Report: Virginia Tech broke federal law

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Those close to the Virginia Tech shooting rampage said they're not surprised by a new report that says the school broke the law on that April day.  Virginia Tech released the federal report and its own response to it, Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Education said Virginia Tech violated the federal statute requiring a timely warning to campus.  Tech maintains officials used their best judgment, and that's all that was legally required at the time.

More than three years later, the events of April 16th, 2007 are still stirring debate.

When Seung Hui Cho opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing 32 people and then himself, the university's response was governed by the federal Clery Act.  At the time, the wording required a "timely warning" to campus when crimes or threats are reported.

Col. Gerald Massengill chaired the Virginia Tech Review Panel.

"The shooting started at Amber Johnson at about 7:15 in the morning," explained Massengill.  "The students and the campus community was not notified until two hours later.  It was not timely.  It was not prompt.  It should have been done sooner."

In its response to the Department of Education's preliminary report, Tech said that standard allowed officials to use their "best judgment" after consulting law enforcement.  It maintained that's exactly what happened.

The question is, "What does best judgment actually require?"  Lori Haas, whose daughter was injured in Norris Hall, isn't surprised by the federal report.

"All of Virginia Tech's actions on the morning of April 16th would indicate, even the most simple minded person to conclude that in fact there's an emergency on campus," she said.

Massengill agreed the statute was subjective.  Since then the law has been updated to require immediate notification for certain crimes.

"Now would it have saved lives? That's still up for speculation," he said.

Our education specialist, Dr. Bill Bosher, said from here DOE has to decide if it will take any additional action, including what, if any, penalties it will place on the university.

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