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Friday's shotgun assault at New River Community College injured two people.
DANIEL LIN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Neil Allan MacInnis, 18, is arraigned in Montgomery County General District Court Monday on two counts of malicious wounding and two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Monday, April 15, 2013
CHRISTIANSBURG - The teenage suspect in Friday's shotgun assault at New River Community College made his first appearance in court Monday while college officials planned how to welcome students and staff back to the small campus located inside a shopping mall.
The assault, coming just before today's sixth anniversary of the Virginia Tech campus shootings, wounded a New River Community College worker and a student. Classes were canceled Monday and today, and counselors waited at the community college's main campus in Dublin and its satellite facility in the New River Valley Mall to meet with any staff and students who did come in.
"There's a lot of emotions involved in this," community college Vice President Mark Rowh said late Monday after a day of meetings related to the shooting.
In Montgomery County General District Court, Neil A. MacInnis, 18, of Christiansburg was arraigned on two counts of malicious wounding and two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. A student at New River Community College, MacInnis is accused of walking into the mall facility Friday afternoon and opening fire.
Becky Wilburn, spokeswoman for the town of Christiansburg, explained later Monday that authorities are pursuing the wounding charge because its maximum penalty, 20 years in prison, is stiffer than the 10-year maximum for a charge of attempted murder.
The suspect in the New River Community College shootings was taken into custody with a Stevens 12-gauge pump shotgun after shooting nine times inside the college, according to town police.
Police said that, at this time, there does not appear to be any relationship between the suspect and the two female victims, Taylor Sharpe and Kristina Bousserghine.
The shotgun used in the incident was legally acquired two days prior to the April 12 shooting from a licensed firearms dealer in the New River Valley, Christiansburg police spokeswoman Wilburn said.
Wilburn said nine spent shell casings – from bird shot, buck shot and slugs – have beenrecovered from inside the community college, which is located at the New River Valley Mall.
The victims, reported to be in stable condition over the weekend, have been identified as Sharpe and Bousserghine. Rowh said Monday that he has heard that the shooting victims are continuing to do well in the hospital.
Judge Gino Williams on Monday appointed Mark Hicks to represent MacInnis, whose next court date is scheduled for June 18.
MacInnis' uncle, Stewart MacInnis, said after the hearing that the family is planning to retain an attorney.
"We're in the process of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible," Stewart MacInnis said. "It was a very sleepless weekend for everyone in the family."
Stewart MacInnis, who lives in Buena Vista, is a spokesman for Virginia Military Institute. He is also acting as spokesman for the MacInnis family, he said.
"He's my nephew. We love him," Stewart MacInnis said. "We're going to be here for him as much as we can."
Stewart MacInnis said his nephew was always a "bright kid with dreams, working toward a future." His nephew hoped to have a career in graphic arts or website design, Stewart MacInnis said.
Neil MacInnis did not make a statement during Monday 's hearing. Williams read each charge to him and asked him if he understood the charge. MacInnis answered each time with "yes."
According to a search warrant filed Monday morning, before the shooting incident, MacInnis left a note at his place of employment that stated he was going to "ruin his life."
In an online posting attributed to him, MacInnis called the shooting he planned "not a highscores game but actually a lesson (that's why I'm at school)."
Wilburn said in a statement issued Monday afternoon that, "During his interview with detectives following the shooting, MacInnis stated he 'was having a bad week.' His motive otherwise remains unclear."
According to MacInnis' online profiles on his NRCC portfolio and at LinkedIn, he worked at Christiansburg's Old Navy store. A manager at Old Navy on Saturday declined to comment on MacInnis.
MacInnis drove a white 2002 Honda Civic registered to his parents to the mall before the shooting, according to the search warrant.
The warrant states that police seized a Stevens model 320 12-gauge shotgun, a Walmart receipt listing the purchase of shotgun ammunition on April 12, a box of Federal 12-gauge ammunition containing 18 rounds, a box of Remington 12-gauge slug ammunition containing five rounds, an ATM receipt from April 12 for $300, a laptop, an iPhone, and a Stevens shotgun box, among other items, including an "encounter date record" from Carilion Clinic.
The warrant was for searching the Honda Civic. It is unclear if all of those items were found in the car or if some of those items were found on MacInnis at the time of his arrest.
Stewart MacInnis said the family is unaware of any motive in the shootings or where the alleged firearm used was obtained. The gun was not from the MacInnis household, he said.
Neil MacInnis was still living with his parents at the time of the incident, Stewart MacInnis added.
"I mostly saw him at family gatherings, and family gatherings are happy times," Stewart MacInnis said. "That was my impression of him - I always saw him happy."
Six of Neil MacInnis' family members attended Monday's arraignment, including his parents and older brother, Stewart MacInnis said. Neil MacInnis' parents have not visited or spoken to their son since the attack, he said Monday morning.
Rowh said over the weekend that the college's emergency response plan seemed to have worked pretty well Friday.
The college, which operates its Christiansburg facility in a converted mall space formerly used by Regal Cinemas, specializes in science, technology, engineering and math education. It has an enrollment of about 1,300 students, but this counts students who take several classes multiple times, Rowh said.
The community college does not provide its own security but relies on the mall security that patrols the shopping center's common areas and parking lots, Rowh said Monday.
Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust owns the mall and contracts with Allied Barton to provide general security services. Allied Barton operations Vice President Carl Lally said that the college is responsible for the classrooms and other space the college leases from the mall.
Rowh said it's too soon to say if the college is going to dramatically change its security arrangements. For now, law enforcement agencies are increasing their presence around the school, he said. Throughout the day Monday, a Christiansburg officer watched over the college lobby inside the mall.
Near the outside door, designated greeters waited Monday to see that visitors got to see counselors or take care of other business quickly. Glass broken during Friday's shooting had been replaced over the weekend. Staffers seemed determinedly upbeat.
"We're so glad it wasn't worse," Rowh said, then added repeatedly, "We've just been overwhelmed by the support we've got" from around the region.
Speaking as news of explosions at the Boston Marathon was lighting up websites, Rowh said he knows it will take a long time for people to adjust to having had a student start shooting inside the college. Research has shown that people exposed to events like this suffer less severe long-term effects if they talk out some of their feelings early on, he said.
To help the recovery process, administrators plan to meet with faculty and other workers today, and once classes resume, to hold several open sessions with students and anyone else who wants to attend. The goal will be "just to support one another," Rowh said.
"We hope that will make people better. ... We know it's difficult to come back," he continued. "We've just got to be patient and allow some time to go by."
Staff writer Mike Shaw contributed to this report
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