Q&A US campus killings

The killings at a university in the state of Virginia have sparked yet again a heated debate about gun control in the United States. The BBC News website looks at some of the issues arising from the worst shooting spree in the country’s peacetime history. Why are shootings at educational institutions so common in the US?

This depends on who you ask. For those opposed to the country’s liberal gun laws the key problem is easy access to highly powered weapons. They say the school shootings merely throw into sharp relief what is happening across a country where 30,000 people die of gun wounds every year. Others contend that these killings take place within a deep culture of violence, which they say is promoted in the US through music, film and video games.

But there are those who argue these incidents take place not because there are too many guns, but because there are not enough. “All the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last 10 years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen – a potential victim – had a gun,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. “The latest school shooting at Virginia Tech demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law which leaves the nation’s schools at the mercy of madmen.”

Others argue that schools and colleges are not sufficiently protected, and that the lack of security is tantamount to an open invitation.

Have gun controls been tightened after previous incidents?

After the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 more than 15 state legislatures passed gun control bills or dropped liberalisation bills supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Nonetheless, in many cases these simply restricted the number or type of guns which could be bought. California for instance limited gun sales to one firearm per customer per month and outlawed some assault weapons.

And at the federal level, little changed. Following the Columbine killings President Bill Clinton proposed tougher legislation including raising the legal age of possession to 21 and closing loopholes on sales without background checks.

But they proved intensely controversial, and by the time the bill was to be voted on by Congress the president himself denounced it as so watered down it was “worse than current law”.

Mr Clinton did however introduce the Assault Weapons Ban, a 10-year ban on semi-automatic weapons. The ban expired in 2004 under President George Bush and has not yet been renewed.

What is security like at US institutions?

Some educational institutes, both high schools and colleges, have metal detectors at the entrance to stop guns being brought on site. But this is easier to do at institutions which are self-contained, and harder on universities which are spread out on campuses and have many points of entry.

What is the public view on gun laws?

The right to bear arms in America is seen as an important civil liberty, and the debate concerns how far to impose restrictions on that right. Politically, most Democrats favour tighter gun laws whilst the majority of Republicans are opposed to any new legislation, saying the problem lies in the lax enforcement of existing laws.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, support for greater restrictions has slipped in recent years among the general public. A recent poll for the organisation suggested that 52% of people had favourable views on the NRA compared to 32% who did not.

In a separate poll in October last year, some 56% of people did however tell Gallup that they wanted stricter laws. However, when given the choice in that poll between enforcing current gun laws or passing new gun laws in addition to enforcing the existing ones, most people preferred simple enforcement.

How does the US compare with other countries around the world?

Accurate figures on firearms are scarce, but there are an estimated 200 million guns in circulation in the US, a country with a population of about 300 million.

According to a Harris poll conducted in 2001, approximately 39% of all American households own at least one gun.

The risk of being killed by a firearm in the US is higher than in any other Western nation. Of countries outside war zones, the risk is greatest in South Africa, according to a United Nations report.

comparison of death rates by firearm


There are no recent statistics available but UN figures from 2000 showed for every 10,000 Americans, 0.3 were killed by firearms, compared with 0.01 in the UK where handgun ownership was banned in 1997.

In Switzerland where every man of military age is required to keep a gun at home as part of the country’s civil defence policy, the number of deaths per 10,000 population was 0.05.

In South Africa it was 7.1 for every 10,000 people.

Map: Global gun deaths

Quiet town struggles with tragedy

Lutheran Church sign

Some students sought comfort at local churches

An air of unreality hangs over the small town of Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech University and scene of the worst gun rampage in US history.Less than 12 hours after the shooting that left 33 people – including the suspected gunman – dead, few people brave the icy wind to venture on to the streets.

Three young girls huddle on the pathway of the Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, opposite the flashing lights of police cars blocking an entrance to Virginia Tech.

They are trying to light candles as a tribute to fellow students killed in the shooting – and to friends touched by the tragedy.

