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Posted at 5:08 PM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Dept. of Education finds Va. Tech at fault in 2007 massacre

By Daniel de Vise

The U.S. Department of Education issued a final report Thursday faulting leaders of Virginia Tech for failing to issue a "timely warning" to the university community for two hours after they became aware a gunman was on the loose in April 2007, even while some of those officials locked down their own offices or e-mailed loved ones to say they were all right.

Had the university issued a warning more swiftly and emphatically, investigators found, Seung Hui Cho might not have had the opportunity to open fire on a classroom full of students later that morning, ultimately killing 32.

Federal investigators said the university violated the provisions of the Clery Act, which require universities to issue "timely warnings" of imminent threats to their safety.

Virginia Tech leaders became aware of a possible threat at 7:30 on the morning of April 16, 2007, when two students were found shot to death in a dorm. The university waited till 9:26 a.m. to issue a campus-wide e-mail -- and it was vague, saying only that "a shooting incident occurred" and not that two students were dead.

Well before that e-mail went out, various Virginia Tech offices had already taken the precaution of locking down. Even trash pickup had been canceled. One safety official e-mailed loved ones, saying that her office was in lockdown and that there was "an active shooter on campus."

Had the university promptly warned students and faculty of what the officials already knew, "the other members of the campus community may have had enough time to take similar actions to protect themselves," the report states.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued this statement:

"My heart goes out to the families of those who lost loved ones during the tragic events of April 16, 2007, and to the entire Virginia Tech community. The loss of that day can never be undone. While Virginia Tech failed to adequately warn students that day, we recognize that the University has put far-reaching changes in place since that time to help improve campus safety and better protect its students and community."

Virginia Tech officials compiled a lengthy response to the department's initial report, issued last spring. They said the university simply had no way to predict -- based on the discovery of two bodies in a dorm -- that they were about to be the setting of a mass shooting. The evidence on hand that morning, they said, pointed to a domestic shooting with no dire implications for the rest of campus.

Tech also pointed to a pattern of relatively slow institutional response to campus shootings around the nation in the era of the Cho massacre. It was not uncommon for universities to wait 12 to 24 hours to issue a notice to campus that a shooting had occurred, a researcher found in a survey of peer institutions conducted for Tech.

The university concluded that the federal investigators were essentially playing the role of Monday-morning quarterbacks, criticizing the institution for failing to warn its denizens of a shooting that it could not have predicted.

Federal investigators say those responses are beside the point: Tech broke the law, as well as its own internal policy on timely warnings of potential danger on campus.

Cho's first strike, the dorm shooting, represented "precisely the type of event for which the timely warning requirement was intended," the report states.

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By Daniel de Vise  | December 9, 2010; 5:08 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Crime, Public safety  | Tags:  Cho massacre, Cho shooting, VT massacre, Va Tech shooting, Virginia Tech massacre  
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Comments

And if you like irony, it takes the dept of Education to come out with their report. Monday morning quarterback is too generous.

Posted by: jhtlag1 | December 9, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

No one blames the any employee who called or texted their loved ones first. That took only a moment. It's the university leadership that then failed to issue a warning to everyone else's children for hours.

There was a time when serving as Governor of Virginia meant a person had a greater sense of responsibility to his fellow citizens than that of a corporate public relations hack.

Tim Kaine is such a disappointment.

Posted by: blasmaic | December 9, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

You can lock down a high school with no problem, but the Virginia Tech campus is essentially a small city. How do you lock down an entire city in two hours time, after everyone has already left for work. Can't be done.

This was not Virginia Tech's fault. It is the fault of Seung Hui Cho.

Posted by: jeff20 | December 9, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

This is not a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. Tech officials knew there was an unsolved double murder and that the suspect was at large and chose to issue a vague email about a "shooting incident".

There was no evidence of a domestic dispute at West Ambler Johnston Hall. Police Chief Flinchum saw a dead black male, Ryan Clark, laying next to a gravely wounded white female, Emily Hilscher, and concocted out of thin air a fantasy about a domestic dispute in which a jealous boyfriend dicovered an illicit affair between Ryan and Emily and took revenge.

Emily's roommate pointed out to the Tech police that Emily's relationship with her boyfriend, Karl Thornhill, was "perfect" but was unable to deflate Flinchum's soap opera fantasy.

Posted by: DaveWebster | December 9, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

How could have VT reasonably predicted that a shooting rampage would have occurred after the first shooting in West AJ? I would like to know how schools in high crime cities (e.g. GW, Hopkins, Tulane) comply with the Clery Act.

Posted by: VPI03 | December 9, 2010 11:59 PM | Report abuse

typical: blame the victim,not the lunatic thug that committed this atrocity.

Posted by: pofinpa | December 10, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

Lets not forget the mental health "professionals" who refused to advise the state police about Cho's mental state.

Liberals clamor for gun control - then make it impossible for it to work.

Just before the shootings, VT proudly proclaimed they could now FEEL safe after blocking concealed carry.

Pity they couldn't have acted like responsible adults and BEEN safe.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | December 10, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

"There was a time when serving as Governor of Virginia meant a person had a greater sense of responsibility to his fellow citizens than that of a corporate public relations hack.

Tim Kaine is such a disappointment."
------------------
What in the world are you talking about?

Posted by: schnauzer21 | December 10, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

GW and Tulane are not in high crime areas. They're in high crime cities.

Universities have communicated with their people (students, staff, faculty), by email, text message, and web site announcements. This was true in Spring of 2007, but even moreso today.

Personally, I found the imbroglio over Cho's medical records to be an act of criminality against the citizens of much greater significance than the university's response to the first shooting. Sure, they did everything wrong in the emergency. Then, when the emergency was past and everyone was buried, they continued doing wrong.

Tim Kaine is such a disappointment.

Posted by: blasmaic | December 10, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

You can lock down a high school with no problem, but the Virginia Tech campus is essentially a small city. How do you lock down an entire city in two hours time, after everyone has already left for work. Can't be done.

This was not Virginia Tech's fault. It is the fault of Seung Hui Cho.

Posted by: jeff20 |

Actually they can and they have. A year prior to the Cho murders they locked down when an armed convict shot a deputy and escaped from the hospital nearby. The problem is that they did not have a plan for these types of incidents. The assumption at the time was that the dorm killings were the fault of a boyfriend.

Posted by: eor11 | December 10, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Danny boy, Could you find someone at the USDOE who could define exactly what 'timely' means??? I seriously doubt it!!

Posted by: joeblotnik49 | December 10, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Gee, it took them since 2007 to figure out what was very obvious to anyone a day or two after the event. Brilliant.

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Posted by: shoestrade30 | December 10, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

V Tech did not suspend Cho, mistake number one, they had ample reason to do so.

Eight months later Daniel Kim died there, V Tech failed to follow even its new policies. He killed only himself. Warned he was suicidal, they did not follow their "new" polices for responding.

Search his name for the news, it was not widely carried.

Posted by: khmaio | December 10, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

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