Feds: Virginia Tech Violated Federal Law for Failing to Issue Timely Warning

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In a statement issued this afternoon, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "The loss of that day can never be undone. While Virginia Tech failed to adequately warn students that day, we recognize that the University has put far-reaching changes in place since that time to help improve campus safety and better protect its students and community."

The Department of Education had informed Virginia Tech in January of its preliminary findings and offered the University a chance to respond to the allegations. In May, the University released the preliminary report along with its 73-page response disputing the federal agency's assertions.

Virginia Tech's objections center on arguments that the university's actions were being unfairly judged in hindsight, and that the language of the Clery Act's "timely warning" provisions were too vague to be enforceable.

"Virginia Tech officials acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, based on the best information then available to them," wrote Tech's Emergency Management Director, Michael Mulhare. The final report issued today, roundly rejects the bulk of the university's argument.

Timeline Raised Questions About Tech Actions

Iin a statement issued today, Virginia Tech largely repeated those objections and vowed to exercise all available appeals. "[B]oth the law and purposeful reasoned analysis require that the actions of that day be evaluated according to the information that was available to the university and its professionals at that time," said the statement from associate vice president Larry Hincker. "Anything else loses sight of the unthinkable and unprecedented nature of what occurred."

"I would not expect them to say anything else, because they will never admit that they did anything wrong," says Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was wounded by Cho, and still has a 9mm bullet lodged in his leg. "This (report) is like an early Christmas present. It's just a long-awaited voice for the truth to be out there, because now it's there in black and white."

In the immediate aftermath of Cho's massacre and continuing up to today, university officials have defended the delay in warning the campus because of their initial belief that the first shooting at the dorm, which killed 19-year-old Emily Hilscher and 22-year-old resident assistant Ryan Clark, was an isolated incident, likely domestic in nature.

Virginia Tech Police investigators initially trained their sights on a "person of interest," later identified as Hilscher's boyfriend, a student at nearby Radford University who had dropped Hilscher off at the dorm earlier that morning.

Tech's Actions Still Being Scrutinized

In public statements on the day of the shooting, Tech administrators said that shortly after the first shootings at 7:15 a.m., the police had developed leads that indicated the "person of interest" had likely left the campus.

More than two hours passed before the University Policy Group, which had assembled to consider the university's response, issued its first e-mail alert to the campus, at 9:26 a.m., which reported a "shooting incident" at the dormitory, but made no mention of the homicide or the possibility that a gunman could still be loose on the campus. The alert vaguely urged the campus community "to be cautious."

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