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Va. Tech panel: Monitor threatening students

Virginia Tech’s internal review of the campus massacre recommended Wednesday more monitoring of troubled students, classroom locks and other security measures.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Virginia Tech’s internal review of the campus massacre recommended Wednesday more monitoring of troubled students, classroom locks and other security measures.

The panel made no assessment of the actions school staff took April 16, when more than two hours elapsed between the time student gunman Seung-Hui Cho killed two students in a dormitory and the time he killed 30 other people and himself in a classroom building.

University President Charles Steger named committees to look at counseling services, security and communication following the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

A panel appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is investigating the handling of the shootings as well as Cho’s background, and its report is due out next week.

President defends decisions
At a news conference, Steger said the investigation of the university’s actions should be done by an outside panel, not the school, and that he had recommended that the governor form the panel that will issue its report next week.

He also again defended the university’s decision not to lock down buildings after the first two shootings.

“Such a lockdown is simply not feasible on a campus that’s the size of a small city,” he said.

In calling for creation of a team of police, counselors and other university personnel to monitor students who may pose a threat to themselves or others, the counseling committee said Tech needs a better system to deal with such students.

The university also should improve security with interior locks on classroom doors and Internet-based message boards alerting the campus of emergencies, the security and communications panels said.

Ways to improve security
The university’s security committee recommended instructing students on what to do in emergencies; installing interior locks on 157 general assignment classrooms; removing “drop bar” door handles that can be chained, and possibly installing electronic key card access to academic and administrative buildings.

Dormitories currently are accessed with key cards, and Tech recently required that the cards be used 24 hours a day.

The four classrooms that Cho entered in Norris Hall could not be locked from inside, and he had chained exit doors with bar handles to delay police entry into the building.

Internet notification system proposed
In the area of communications, a mass notification system such as Internet-based message boards in the classrooms and at campus entrances was recommended.

Tech told students and staff of the shooting at West Ambler Johnston dormitory in an e-mail that went out at 9:26 a.m., more than two hours after those killings. By that time, police believe Cho already was in Norris Hall.

During the summer, Tech instituted a system that alerts students and staff of emergencies by text messages on cell phones, e-mail and instant messages. However, the committee’s report noted that the university’s communications systems were taxed the day of the shootings, and that many cell phone calls could not go through because of the huge demand.

The panel on relationships between Tech’s counseling services and other departments and agencies cited a federal report on Cho’s shooting rampage that noted confusion about what information can be shared under privacy laws.

“Sharing critical information is one of the most important aspects of managing the potential for violence with respect to at-risk students,” the panel noted.

Care team needs greater visibility
The team dealing with students considered a threat should be able to act quickly, the committee said.

“It is essential that this team be charged with building a complete fact-based picture of any individual who is considered a threat to him- or herself or to the campus community and have authority to recommend significant and timely interventions to ensure the safety of the individual and others in the campus community,” the committee wrote.

The care team already in place, which includes representatives of the student affairs division and counseling services, should also include police and should have greater visibility, the panel said. Other departments, as well as that team, should be able to make referrals to the unit dealing with students who have a potential for violence.

Cho, a senior, had shown signs to professors and others of being mentally troubled before his rampage. He had been removed from an English class because of his violent writing and offensive behavior. He also was ordered to receive outpatient treatment after an overnight involuntary commitment at a mental health center in December 2005 after police received a report that he was suicidal.