‘Very surreal’

“This is the closest we can get to the campus,” they say. “Our friends who live on campus can’t get out and we can’t get in to see them.”

Eventually, defeated by the wind, they head for home, candles unlit.

“It’s surreal, very surreal – it still hasn’t sunk in yet,” one says.

Both students, who make up a large part of the town’s 40,000 population, and townspeople are left shocked by the day’s events.

I saw a guy running into the building but I didn’t really think anything of it. Then it all started going off

Christian, 20

In pictures: Virginia shootings

Eyewitness accounts

Christian, 20, saw much of what happened in Norris Hall – the teaching building where 30 of the victims died.

“I saw a guy running into the building but I didn’t really think anything of it. Then it all started going off.

“Probably the most startling thing was when you saw the police Swat team try to go in and the doors were chained shut. The leading Swat guy had a shotgun so he just blew the thing to pieces.”

Gun control?

Mala Kumar, a 22-year-old student from Richmond, has two of her friends in hospital being treated for injuries.

She is keen to see gun controls tightened – but realises how difficult a task that is. “If the guy had come through with any other weapon that wasn’t firearms, it would have been much, much less harmful.

“But it’s a handgun, not a weapon you would think of as a horribly, horribly dangerous weapon. It’s something there are millions and millions of in America.

“How are you ever going to get rid of them?”

map

Patrick Bieli, a student from New Jersey, says: “I am surprised and disturbed, I guess.

“When you look at the factors that may have led up to cause it, you have to wonder, has there been a change in society? What’s breaking society, what’s making people do this?”

He is also upset that the day’s events will skew people’s perceptions of what is a quiet, peaceful, rural town, making it “synonymous with Columbine”.

“As the reality sinks in you realise that all your friends are going to be going through really difficult times now,” he adds.

Psychology student Hojin Kim, originally from South Korea, is among some 40 people seeking comfort at one of several special church services held in the town on Monday evening.

“We spent a good deal of time praying for the families of the lost ones, and just in general,” he said.

Psychology student Hojin Kim

There’s a rumour going round that the shooter might be an Asian guy about six feet tall – like me

Hojin Kim, psychology student

The 25-year-old, who was in a class close to Norris Hall at the time of the shootings, says he fielded dozens of calls from relatives and friends in northern Virginia worried about his safety.

“There’s a rumour going round that the shooter might be an Asian guy about six feet tall – like me,” he says.

“I was told by my own mother ‘don’t go outside because you might be treated as a suspect’.

“I’m sure there’s a story behind everything, but I just hope this won’t develop as a racial issue.”

Unable to go back to his own apartment, he sits in a dormitory hall on campus with friends, listening to the news bulletins to try to grasp what has happened. It only really sank in when they went out and saw police with dogs and rifles everywhere, he says.

But, he says, the strong sense of community will help the town get through its pain. “We will take this hit and try to get better, given time,” he says.

‘It’s so tragic’

Stuart Feigenbaum, a 55-year-old PhD student and professor at the university, as well as a parent with a child at college, says he feels deeply for everyone involved.

He has spoken to dozens of younger students, acting as a parent figure for many who are far from home.

“I don’t know yet if anyone I know was there or injured – but it doesn’t matter, it hurts.

“The thing that makes me cry is that everyone has so many memories of their college days, it’s a significant part of your life, and for these kids this is going to be their memory. It’s so tragic, it isn’t supposed to be this way.”

It is hard to predict how the students will cope as time goes on, he says.

Stuart Feigenbaum

What if I were the professor in that class and I had my firearm. Might there have been less damage?

Stuart Feigenbaum, professor

“The best thing we can possibly do is try to get people on to some kind of positive course as soon as possible,” he says. “The first classes we have are going to be a little more open – the grieving process is going to have to take place.”

Mr Feigenbaum, who has a gun licence, believes society must do more to look after the unstable people who commit such crimes.

“There’s something wrong with us as a society that we’ve become so desensitized to each other – and maybe it’s too easy to get a gun,” he says.

