The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

Tech shooting report issued

Thursday, August 30, 2007, 13:54
Section: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonWell, it’s out. It finds some fault with the university, but it also says that there was no reasonable way to prevent what happened.

And I think that’s the truth.

Virginia Tech’s square footage is larger than some High Desert cities and towns, it’s got vastly more buildings than most universities and has a daytime population larger than that of Barstow. There’s just no way to practically control a campus that size, that quickly, when the danger could be anywhere.

There are people who wish the university could have gotten the word out earlier. I can’t disagree with that, although I’m not sure I agree where the threshold is to alarm tens of thousands of people is. If you think it’s a two-person domestic and think you have a suspect in custody, do you want to effectively cancel classes for everyone because of it? I think this was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario for Tech officials.

Even the AP story on the report is long:

Virginia Tech’s president, facing calls for his ouster, defended his university’s response to the nation’s deadliest school shooting, saying Thursday that officials couldn’t have known the gunman would attack twice.

“Nobody can say for certain what would have happened if different decisions were made,” President Charles Steger told a news conference.

“The crime was unprecedented in its cunning and murderous results,” he said.

A governor-appointed panel that investigated the April 16 massacre at the Blacksburg campus released a report late Wednesday criticizing Virginia Tech officials, saying they could have saved lives if they had acted more quickly to warn students about the first shootings that morning at a dormitory and that a killer was on the loose.

Instead, it took administrators more than two hours to send students and staff an e-mail warning. The shooter had time to leave the dormitory, mail a videotaped confession and manifesto to NBC News, then return to campus and enter a classroom building, chain the doors shut and kill 31 more people, including himself.

“Warning the students, faculty and staff might have made a difference,” the panel in its report. “The earlier and clearer the warning, the more chance an individual had of surviving.”

Steger said the administration was responding during the hours that passed after the first two students were slain in the dormitory.

“The notion that there was a two-hour gap is a great misconception,” Steger said. “There was continuous action and deliberations from the first event until the second, and they made a material difference in the results of the second event.”

One victim’s mother urged the governor to “show some leadership” and fire Steger, and other parents demanded accountability for the errors.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, however, said the school’s officials had suffered enough without losing their jobs.

“I want to fix this problem so I can reduce the chance of anything like this ever happening again,” the governor said. “If I thought firings would be the way to do that, then that would be what I would focus on.”

Kaine said instead that parents of troubled children who are starting college should alert university officials, and those officials should “pick up the phone and call the parent” if they become aware of unusual behavior.

“The information needs to flow both ways,” the governor said.

I sure hope Kaine moves to change the rules about Virginia public schools keeping mental health issues of students and graduates private. Obviously, there are privacy concerns, but I have faith that a provision could be crafted that would respect a student’s privacy but still alert universities to potential problems before a student arrives on campus.

The report detailed a breakdown in communication about the gunman, who had shown signs of mental health problems for years.

His middle school teachers had found signs of suicidal and homicidal thoughts in his writings after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. He received psychiatric counseling and was on medication for a short time. In 2006, he wrote a paper for his Virginia Tech creative writing class about a young man who hates students at his school and plans to kill them and himself, the report said.

The university’s counseling center failed to give Cho the support he needed despite the warnings, including his referral to the center in 2005 because of bizarre behavior and concerns he was suicidal, the panel said. It blamed a lack of resources, misinterpretation of privacy laws and passivity.

Individuals and departments at Virginia Tech were aware of incidents that suggested his mental instability, but “did not intervene effectively. No one knew all the information and no one connected all the dots,” the report said.

Likewise, the university needs a policy that these sorts of scenarios are reported upwards to the dean of each department, the dean passes this information along to Student Health and Student Health passes along issues that present a possible threat to other students to campus security.

The problem, though, is that creative writing classes — I took three at Virginia Tech — are full of maudlin and dark writings. Do we really want to report every student who writes something a bit bleak or a bit violent? I would have gotten reported, if that were the case.


  1. So here is a rather contentious question on the subject. VT has a no handgun policy, although I think that Virgina citizens can either carry handguns or at least apply for a permit to do so. My two questions are 1) Would things have turned out differently if VT did not have this policy, and 2) In the wake of this tragic incident, should VT change this policy?

    Sorry to sneak in and drop a bomb like this, but I was curious about other opinions. I have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and although I certainly hope I never have cause to use it, it is incidents like this that make me glad that I do have it.

    Cheers and I miss you guys in WoW


    Comment by Jonathan — August 31, 2007 @ 19:03

  2. Both sides of the gun debate have painted a bad picture of what Virginia Tech is like. There’s a ton of good old boys there — I’d say about a third, or more, of students’ trucks had gun racks when I was a student there.

    I know from first-hand knowledge that there were guns in dorm rooms and guns in fraternity houses. I feel confident that there are handguns in backpacks, law or no law. There probably would have been a few more if it was legal, but I think it’s very unlikely that no one in Norris Hall had a handgun.

    So, no, I don’t think it would have changed much.

    Comment by Beau — August 31, 2007 @ 20:15

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Copyright © Beau Yarbrough, all rights reserved
Veritas odit moras.