CHRISTIANSBURG, VA (WWBT) – The governor, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and area police knew a gunman was on the loose and students were dead- at least an hour before the campus was notified. That testimony was revealed late Wednesday in the Tech civil trial underway in Christiansburg.
Lawyers for the families of two slain students who refused to accept a settlement from the state hammered police and VT officials in court today for the long delay in warning students five year ago that a gunman was on the loose.
Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson both died in Norris Hall. Their families are trying to hold the state accountable for their deaths.
We learned Wednesday- long before students were warned about a shooting on the campus - that VT's president and his crisis team were locked inside Burruss Hall- trying to warn the VT Board of Visitors and even the governor of a shooting in the West AJ dorm.
"I don't remember exactly what I told her but I probably told her a student was dead and another was wounded and that we needed to get this information to the governor's office," said VT Vice President Ralph Byers.
The notice to students wasn't sent until 9:26- Sueng Hui Cho opened fire in Norris Hall some 10 minutes later.
Lawyers for the families also went after Virginia Tech Police Wednesday- for not issuing a "be on the lookout" after the first two shootings at the dorm.
"Your opinion, that led you to conclude, as an experienced detective that there was no need to give any warnings out to anyone regarding a shooter being on the loose," the plaintiff's Attorney Michael Kernbach questioned Former VT Detective Stephanie Gallemore. She replied, "It was not my decision on what came out to the university. I gave the information that I had to the chief and he made a determination."
Gallemore says at the time she believed the shooting in the dorm room was domestic.
"It was my opinion that he fled the scene, fled the area," Gallemore said.
Lawyers for the state are trying to show that police made a logical conclusion at the time- one detective even testified that homicide investigations always start with a look at friends and family- not strangers.
This is a civil trial- so there's no reasonable doubt standard here. It's all on the plaintiffs to prove a "preponderance of evidence" that Virginia Tech botched its response to the shootings. The trial is expected to last through at least the end of the week.