But a ban on carrying firearms altogether may not be the answer, he says.

“Two years ago, all universities came out saying they didn’t want people to carry their guns on campus.

“It just makes me think, what if I were the professor in that class and I had my firearm. Might there have been less damage? I don’t know.”

US university shooting kills 33

Wounded girl being carried by police

The campus has now been closed and students evacuated

Scene of shootings

A US shooting rampage at the Virginia Tech university has left 33 people, including a suspected gunman, dead.There were two incidents two hours apart, at a student dorm where two were killed and at an engineering building where 30 and the gunman died.

Officers said they were working to link the attacks and had a preliminary ID of the gunman but would not release it.

After the deadliest shooting rampage in US history, President George W Bush said the US was “shocked and saddened”.

“Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community,” he said.

The state university in the town of Blacksburg is home to 26,000 students.

Click here to see a map of Virginia Tech campus

The shooter shot the door twice at chest level, which resulted in two holes in the door, one of which hit the podium in the front of the classroom

Nikolas Macko, student

Shooter tried the door

E-mail witness accounts

Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum said that emergency services had received a call at 0715 (1215 GMT) alerting them to a shooting at the dormitory – West Ambler Johnston Hall.

He said that two hours later there was a second report of shooting, this time at the engineering building, Norris Hall.

Asked why the campus was not closed after the first shooting, Mr Flinchum said that, at that stage, it was thought to be an isolated incident.

Police believed the first shooting may have been a “domestic incident” and that the gunman had left the campus.

‘Many, many shots’

Eyewitnesses said some students jumped from classroom windows to escape the gunfire, which triggered panic on campus.

Some of those locked down inside the university buildings were using the internet to try to glean information about what was happening and many e-mailed the BBC News website.

Nikolas Macko was in a mathematics class in Norris Hall when he heard a series of loud bangs in the hallway which prompted a female student sitting near the door to move to close it.

WORST US SCHOOLS SHOOTINGS

Police take up positions around the campus

1 August 1966 – Sniper Charles Whitman kills 14 people and injures dozens at University of Texas

20 April 1999 – Two teenagers at Columbine High School, Colorado, kill 13 before killing themselves

21 March 2005 – A teenager on an Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota, kills nine

In pictures: Virginia shootings

In quotes: Shooting reaction

Timeline: US school shootings

“She peeked out into the hallway, and saw the shooter, so she immediately closed the door. Three other students moved a table that was in front of the room – it seats approximately 40 students at capacity – and barricaded it against the door.

“A few seconds later, the shooter tried to open the door, but my classmates kept it well shut, as they held the table against it from floor level.

“The shooter shot the door twice at chest level, which resulted in two holes in the door, one of which hit the podium in the front of the class room and the other continued out the window. At this point he reloaded, shot the door again – this shot did not penetrate – and moved on to the other classrooms,” Mr Macko said.

Virginia Tech student Erin Sheehan said she survived an attack on her German class and described the gunman.

She said: “He was, I would say, about a little bit under six feet tall, young looking, Asian, dressed sort of strangely, almost like a boy scout, very short-sleeved light, tan shirt and some sort of ammo vest with black over it.”

Motive unclear

Mr Flinchum said it was unclear if the dead gunman was a student.

He could not confirm that the man was involved in the first attack.

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said: “Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions.”

He said the university was in the process of informing the next of kin of those killed and that counsellors were in place at the campus for student families.

The university urged students to call parents to let them know they were safe.

The deadliest mass US shooting prior to the Virginia attack was in Texas in 1991 when George Hennard killed 23 people and himself in a cafeteria.

The US also has a history of deadly school shootings.

In 1966, the day after killing his wife and mother, gunman Charles Whitman opened fire from a tower on the campus of the University of Texas killing 14 people and injuring 31 others.

