Friends: Va. Tech Gunman Never Hinted At Violence

RADFORD, Va. (AP) -- The man authorities say killed a Virginia Tech police officer before committing suicide had broken up with his girlfriend over the summer and vaguely mentioned some family issues, but he was loyal and never hinted at plans for violence, friends and former classmates said Saturday.

Police say Ross Truett Ashley, 22, stole a car at gunpoint Wednesday from his landlord's office in what would be a precursor to the events a day later: On Thursday, police say he killed the police officer, then turned the gun on himself in a parking lot on the campus.

"Ross wasn't that kind of person. He was friendly, nice," said Nic Robinson, a 21-year-old history major at Radford University preparing for law school. "Obviously, he had his bad days, but it was the same as anyone else having those days."

The most notable setback in his life that Robinson knew about was Ashley's breakup over the summer with his girlfriend. It clearly hurt him, she said, but she never saw him obsess over it.

There were other issues in Ashley's life, however, that he wasn't as forthcoming about, she said.

"We all have our family problems, so the way that he was saying it just made it kind of seem like, `just another thing to add to the list," she said. "He never made anything sound like, `This is serious, I need you to sit down.'"

Ashley never talked about guns or weapons, and she said she never knew whether he owned or knew how to use one. He also didn't use drugs or drink heavily.

Former classmates in his hometown described him as a hard-nosed football player who had a deep knowledge of the Bible.

J.D. Muller, 22, said he and Ashley kept in touch through social media but hadn't spoken in person for a couple of years. Ashley never made any suggestions that he might turn violent, Muller said. He said he never recalled Ashley so much as losing his temper or getting upset, and Ashley also seemed to know Scripture well.

"He wasn't some kind of monster that people are trying to depict him as," Muller said.

Those who knew Ashley said he could be standoffish and reserved, and one neighbor said he liked to run down the hallways of his building. Ashley lived in an apartment in the college town of Radford and was a part-time student at the university there.

"He was always very nice, I would say that he was reserved, but I wouldn't call him a loner," said 22-year-old Kyle Carlson, who graduated high school with Ashley and had a few advanced-level classes with him.

At the Stop and Shop in the center of town, residents were talking about the shooting, but no one knew Ashley or his family.

Pat Pickett, 68, a 27-year resident of Partlow said her grandson played football with Ashley at Spotsylvania High School.

She said her grandson called Ashley "a nice boy, he was just like any other football player. He said he wasn't a troublemaker."

"Everybody's just kind of sad. I feel bad for the boy, I feel bad for his family, and I feel bad for the family who lost their father and husband," Pickett said.

The gathering place in the middle of town is about five miles from the Ashley family's stone and timber house, complete with a picnic table on the lawn amid expansive woods.

No one answered the door at the house on Saturday morning. Hours later, a man in a white pickup truck was parked in the driveway and posting no trespassing signs.

Neighbors said they did not know the family and declined to comment.

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- A dean's list student who killed a Virginia Tech police officer had no ties to the university and did not know the patrolman, authorities said Friday without offering a motive for a crime spree that spanned two days and ended in suicide.

Ross Truett Ashley, 22, first drew authorities' attention when he robbed his landlord's office at gunpoint Wednesday in Radford, where he studied business part-time at Radford University. He took the keys to a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle later found in Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech, about 10 miles away.

It was there on Thursday that Ashley walked up to officer Deriek W. Crouse and shot him to death as the patrolman sat in his unmarked cruiser in the midst of a traffic stop. Ashley was not involved in the stop and did not know the driver, police said.

Ashley then took off for the campus greenhouses, ditching his pullover, wool cap and backpack as police sent out a campus-wide alert that a gunman was on the loose, terrorizing students on a campus still coping with the nation's worst mass slaying in recent memory.

A deputy sheriff on patrol noticed a man acting suspicious in a parking lot about a half-mile from the shooting. The deputy drove up and down the rows of the sprawling Cage parking lot and lost sight of the man for a moment, then found Ashley shot to death on the pavement.

Ashley lived in an apartment on top floor of a gray, three-story brick building that looked a little beaten up on the outside.

On Friday night, students popped merrily in and out of the building visiting friends. Mandy Adams, a Radford grad student, said had Ashley had recently shaved his head. Other than running down the hallways, he was quiet and normal, she said.

"He would just run down the hallway, never walk, always run," said Adams, who was out on a rear fire escape with a glass of white wine and a cigarette to calm her nerves. "It's going to be really creepy when they come to take his stuff out of here."

Ashley's apartment was above a yogurt shop, consignment store, barber shop and a tattoo parlor. It overlooked the business section of Radford's main drag.

Neighbor Nan Forbes, a Radford senior, said he was 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

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

Ashley studied business management and made the dean's list in 2008 at the University of Virginia-Wise, which is located in southwest Virginia, far from Ashley's hometown of Partlow. Officials at Radford or UVA-Wise were not immediately able to talk in detail about Ashley.

At the Virginia Tech campus, thousands of people silently filled the Drillfield for a candlelight vigil Friday night to remember Crouse, a firearms and defense instructor with a specialty in crisis intervention. He had been on the force for four years, joining about six months after a student gunman killed 32 and himself on April 16, 2007.

The vigil included a moment of silence and later closed with two trumpeters stationed across the field from each other playing "Echo Taps" as students raised their candles.

"Let's go!" one student then shouted. "Hokies!" everyone else responded.

Kathleen O'Dwyer, a fifth-year engineering majors, said it was important to come for Crouse's family.

"Also it's for the community, to see the violence that happens isn't what we're about," said O'Dwyer, who will be graduating next week.

Her plans when she leaves school?

"First, go home and hug my mom," O'Dwyer said.


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