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