May 21, 2007 — -- Thirty-five days after student Seung-Hui Cho went on a murderous shooting spree that left 33 people dead, including himself, the Virginia Tech Review Panel visited the crime scene and heard testimony about the deadly morning.
The Review Panel, an eight-member board appointed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, held Monday's public hearings on campus. University and police officials described in detail their account of the April 16 incident, along with all the known facts about Cho's disciplinary history.
The hearings included much discussion but no new information about Cho's history of psychiatric treatment. Citing privacy laws, university officials refused to tell the panel whether Cho received any counseling at an on-campus counseling center.
Virginia Tech Police brought Cho's case to state mental health authorities in December 2005 after a teacher and fellow students complained of his odd behavior in class. Cho's former lawyer told ABC News that a judge ordered the shooter to get outpatient care at Virginia Tech's Cook Counseling Center in December 2005. Without the university's confirmation, however, it remains unclear whether Cho ever showed up for his required treatment.
When members of the Review Panel asked University counsel Kay Heidbreder if Cho had received on-campus treatment or follow-up, she said she did not know. She added that the information was protected under state privacy laws, even after Cho's death.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger admitted that the university should have a better answer on the question of whether Cho underwent treatment.
"Just saying we don't know is not good enough. But we obviously need to follow the law," Steger told the panel.
Members of the panel expressed frustration at being denied information on Cho's treatment and follow-up.
"While we talk about the right of privacy for the shooter, there is also the right of … 50-some students," panel member Tom Ridge said, referring to the 57 victims who were killed or injured in the shootings.
Col. Gerard Massengill, who is heading the panel, said he would examine whether some privacy laws might be worth changing.
"We need to take a hard look at whether some of those [legal] barriers need to come down," Massengill said.
The hearings included testimony on the university's response to the massacre, in particular the decisions made to secure and communicate with students in the time between the two shootings. Cho killed two students at West Ambler Johnston dormitory, then went on to kill 30 people in the classrooms of Norris Hall, before turning his weapon on himself.
While university officials sent a series of e-mails the morning of the shootings, school administrators have been criticized for sending out the first of those alerts more than two hours after the initial shooting — after the second shooting was already under way.
"We made the best decision we could based upon the information we had at the time," Vice Provost David Frost said at the hearing.
Panel members spent the early morning at the scenes of the crimes, touring Norris Hall and West Ambler Johnston Hall.
Despite opposition from the press, the panel's early morning hearings were closed to the public because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
"There is certain information … that it is not appropriate to gather in public," Massengill said of the closed sessions.
Today was the second of four public hearings that will take place, and the only hearing scheduled in Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech is located. The panel's final report is expected in August.