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Monday, March 19, 2012

Va Tech was NEGLIGENT for mass murder on its campus?


But it's not what you think...

There is little a school can do to prevent a mass murderer from coming to its campus and killing people at will.

But when a gunman kills people, then stops and goes back to his dorm room, and the university does not tell anyone about it!!!, that is negligence (failing to do something legally required of you).

Here is the story:

A jury found Virginia Tech negligent on Wednesday for waiting to warn students about a gunman during a 2007 campus massacre that left 33 dead.

Jurors deliberated for 3 ½ hours before siding with the parents of two students who were killed on April 16, 2007, in the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Their wrongful death civil lawsuit argued that lives could have been spared if school officials had moved more quickly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in a dorm. The massacre ended later in the morning with the deaths 31 more people, including the gunman, at a classroom building.

There it is, the key fact. The university did not warn people as it was required to do.

The state was the lone defendant in the case and argued that the university did all that it could with the information available at the time. President Charles W. Steger and other university officials have said they initially believed the first two shootings were isolated instances of domestic violence.

So perhaps this is why my university App State alerted people of a gunman on campus after a student supposedly walked in on a man stealing his TV (the whole thing was a hoax, making the lockdown look silly).

Here is the rest of the story:

The jury awarded $4 million each to the families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, but the state immediately filed a motion to reduce the award. State law requires the award to be capped at $100,000.

"The university's contention has been all along, to quote president Steger 'We did everything we could do,'" said Robert T. Hall, an attorney for the parents. "Obviously the jury didn't buy that."

The verdict was met immediately by sobs from Peterson's mother, Celeste, while the Prydes didn't show much emotion.

"Today we got what we wanted," Celeste Peterson said afterward. "The truth is out there, and that's all we ever wanted. We came here for the truth."

Circuit Judge William Alexander said it was the hardest case he had been a part of.

"My heart goes out to all of you," he said to the families of victims.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said after the verdict that the school would review the case with the attorney general before deciding on any further options.

"We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007," a statement from Owczarski said.

One of the state's attorneys, Peter R. Messitt, said before the verdict that Tech officials could not be expected to anticipate the killing spree, calling the slaughter unprecedented "in the history of higher education" and "one of the most horrible days in America."

"What happened at Norris Hall was not reasonably foreseeable," he told jurors during closing arguments.

During the trial, the attorneys for the Prydes and Petersons portrayed campus police as leaping to the conclusion that the first two victims were shot by a jealous boyfriend, and that the gunman was not a threat to others.

They presented evidence that campus leaders, including Steger, heeded the police conclusion without question, then waited 2 1/2 hours before sending a campus-wide warning that a "shooting incident" had occurred. It did not say a gunman was still at large.

Police were pursuing the boyfriend of one of the dorm shooting victims as a "person of interest" at the expense of a campus-wide alert, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.

Police stopped the boyfriend as he approached the Blacksburg campus and were questioning him as shots rang out at Norris Hall, where student Seung-Hui Cho chained shut the doors to the building and killed the students and faculty. He then killed himself.

Tech officials issued a specific warning that a "gunman is loose on campus" through emails to 37,000 at 9:50 a.m., nearly 10 minutes after Cho began the Norris slaughter.

The parents' attorneys also accused Steger and other administrators of trying to cover up their missteps by building official timelines that suggested they reacted more aggressively to the first shootings. Tech administrators said mistakes in the timelines were made in the fog of a horrific tragedy.

The state presented witnesses, including experts in campus security, who said Tech police and administrators acted properly when they concluded the dorm shootings were domestic. The shootings occurred in an isolated area of the dorm, and the victims were a man and a woman clad in their undergarments and sleepwear.

Steger testified that he delayed sending a specific warning to avoid a panic and to allow the university to notify the victims' parents. He said the advice to delay a specific warning came from a member of his Policy Group who has since died.

The Prydes and the Petersons were the only eligible families who didn't accept their share of a previous settlement with the state worth $11 million.

Hall said that the only way a cap on Wednesday's jury award could be lifted would be action by the attorney general or the state Legislature. Still, both sides are submitting briefs for the court to consider.

A state panel that investigated the shootings concluded that officials erred in not sending an alert earlier. The lag in issuing a campus warning also brought Virginia Tech a $55,000 fine from the U.S. Education Department. The school is appealing.

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard this part of the story regarding the VT massacre. I, personally, agree with the parents of the murdered students, that the school should have sent out a warning sooner to the student body. This article focuses on the time between the first shooting and when the students were notified. This connects to what we talked about in class the other day about the AppState alert system. We must assume that if there was a shooting or a gun seen on campus, the AppState alert siren would go off immediately, or at least we hope this is what would happen. However, the kids at VT were not notified until the killings at Norris Hall had already started. This is not an effective university security system, obviously. However, it is important to listen to the other side of the story and determine if it is true that the school officials thought the first two killings were unrelated domestic incidents. I can see how this would be difficult to determine, however, the security system there should be more similar to ours where ANY shootings trigger the alert system.
    We should be thankful that our alert system is supposed to work the way it does, and a false alarm here and there may be the price we have to pay to protect us when the real thing occurs. If the students at VT had been able to hear the campuswide alert siren immediately after the first shootings, maybe the 31 students at Norris Hall could have survived. While, obviously, we cannot change the past, hopefully the VT security system will be improved and be able to act quicker when an incident occurs.