IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Inexcusable’ actions in Va. Tech killings report

/ Source: The Associated Press

Some Virginia Tech administrators warned their families and ordered the president's office locked well before the rest of the campus was notified a gunman was on the loose, according to a revised state report on the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Virginia's governor called some of the administrators' actions "inexcusable," and some victims' relatives who have been demanding the resignation of President Charles Steger ever since the 2007 massacre that left 33 people dead reacted bitterly to the findings.

"He's got to live with himself," said Dennis Bluhm, who lost his son. "If he's got any heart at all, and I'm not sure he does, he's got a long life to live with this on his brain."

The report adds to the long list of apparent missteps by university officials before, during and after the 2007 rampage by Seung-Hui Cho. The mentally ill student shot two students to death in a dorm, then three hours later chained the doors of a classroom building and killed 30 more people before committing suicide.

A state-appointed panel that wrote a report two years ago issued an updated account Friday that indicates at least two members of the school's policy group, which includes top administrators, notified their families about the dorm shootings around 8:05 a.m. — an hour and 20 minutes before a campus-wide e-mail warning was sent to staff members, faculty and students. The massacre in the classroom building began at 9:40 a.m.

"There is almost never a reason not to provide immediate notification," Gov. Timothy Kaine told the Associated Press. "If university officials thought it was important enough to notify their own families, they should have let everyone know."

The report also said that Virginia Tech's government affairs director ordered Steger's office locked around 8:52 a.m. Two classroom buildings were also locked down well before the notification went out.

On campus Friday, Student Government Association president Brandon Carroll said he does not think the revised report damages the administration.

"Hindsight is 20/20," he said. "It really upsets me that they're trying to bring back something bad that really hurt our community."

University responds
Steger's office said Friday he was unavailable for comment and referred questions to university spokesman Mark Owczarski, who said that the president's office was never locked, despite e-mailed instructions to do so.

Owczarski also said that the two unidentified people in the report who supposedly warned their families about the shootings were not members of the policy group, but staff members in the offices of the president and senior vice president.

"If these are the two notifications that the amended report alludes to in its findings, clearly they do not comprise a concerted effort by university staff to notify their own families of danger in advance of notifying the campus community," he said in a statement.

The updated report includes additions and corrections requested by family members along with new information, including details from Cho's mental health records. Those records had been missing from the school counseling center even before the massacre, but the center's former director found them in his home in July.

In other new findings in the report:

  • It took 17 minutes for the chief of the Virginia Tech Police Department to get through to the executive vice president's office after he learned of the shooting.
  • One student killed in the dorm, Emily Hilscher, survived several hours after being shot, but no one bothered to notify her family until she had died. A call to her parents Friday wasn't immediately returned.
  • A policy group member e-mailed a colleague in Richmond around 8:45 a.m. that a gunman was on the loose, but warned the colleague to make sure that information didn't get out because it was not yet "releasable."
  • Campus trash collection was canceled 21 minutes before students and teachers were warned.
  • Virginia Tech had two different emergency-alert policies in effect at the time, and that led to the delay in issuing the university-wide alert.

The original report criticized the university's failure to act on warning signs from Cho that included violent, twisted writings and sullen, hostile behavior. It also criticized the communications failures and other problems that allowed nearly two hours to elapse between the first gunshots and the campus-wide notification.

The updated report did not revise the original report's conclusions and recommendations.