Could Many of the Deaths Have Been Averted?

April 16, 2007 — -- After this morning's tragedy at Virginia Tech, some students are questioning some of the school's actions, specifically, why the university's administration did not cancel classes after the first shooting and why it took more than two hours to inform students through e-mail about the shootings.

The unidentified gunman shot and killed two students at 7:15 a.m. at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory and took as long as two hours before killing at least 30 other students sometime after 9 a.m. at Norris Hall, an academic building across campus.

Because classes don't start until 8 a.m., some students believed that canceling classes could have helped avert further deaths by alerting students of the need to leave campus or to find a secure place.

At 10:04 a.m., students were told to stay indoors and away from windows. Classes were not canceled until 10:20.

"I do feel strongly that they should have canceled classes -- if you have a shooting on campus, you should cancel classes right away," Bradford Wiles, a 33-year-old graduate student at Virginia Tech, who was not on campus this morning, told "For two hours, they said the gunman had been subdued and let the campus believe that it was safe."

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Another student posted a message on under the username Greg Hair:

"They could have prevented most of this ... shooting at 7:30 in WAJ, classes don't start til 8, why couldn't they cancel classes for the day ... SOMEONE WAS SHOT AND IT TURNS OUT THEY DIED ... I THINK THAT'S GROUNDS TO CANCEL CLASS RATHER THAN SENDING OUT AN EMAIL THAT SAYS USE CAUTION AND REPORT ANYTHING TO POLICE. They could have saved almost 20 lives and 20 injuries if they just decided to cancel class right away."

In an e-mail to, Greg Hair added to his sentiments: "Apparently, they didn't think he was a 'suicidal maniac,' so they didn't feel the need to cancel classes."

At 9:26, more than two hours after the first incident, students received an e-mail informing them of the first shooting and urging them to take caution and contact campus police if they observed any suspicious activity.

That is when Alexandra Mengel, a 19-year-old freshman, first received the campus e-mail. She was getting ready for her 10:10 a.m. communications skills class at McBride Hall, right next door to Norris Hall. Leaving the building, she was quickly escorted by Blacksburg police officers to take cover with about 20 other students at West Ambler Johnston Hall.

"I have no idea why they didn't cancel classes," said Mengel. "If I had known of the urgency, I would have been more cautious. You would think that when a killer is on the loose, that there would have been more warning."

Some students who received the e-mails didn't realize the gravity of the situation.

"I got the e-mails, but my impression was it was [a] prank or nothing serious, hadn't heard anyone was apprehended or actual bombs were found," said Josh Wargo, an engineering student at the school.

Radio Manager: The Only Reason We Knew -- 'Someone Got a Text Message'

Another student, Michelle Billman, general manager of the campus radio station WUVT, complained that she and some of her classmates weren't informed about the shootings until 9:50 a.m.

"The only reason we knew was because someone got a text message. … No one was there saying, "This is what's going on," says Billman.

"Communication from college? I checked my e-mail about 8:30. … I went to my class as I usually would. By 8:30 no one was notified that something had happened at 7. We went onto a dangerous campus not knowing."

According to Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech, the administration locked down Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory after the first shooting. But classes weren't canceled because it was believed to be a domestic dispute and campus police thought that the shooter had left the campus.