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Panel Tours Virginia Tech Buildings, Seeks Records on Cho

BY Admin  May 22, 2007 at 12:50 PM EST

Investigative panel gathers outside Norris Hall.

The group toured West Ambler Johnston Hall, the dormitory where the first two students were killed, and classrooms in Norris Hall, where Cho killed 25 more students and five faculty members before committing suicide.

Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum, who led the initial response to the shootings, also briefed the panel on Monday.

Police said Cho, who fired 174 shots from two handguns in Norris Hall during a span of nine minutes, had 203 live rounds on him when officers found his body at 9:51 a.m. that day.

When asked of Cho’s shooting method, State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty said, “I would describe it as very deliberate. There seemed to be nothing panicky at all.”

Cho also reportedly had two knives and a claw hammer in his backpack.

Flaherty said the police investigation found no connection between Cho and any of his victims, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Panel member Tom Ridge, former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the group was seeking access to Cho’s mental health and other records. According to a Virginia Tech attorney, privacy laws prohibit their release, reported the Associated Press.

But Flaherty said Cho’s family, which has access to the records, has been cooperative so far.

Also during the briefing, panel Chairman and former state police Superintendent W. Gerald Massengill asked Virginia Tech President Charles Steger whether he thought the initial e-mail sent to students the morning of the shootings should have been more specific.

The mass e-mail sent at 9:26 a.m., more than two hours after the first shooting, said police were investigating a shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall and warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.

Massengill asked whether the e-mail should have said, “We’ve had a shooting and the shooter has not been apprehended.”

“The most prevalent question I get is that question,” Steger said, according to the AP.

Steger said university officials were concerned about causing a panic on campus. He added that police initially thought the shooting stemmed from a domestic dispute, and officers were already questioning a person of interest.

Massengill, who oversaw the Virginia State Police’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington area sniper attacks, said as he left Norris Hall, “I’m not sure there are words to describe what we’ve seen and heard this morning. … This is almost indescribable,” reported the Virginian-Pilot.

The eight-member panel, created by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, is tasked with gathering information about the gunman, tracking how events transpired, and studying state and other agencies’ responses.

More meetings are scheduled for next month. Kaine has asked the group to finish its review before classes resume in August.

The university expects to complete its own evaluation of safety and communications procedures by August, the AP reported.