Gov. Timothy M. Kaine met Saturday for two hours with relatives of those killed at Virginia Tech and pledged they would have access to a panel investigating the shootings, but stopped short of giving them a seat on the panel.
The relatives have demanded representation on an eight-member panel Kaine has appointed to investigate the April 16 shootings that left 33 dead.
Kaine said after the closed-door meeting in the Capitol that the makeup of the panel would not change, but he would work to make sure family members had access to panel members and information.
“My obligation is to try to figure out what went right, what went wrong and what we can do to improve,” Kaine said.
The panel includes former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, psychiatrists and educational specialists. It is led by a retired Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency’s response to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.
While most of the 44 relatives left without speaking to reporters, Peter and Cathy Read, whose daughter Mary was killed, said they would be satisfied with a “virtual presence” on the panel.
Seung-Hui Cho killed two students in a dormitory and then later killed 30 students and faculty in a classroom building before committing suicide.
Vincent Bove, a private crime prevention specialist working with the families, said after the meeting that the shooting was preventable. “There were so many balls that were dropped,” he said.
Kaine dismissed Bove’s accusations as “lawyerly” talk. “Without making light of liability issues, those are important issues, that’s not my focus,” the governor said.
A message left at the home of a Virginia Tech spokesman was not immediately returned.
The review panel had been stymied in its efforts to examine Cho’s mental health and academic records because of federal and state privacy laws until recently, when Cho’s family allowed the university to turn over its mental health records to the panel. Kaine then signed an executive order clearing the way for the panel to receive other protected records.
The families had said they wanted access to those records, as well. Kaine said his goal is to have as much information as possible about Cho’s background made public.
The review panel has one more public meeting scheduled for July 18 in Charlottesville. It is expected to produce a report in August.