The U.S. Department of Education today issued a report that found the administration of Virginia Tech University in violation of federal law for its handling of the mass shootings on its campus in 2007. The department ruled that Tech had failed in its legal obligation to issue "timely warning" to the campus community after two students were shot in a dormitory in the early morning hours of April 16th.
More than two hours later Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old student with a history of mental health problems, chained the doors of a classroom building and went on a shooting rampage, killing 30 other students and faculty before taking his own life.
In making its final determination, the Education wrote that "Virginia Tech failed to issue adequate warnings in a timely manner in response to the murders on campus." When Tech did eventually issue a warning two hours after the dorm shooting, the report says the alert "was not prepared or disseminated in a manner to give clear and timely notice of the ongoing threat to students and employees."
When Michael Pohle received a copy of the report this morning, he was overcome with emotion. His 22-year-old son, Michael Jr., died of multiple gunshot wounds while sitting in a German class at Tech's Norris Hall. "I went outside, spent some time alone, cried, shared a couple of words with Mike and told him that it's not over yet," Pohle told ABC news. "We're going to keep pushing."
Virginia Tech is charged with violating the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act which requires colleges and universities to publicly disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. The complaint against the University was lodged three years ago by the advocacy group Security on Campus, which was formed by the parents of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in 1986, and for whom the law is named. Under the law, the Department of Education has the authority to investigate violations and enforce penalties, which can include fines and, in extreme cases, suspension of federal financial aid.
"We're glad that there was a thorough process that carefully analyzed all the facts and found as we have contended since day one that there were Clery Act violations with the failure to adequately and timely warn the campus community of Va Tech," said S. Daniel Carter of Security on Campus today.
The Department of Education's investigation is the first by an agency outside the state of Virginia to examine the actions taken by Tech officials, as the worst school shooting in U.S. history unfolded on its Blacksburg campus. A state panel of outside experts appointed by then-Governor Tim Kaine) to review the shooting, determined in August 2007 that the university should have issued more explicit warnings sooner. But that panel had only an advisory role.
"My hope is that Virginia Tech and all universities will learn from this - that student and staff and faculty safety must be paramount," said Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was severely wounded in the shooting rampage.