Virginia Tech Criticized in Report

A panel says Va. Tech didn't act on signs of the shooter's mental health issues.

ByABC News via via logo
January 8, 2009, 1:41 AM

Aug. 30, 2007 — -- A state panel's report out late Wednesday night on the Virginia Tech massacre concluded that had university officials warned students earlier about the shooting rampage, some of the carnage might have been prevented.

With memories of the 32 murders on that campus still fresh in people's minds, the report came down hardest on Virginia Tech's administration and was released just a week after the university's own report found only minor problems.

"The report contains an awful lot of information that demonstrates ... that signs and warnings were missed," said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who commissioned the eight-member panel, today on "Good Morning America." "They [the panel] have made a series of recommendations that will be helpful to Virginia Tech and campuses all over Virginia and all over the nation."

The university did not immediately issue a campus warning after Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed the first two students in a dorm on the morning of April 16.

Dr. Charles Steger, the president of Virginia Tech, explained that decision, saying, "We had some reason to think the shooter had left the campus."

Cho moved on to classrooms and killed 30 more students.

Kaine said that after the university learned of the first shootings, a committee was convened and a statement to campus approved, which took about two hours.

"The police chief on campus did not have the ability to put out a notice on his own, without convening the committee under university policy," Kaine said.

The panel also said that Cho was an angry and disturbed student who had shown "clear warnings of mental instability," but the "university did not intervene effectively."

Cho's middle and high schools in Fairfax Country, Va., were praised for identifying his problems and working with him.

"The high school system he went to intervened in his life significantly... and helped him to be a successful student," Kaine said. "They had grave doubts he should go away to college. …But none of that information was passed on to the university."

Kaine believes that had records about Cho's mental health problems in middle school and high school -- included his reported fascination with the Columbine shootings -- would have helped the university intervene with him earlier.

The report, however, chides Virginia Tech officials for failing to share information -- "no one connected all the dots," the report stated.

University officials have cited privacy laws as the reason they did not exchange information on Cho's mental health history or contact his parents about problems he was having on campus.

But the panel said the university misunderstood federal privacy laws, and said there is "ample leeway to share information."

The panel found that "that incorrect interpretation of the law, a lack of resources and a passive approach toward Cho led to a failure of the mental health system at Virginia Tech."

The report, compiled from four months of hearings and interviews by the panel with nearly 200 people, concluded that nothing can explain why Cho struck when and where he did.

Some family members of students killed that day have asked why no specific Virginia Tech officials have been held accountable. Kaine said the point of the report was not to fix blame but to fix problems.

"There have already been deep, lasting and severe consequences on the Virginia Tech campus among all involved," Kaine said. "But I think it is important to note that not a single one of recommendations in this report are going to be fixed by a personnel decision about person A or person B."

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