man who was walking toward the on-campus "Cage" parking lot. The deputy sheriff temporarily lost sight of this man as he drove toward him, according to the state police chronicle of events released Friday.

"When the deputy finally reached the subject, the man was on the ground and deceased from a self-inflicted gunshot wound," police said.

This person didn't have any identification on him and was wearing clothing different from that worn by the person who had shot Crouse, police added. But that clothing was recovered later Thursday in the backpack Ashley had left behind.

Maj. Rick Jenkins of the Virginia State Police said a video camera mounted inside the slain officer's car captured footage of a man with a weapon who matched the description of the man they'd found dead.

Officer's death a 'tremendous loss'

In addition to the law enforcement activity, Virginia Tech's updated communications efforts -- which received criticism in 2007, for not letting students know quickly or extensively enough what was happening then -- were also put in focus during Thursday's incident.

Campus officials put out six alerts to students and faculty about the shooting.

On Thursday, law enforcement and school officials said the alert system put in place in recent years worked well, from technological and communications standpoints.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose daughter attends Virginia Tech, lauded the communications effort. McDonnell said his daughter was confined to a basement classroom during the four-hour episode.

"Like so many parents who had children on the Virginia Tech campus, I felt a lot of that angst and uncertainty," he said. "Again, I want to express my gratitude to law enforcement for making sure that they kept the faculty (and) parents regularly informed."

Crouse, 39, joined the Virginia Tech police force six months after the 2007 mass shooting, according to a release on the school's website. A U.S. Army veteran who had worked at the New River Valley jail and with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, the Christiansburg resident is survived by his wife, as well as five children and stepchildren.

The man who killed Crouse is from Partlow, a town about 45 miles north of Richmond in Virginia's Spotsylvania County.

Radford University said Friday in a statement that Ashley was a business management major at the school. Citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the university said "no additional information on Mr. Ashley can be provided."

Radford President Penny Kyle said counseling would be made available to that university's students, akin to services offered at Virginia Tech.

Already, members of the Virginia Tech community have come together since the shootings. For instance, scores of people came together on the Blacksburg campus for a candlelight vigil on Thursday night, one day after a similar, smaller event was held.

A student-organized group that calls itself Hokies for Crouse said at 9:40 p.m. Friday on its website that it had raised more than $31,734 for the slain officer's family.

CNN's Greg Botelho, Athena Jones, Vivian Kuo, Eric Fiegel and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report .

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