In 1999 two teenagers at Columbine High School in Colorado killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

VIRGINIA TECH CAMPUS

map

1. 0715, shooting reported at the dormitory building

2. About two hours later a further shooting is reported

Brown facing no-confidence debate

Chancellor Gordon Brown

Mr Brown will respond to his critics in the Commons

The Conservatives are set to call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Gordon Brown over his 1997 decision to scrap tax relief on pension funds.Shadow chancellor George Osborne has called his party’s Commons motion a test of whether Mr Brown has the “political courage to apologise”.

It is highly unusual for opposition parties to call for votes of no confidence on individual ministers.

The Treasury said Mr Brown would be responding to the Tory motion.

While Labour’s Commons majority should ensure the chancellor comfortably survives the vote, the Conservatives will hope that it focuses attention once again on his handling of the pensions issue.

Documents

The motion is part of an opposition-led debate.

A recent release of Treasury documents under the Freedom of Information Act led to claims that Mr Brown had ignored the advice of officials when he abolished tax relief on pension funds. The Treasury denies the claim.

Mr Osborne said: “This is Gordon Brown’s chance to explain why he sought to hide the dangers of his reckless raid on pensioners’ savings.

“After the revelations about the raid, how can anyone have confidence in his judgement?

“We shall see if the chancellor has the political courage to apologise to the millions of pensioners affected.”

The wording of the Tory motion is likely to be along the lines of: “This House has no confidence in the chancellor’s handling of occupational pensions.”

The Treasury confirmed Mr Brown – the strong favourite to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister later this year – would be responding to the Tory no-confidence motion in the debate.

Competitiveness

Earlier, Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls, who was the chancellor’s closest adviser in 1997, defended the decision to abolish the relief for pension funds as part of the package of business tax reforms designed to improve competitiveness.

“These were difficult decisions – inevitably controversial,” he said in a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference in London.

“But the government judged that this package of reforms was necessary both to cut national debt and improve the climate for long-term investment and enhance the competitiveness of the UK.

“And since 1997 we have indeed experienced a decade of stability that has helped improve the environment for UK businesses to invest – with the fastest growth in business investment in any nine-year period since data began in the 1960s.”

The Conservatives said that they would be tabling an amendment to the government’s Pensions Bill when it returns to the Commons on Wednesday to help those who have lost occupational pensions since 1997.

Mr Brown has insisted his change to pension tax rules 10 years ago was the “right decision”.

He said it had raised £5bn a year from pension funds and had been a key reason the UK economy had been strong for the past decade.

It is the first time Mr Osborne and Mr Brown have gone head-to-head in the Commons on the subject of pensions since the row erupted again earlier this month.

Online child abuse complaints up

Computer Keyboard

More than 3,000 websites were reported to the IWF

Reports of websites that contain images of child abuse have continued to climb in the last year, a report has shown.In 2006, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) investigated more than 31,000 reports of sites that contained alleged images, an increase of 34% since 2005.

More than 10,000 of the reported pages on more than 3,000 websites were found to contain illegal child abuse content.

The increase was in part due to greater awareness of the IWF and its reporting procedures, the organisation said.

As well as outlining the numbers of web pages and sites containing images, the IWF annual report also revealed the increasing severity of content held on the sites.

More than 3,000 web pages contained images depicting the most severe abuse, such as penetrative and sadistic sexual activity, the report said. Most children involved were under the age of 12.

“The images we are seeing are predominantly prepubescent, young children,” said Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF.

“They have no choice. There is no consent – they are being raped.”

Nearly 1,000 commercial child abuse websites were found to sell child rape images, predominantly of young girls.

Long-lived

The report also highlighted how paedophiles had become more tech-savvy in attempts to avoid detection.

Some commercial child abuse websites, run by organised criminal gangs, break up images on to several servers around the world. The fragments are only united when a paedophile downloads an image.

Other websites only appear on the web for a short period of time, or move servers regularly to countries with different legal jurisdictions.

This technique means that police forces never have enough time to gather the required evidence to take down a site. For example, one has been reported to the IWF 224 times since 2002.

The report also revealed how photo sharing websites are also being exploited to trade and view images.

