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Report Faults University for Response to Cho, Shootings

An investigation into the Virginia Tech shootings criticized the university for failing to respond to the behavior of Seung-Hui Cho and for communication problems. Panel member Tom Ridge discusses the findings.

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    The murder rampage on the cool spring morning of April 16th echoed anew today as the commonwealth of Virginia released its official report on the Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 students and faculty dead.

    GOV. TIM KAINE (D), Virginia: It is comprehensive and thorough. It is objective and, in many instances, hard-hitting. And it is fair.


    The eight-member commission convened by Governor Tim Kaine assessed the actions taken and not taken by Virginia Tech's administration and police. The report faulted the school for not following through on significant warning signs of mental illness, both in demeanor and behavior, displayed by the killer, Seung-Hui Cho. It said the university did not react swiftly enough to the two initial shootings that morning.

    The report furnished a detailed profile of the mentally unstable 23-year-old. Cho's motives for the shootings remain a mystery. Cho did have a history of severe emotional problems, which manifested themselves in disturbing writings both in high school and college. He also had an apparent fascination with the murders at Columbine High School outside Denver almost eight years to the day before the Virginia Tech killings.

    The panel said Cho received treatment for emotional disabilities in middle and high school and responded well, but key information about his mental instability was never relayed to the university. In college, he threatened suicide and, at one point, was ordered by a court to get further treatment, but never followed through. And information about his illness was not shared among university officials because of an apparent misunderstanding of federal laws governing privacy of medical information.


    Unfortunately, none of that information about his fixation on Columbine, about his mental health history, about the fact that he could succeed if he had targeted intervention ever got to Virginia Tech. And I think that was a huge missed opportunity.


    The panel also examined the gun laws that allowed Cho to purchase two semi-automatic pistols. He had been judged mentally ill by a Virginia court, which should have prevented those sales. The panel criticized Virginia Tech unsparingly in places, especially on the lack of communication among the various university counseling and judicial branches that examined Cho.

    The report also focused on the slow reaction to the first two murders in a dormitory which preceded by a full two hours the killings in Norris Hall. Cho committed suicide after killing 30 students and faculty in the academic building; 27 others were wounded.


    In the immediate aftermath of the first shooting at the dormitory, the Broadtack and Blacksburg community should have been notified of the fact that there was a fatal shooting. In many instances, a process that would lead to a notice in two hours would have been fine. This was not such an instance; this was an emergency.


    This afternoon, the administration at Virginia Tech responded to the commonwealth's commission. The university released its own findings last week, which did not evaluate its own actions. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger defended his administration's work.

  • CHARLES STEGER, Virginia Tech President:

    I would not be honest if I didn't say that it's painful to hear blunt and, in some cases, critical findings. But nobody can say for certain what would have happened if different decisions were made. However, to say that something could have been prevented is certainly not to say that it would have been. Moreover, it's entirely possible that this tragedy, horrific as it is, could have been worse. Yet we believe the panel's recommendations are sound.


    Steger did say that changes would be made based on Virginia Tech's own inquiry and the Kaine panel's report. Many parents and relatives of the dead at Virginia Tech have called for Steger's removal. The Kaine commission did not recommend such a course of action.