The Phone Call from Room 211 (unreleased recording of 911 call from the Virginia Tech shooting; 2007)
“The Phone Call from Room 211” refers to an almost ten-minute 911 call that was placed by a Virginia Tech student during the mass shooting that occurred on campus.
On April 16, 2007, 23-year-old English major Seung-Hui Cho murdered thirty-two people in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory and second-floor classrooms of Norris Hall at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Upon entering Norris Hall, Cho locked the main entrance with chains and left a note claiming that a bomb would go off if anyone attempted to remove them. In the next ten minutes, Cho shot into four different classrooms before taking his own life.
Room 211[edit | edit source]
That morning, sixteen students were taking Intermediate French in Room 211 with Professor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak. One student arrived late, stating that the police had locked down her dorm (West Ambler Johnston) because of a double-homicide that had occurred earlier that morning.
It was around 9:39 a.m. when a series of loud banging noises came from down the hall. Initially thinking the sound had to do with nearby construction, nobody in the room panicked. But as the banging continued, it was Madame Couture who realized something was wrong. According to survivors, Couture’s face dropped as the realization became clear.
“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” she said aloud to her class.
Couture walked over to the door, opened it, and peeked out into the hallway. Then she slammed it and told her students to get underneath their desks. Some did, others froze. With all of the color drained from her face, the professor asked for someone to call 911.
Colin Goddard, a 21-year-old International Studies major, pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number.
Contents of the 911 recording[edit | edit source]
It was 9:41 a.m. when Goddard’s call came in.
“Room 211, Norris Hall,” he says to the dispatcher. She asked where that was. “Virginia Tech!” His tone is urgent but somewhat calm. Goddard then tells her that someone appears to be shooting a gun somewhere inside the building, and it sounds close.
In the background, frantic movements can be heard. “[...] the door! Put desks in front of the door!” a male voice cries. Couture and a student (Henry Lee) attempt to barricade the door with various lightweight desks since there’s no way for it to lock. Goddard remains in his seat, relaying to the dispatcher that they’re trying to block the entrance, while staring at Madame Couture. The 49-year-old professor tries to back away from the door in what little time she has to react.
Not even a minute into the call, a few loud bangs erupt from Goddard’s end of the line. Cho shoots through the wooden door. Goddard then hides underneath his desk and positions his body to where he’s facing the other side of the classroom. He turns his head back briefly and sees a figure wearing combat boots. He manages to mumble something that’s inaudible, then stops talking altogether as Cho enters the room and kills Couture. The dispatcher asks Goddard if he’s okay. Silence. The gunfire continues; Cho has killed Henry Lee.
Goddard closes his eyes. Another commotion ensues as Matthew LaPorte gets up and runs towards Cho in an attempt to tackle him. Seven rapid bangs are heard; Cho has executed LaPorte. Goddard hides the phone as best as he can. The dispatcher relays to the responding units that the shooter appears to be in the room and the caller isn’t speaking. Cho fires towards students sitting near the windows. Several female screams are heard.
In another series of gunshots, a bullet enters Goddard’s leg, which shatters his femur. “I’ve been hit,” he whispers frantically to the dispatcher. He can be heard swearing profusely as the pain sets in. Another shot. There’s a “scratching” noise as Goddard’s cell phone flies out of his hand and makes its way across the carpeted floor. It lands near 19-year-old Emily Haas. The operator asks units their estimated time of arrival. A few seconds later the gunfire stops. A new voice is heard; Haas has picked up the phone, telling 911 that the shooter has left the room. The gunfire continues in the background, but it sounds muffled, indicating that Cho went to another classroom.
Haas keeps her voice low, fearing that the shooter might come back. Very faintly, student Clay Violand can be heard telling those who were still conscious that they had to be quiet. “We’ve been hurt,” Haas whispers into the phone. Then she repeats Goddard’s previous words: “Room 211, Norris Hall.”
A few moments later, Cho returns. “I can’t talk,” Haas whispers. The dispatcher tells her: “Stay under the desk [...] They’ll be there in a minute.” Haas panics: “He’s in here!” At this point, it’s been a little over five minutes since the 911 call was placed. The gunfire resumes. Goddard is hit again. Cho steps over him and points his weapon towards another student. Those who were previously injured are now being executed. The shots continue. Haas screams into the phone: “I’ve been hit!” A bullet has grazed her head; fragments are now stuck in her hair. Her breathing gets faster. “He’s reloading!” Haas whimpers to the dispatcher. She’s told to stay calm and to ease her breathing.
“What’s your name?” the dispatcher asks. “I can’t talk,” Haas replies. The gunfire is seemingly endless. The dispatcher yells at her own team: “...still shooting in Norris!” Cho eventually leaves the room for a second time. Haas still refuses to talk. Eight minutes into the call, police arrive at Norris Hall. They use a shotgun to blast away the chains that held the main entrance shut. Haas is told that help has arrived. She says nothing.
Cho comes back for a third round. The call picks up a few more shots, then there’s a deafening silence. Finally, one singular bang. The dispatcher has (unknowingly) just heard Seung-Hui Cho commit suicide.
A minute goes by. Labored breathing is heard, though it’s unknown if this is coming from Haas or someone close to her. The dispatcher then informs her that the police are on the second floor; Haas needs to open the door for them. The 19-year-old is heard struggling to stand. A small thunk reveals that she’s set Goddard’s cell phone on top of a nearby desk. Haas quietly cries as she sees the bodies of Couture and Lee, sprawled near the door with gunshot wounds to their heads. There’s another noise. Violand (the only student who wasn’t shot at all) steps past Haas and moves the bodies and desks just enough to where the police can finally enter the room. It’s now been almost ten minutes since the 911 call was placed. A male voice shouts, “Shooter down!”
The line disconnects once the dispatcher confirms that police have secured the scene.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The shootings in Norris Hall accounted for thirty-one of the thirty-three deaths. Room 211 suffered the highest death toll with twelve (not counting Cho). A total of five Virginia Tech professors lost their lives while attempting to protect their students or confront the shooter.
The entire call, which picks up every murder that occurred in Room 211, was deemed too graphic for public viewing. It was covered during a news broadcast in June 2007, but none of the actual audio was played. Goddard has since refused to listen to the 911 call and Haas won’t even talk about it. One of the responding officers described the call as one of the most gruesome things she has ever heard.
As of 2021, it’s unknown if the recording itself still exists.