More than 10% of the reported pages were of this type, it said.

“No one pretends that the companies involved with this know it’s going on,” said Mr Robbins.

“When we draw their attention to the folders, they are quick to remove them.”

Worst offenders

The IWF also highlighted which countries appeared to be the worst offenders for hosting child abuse content.

Nearly 55% of all reported websites were hosted in the US whilst Russia contained just over 28%, the report said.

Internet user

UK Sites reported to the IWF are shut down within 48 hours

Mr Robbins said that the US was the worst offender, principally because of access to technology and its geography.

“Given their size, it’s inevitable that they come high on our radar,” he said.

The UK has virtually stamped out hosting of illegal online child abuse content, the IWF said.

“The IWF has made dramatic and continued progress in tackling the availability of illegal images of child abuse,” said Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.

“[It] has made a significant and on-going contribution to the eradication of exploitation sites hosted in the UK, and the prevention of access to sites hosted abroad.”

Any sites reported to the IWF that are hosted in the UK are removed within 48 hours by UK ISPs.

Anonymous tips

Many of the 31, 776 reports made to the IWF in 2006 came through its “hotline” website.

Most reports were of commercial websites, as people looking for pornography or clicking on links in spam emails were more likely to stumble across these, said Mr Robbins.

He urged anybody that came across potentially illegal content to report it immediately and offered reassurance that users could report any content anonymously.

“We exist to try to access the content and get it removed,” he said.

The IWF is funded by the EU and UK internet industry, including ISPs, mobile operators, internet search providers and telecommunications and software companies.

Boat survivor speaks of tragedy

Survivor Egil Hafsas

Mr Hafsas said he could not feel happy about being rescued

A survivor of the supply vessel which capsized off the coast of Shetland has spoken about the accident which left eight of his colleagues presumed dead.Fighting back tears, Egil Hafsas said it took less than five minutes for the Bourbon Dolphin tug to topple.

He said it was difficult to feel the joy of being rescued when he knew there were people who had been unable to get out of the boat.

A memorial service has been held on a Shetland beach.

Relatives are due to be flown over the site of the capsized ship later.

Mr Hafsas recounted his final moments on board the oil rig supply vessel before it overturned on Thursday.

He said he had been on deck when the ship lurched and suddenly started to list.

He ran into the accommodation part of the main deck, grabbed a life vest, and shouted for everyone to leave.

The crewman described how he jumped into the water along with two young trainees.

Moments later the boat rolled over into the sea.

Three people died in the incident and a further five crew members are missing presumed dead.

It is believed their bodies may still be inside the boat.

Among them are 14-year-old David Remøy, who was on work experience, and his father Oddne Arve Remøy, who was the ship’s captain.

On Saturday night, families of the seven survivors were re-united with their loved ones at an hotel in Lerwick.

Two relatives at the water's edge

Relatives threw flowers into the sea at the memorial service

They joined relatives of the dead and missing men at the memorial service held at the water’s edge.

Trond Myklebust, managing director of the ship’s operator Bourbon Offshore, said of the planned flight over the ship: “It is so everybody can see the boat, the environment and try and visualise what would have been going on.

“We think that is very important for the relatives and this is something they want.”

Mr Myklebust said an attempt would be made to tow the boat ashore at about midday.

“What is important from our side is that this will be done in a safe manner because the most important thing is that we keep the boat afloat so we are able to find the people inside,” he said.

“It is very important for relatives to have a grave.”

He defended the fact that a 14-year-old was on board the ship.

“We have a very strong community for the offshore industry and it’s very common that boys who are interested in this join these vessels, ” he said.

Capsized vessel location graphic

The boat capsized about 86 miles from Shetland

“It’s done by our company and other companies and is a very good way of recruiting people into the profession.”

Dutch company Smit Salvage are to lead the operation to recover the ship.

The ship was on a routine operation at the Transocean Rather drilling rig when it capsized.

Bourbon Offshore released the names of the eight crew members who died or were missing, including 44-year-old Mr Remøy and his son.

