Students and staff at the Virginia Tech University , where 33 people died in shootings yesterday, used a variety of web tech to communicate with each other while the killings were taking place. Terrified university residents used mobile phones, blogs, podcasts and also social networking sites to get in touch with each other.

A lone gunman paraded through the University yesterday afternoon brandishing two handguns. He murdered 33 people including campus employees and many students.

After two people died in a first shooting two hours before the horrific massacre around the Norris Halls, uni president Charles Steger released a podcast to warn students about what was happening, describing the two murders as a "tragedy of monumental proportions".

Later, the gunman murdered many more people, and even before the shooting had hit the news in the UK, the student newspaper's blog was reporting that 20 students had been killed at the Norris Hall campus. That figure eventually rose to 31, including the gunman.

Messenger saves lives

Word had spread across the university via instant messaging applications such as Windows Live Messenger and social networking site Facebook. Even before the dust had settled, students were using Facebook to question why the facility had not been locked down as soon as the first shootings took place.

"The police are sure that the campus is secure but advise everyone to remain indoors," the student blog reported at 1:19pm US time.

Earlier entries on the blog reported that gunshots had been heard, and at 10am an entry confirmed to campus readers that there was a maniacal gunman loose on campus. Just a few minutes after this entry, a new one appeared, saying: "The university is encouraging everyone to stay indoors and away from windows. West Ambler Johnston and Squires are currently on confirmed lock down."

Fifteen minutes after that, the blog reported that all lectures were cancelled and two hours later the casualty list was being reported as 22.

The only known footage of the shooting was shot by a student capturing video on his mobile phone, with gunshots audible. We can only speculate how many lives were saved by word spreading over the internet.