The others are Ronny Emblem, 25, Bjarte Grimstad, 37, Søren Kroer, 27, Frank Nygård, 42, Kjetil Rune Våge, 31, and Tor Karl Sandø, 54.

The identities of the three bodies recovered have still to be confirmed and Shetland Coastguard confirmed the search for the remaining crew has been called off.

The police investigation has now been handed over to Norwegian authorities and a Norwegian government commission has been set up to investigate the incident.

Nurse union attacks NHS job cuts

Three nurses

Nurses are gathering for their annual conference

Nurses’ leaders say patients are being harmed by job cuts in the profession caused by continuing NHS deficits.The Royal College of Nursing, whose conference opens on Sunday, claims that more than 22,000 NHS posts have been lost in England in the past 18 months.

The government says the union’s figures are out of date and misleading. It adds that the number of compulsory redundancies has been very small.

Nurse leaders said specialist nurses had been particularly hard hit.

In its report Our NHS – Today and Tomorrow, the union said the health service was facing a debt crisis that was “real and entrenched”.

The RCN study, compiled from reports by members and NHS board papers, said trusts had been forced to shed 22,300 posts through a combination of redundancies, recruitment freezes and post closures.

The financial crisis was also hitting patient care, the study claimed.

Surplus predicted

According to the latest government figures, the NHS will have a small surplus overall for the financial year just finished.

Forecasts from the third quarter of 2006-7 showed that the NHS was in line to finish the financial year with a £13m surplus.

This is despite one in three hospitals and primary care trusts predicting deficits.

Nurses are the backbone of the health service – it is terrible that they are suffering due to this government’s failures

Norman Lamb, of the Lib Dems

RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter said he stood by the RCN’s figures.

“The deficits issue is not history – it is real, entrenched and continues to hit patient care, services and jobs.

“Yes, the NHS achieved overall financial balance last year – but at what cost?

“Our NHS remains caught up in a rip tide of cuts, rushed reforms and poor workforce planning.

“This is hitting services, hurting patients, undermining staff morale and threatening the hard-won progress made over recent years.”

Howard Catton, head of policy at the RCN, told BBC Five Live that the union’s figures had been calculated by “monitoring the loss of posts for the last eighteen months”.

“It’s comprised of posts which have been deleted, vacancies that haven’t been filled and some redundancies as well,” he added.

‘Service cuts’

The RCN claims specialist nurses, which have been trained to provide expert care in areas such as diabetes and heart disease and have a range of enhanced powers like prescribing, had been particularly effected.

A poll of 807 specialist nurses for the report found one in five were facing a risk of redundancy, while half were aware of cuts in their specialist area.

We recognise it has been tough for NHS staff over the last 12 months, but we have now put the NHS on a sound financial footing for the future

Health minister Andy Burnham

June James, who has been working as a specialist diabetes nurse for the last 12 years, said: “Posts are being downgraded and services cut. I think it shows a lack of respect for the job we do.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb described the report as “devastating” for the NHS.

“Nurses are the backbone of the health service – it is terrible that they are suffering due to this government’s failures,” he said.

And shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said it confirmed the Conservative Party’s fears that “financial mismanagement would lead to job cuts and damage to services for patients”.

“It is a damning indictment of the cost of Gordon Brown’s NHS cuts and Patricia Hewitt’s poor stewardship,” he added.

‘Improvements’

But health minister Andy Burnham dismissed the RCN figures.

“This RCN report presents an outdated and misleading picture,” he said.

“We recognise it has been tough for NHS staff over the last 12 months, but we have now put the NHS on a sound financial footing for the future.”

The Department of Health said the figures being used by the RCN related to the “natural turnover of staff” experienced in any organisation – including posts not being refilled after staff leave, and agency staff not being replaced.

It said the actual number of compulsory redundancies was 1,446 of which only 303 were clinical positions, such as doctors or nurses.

Mr Burnham later told BBC Five Live, the NHS was “performing for patients better than ever before”.

“The waiting lists are at an historic low. A&E care is better than it has ever been.

“People generally do not wait longer than four hours, whereas trolley waits and long, long, days spent at A&E were commonplace in the past.”

The RCN, which represents 400,000 nurses, published its report to kick start its annual conference in Harrogate.

US toddler burnt in park attack

Playground slide [file picture]

The playground vandal was likely also burnt in the attack, police say

A two-year-old boy is facing surgery after receiving serious burns at a playground slide in the US that had been vandalised with harsh chemicals.Peyton Duschl received second and third-degree burns, mostly to his legs, after using the primary school slide.

Vandals had poured industrial-strength drain cleaner over the ride, and opened bottles of the dangerous chemical were found at the scene, police said.

A hazardous materials team was called in to clean the site in Maryland state.

The boy will have surgery on Sunday and is expected to stay in hospital for several weeks, his mother Carol Duschl said.

With a high sulphuric acid content, the cleaner was so strong that the accident and emergency department at the first hospital the boy attended had to be evacuated, said Michael Robinson, from the Baltimore County Fire Department.

“I just don’t understand what would draw somebody to do something like that,” Ms Duschl told US television station WMAR-TV. “What kind of sick joke is that?”

There were signs of forced entry to a storage room at Victory Villa Elementary School in Middle River, police spokeswoman Sgt Vickie Warehime said.

She said that whoever poured the chemical was also likely to have been burnt.

CBS to launch online TV network

Late Night With David Letterman

Late Night With David Letterman is one show CBS will put online

US TV network CBS is to launch a video sharing internet channel after agreeing deals with 10 online distributors.Among the companies signed up to deliver content are newcomer Joost, Microsoft, ComCast and Time Warner.

Viewers will be able to watch shows like crime drama CSI, with free content supported by advertising revenues which will be split between CBS and partners.

CBS is the latest mainstream firm to join the trend for turning to the web to offer programmes and films.

Other companies involved in the online distribution deal are Brightcove, Veoh, Sling Media, AOL, Netvibes and CNET Networks.

However, while the proceeds from advertising on the CBS Interactive Audience Network will be split between CBS and its partners, details of the division in funds is not yet known.

According to an earlier report in the Wall Street Journal, the broadcaster had wanted to keep 90% of the ad revenues generated by its shows.

As well as access to CSI and all of its offshoots – including CSI: Miami and CSI: NY – online viewers will be able to watch other shows such as Survivor, Late Night With David Letterman, news and sports.

News of the internet channel comes a month after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and NBC Universal said they were joining forces to launch a new online venture aimed at challenging the popularity of video sharing site YouTube.

NASA delays shuttle launch to fix tank

NASA says it will delay the launch of space shuttle Atlantis at least until June 8 so that its hail-damaged fuel tank can be repaired.

The tank’s insulating foam was damaged on the launch pad during a freak hail storm in February, forcing the ship back into a processing hangar for repairs.

The US space agency had hoped to fix the dings and gouges in the tank in time to launch Atlantis in May on a mission to deliver more power modules to the International Space Station.

But NASA officials said the work cannot be finished before the launch window closes on May 21.

They will have to wait until at least June 8, when the sun will again be in a suitable position to avoid overheating the shuttle while it is docked at the space station in orbit.

Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale says that launch window lasts until July 17.

“The confidence is high that we will fly in the June-July window,” he said.

NASA has considered waiting until a replacement tank was ready but is confident the tank already attached to the shuttle can be repaired.

“As of right now, we’re going to stay with the tank that’s on the stack,” Mr Hale said.

“Progress is being made adequately to do that.”

NASA has been particularly sensitive about the tank’s insulation since the 2003 Columbia accident, which was triggered by a piece of tank foam debris that fell off and hit the shuttle’s heat shield during lift-off.

The shuttle broke apart, killing all seven astronauts aboard, as it attempted to return through the atmosphere for landing.

The US space agency has to fly at least 13 more missions to the space station to complete its assembly before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.