Virginia Tech Negligence of 2007 School Shootings

Virginia Tech found negligent for delaying warnings in 2007 mass shooting

April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech, classes were in session, students and faculty were going about their daily routne, and all seemed like any other day on the beautiful campus. Some time around 7 a.m. within the halls of a dormatory, one female and one male were shot and killed, by the ex-boyfriend of the young lady. Both victims were found shot and clad only in their undergarments and sleepware. Following the shootings, it is unknown what his next steps included only that Campus Police were notified and in search of him from the descriptions of witnesses. Two and a half hours pass, Campus Police finally locate the boyfriend and are simply approaching him trying to take in a behavioral assessment along with surrounding areas. Meanwhile, Virgina Tech officials issue a specific warning that a "shooting incident" had occured and that a "gunman is loose on the campus" through emails to 37,000 at 9:50 a.m., and at no time indicate who they are looking for nor that anyone has been shot and killed. The boyfriend is simply stated as a "person of interest". As the boyfriend approached the Blacksburg Campus the Campus Police began questioning him. Then shots begin to ring out in Norris Hall.

Norris Hall, at 9:40 a.m. was flooded with students and faculty, and no one could have guessed what was just a breath away from changing their lives forever. Seung-Hui Cho, a student and the ex-boyfriend turned shooter, has now entered Norris Hall and has chained the doors shut. Cho opens fire on all within the building killing every student and facutly member behind those chained doors. He shot at least 47 people in 11 minutes, and Cho's final act was to shoot and kill himself. 

The mass shooting at Virginia Tech has been categorized as an unprecendented slaughtering in the history of highter education and one of the most horrible days in America. It has been labled as the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history. 

In March of 2012, within the boarder of Christiansburg, Virginia, a jury found Virginia Tech negligent for waiting to warn students about a gunman during the 2007 campus massacre that left 33 people dead. In total, Jurors deliberated for three and a half hours before siding with the parents of two students who were killed that April 16, 2007. Their wrongful death civil lawsuit argued that lives could have been spared if Virginia Tech officials had moved more swiftly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in the dorm. The State was the lone defendent in the case and argued that the University did all that it could, with the information available and when it was available, to continue keeping its students and faculty safe. President Charles W. Steger and other Virginia Tech officials have said that they initially believed the first two shootings were isolated instances of domestic violence, saying,  "We did everything we could do." 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 families were happy with this ruling and said they only wanted the truth to be revealed in this process, and were confident that, in the end, this had been accomplished. Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said after the verdict that the University 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 abailable on April 16, 2007." 

Some of the important facts argued in this civil case were:

  • accusations that administrators were trying to cover up their missteps by building official timelines suggesting a more aggressive approach to the first shootings over the later.
  • arguments on the timeline were to clarify that any missteps were made due to the fog of a horriffic tragedy
  • arguments were also made to the facts that there was a strong desire to keep panic down on the campus and allow the University to notify the victim's parents
  • the first two shootings were officially considered domestic violence
  • Prydes and the Petersons were the only eligible families who did not accept their share of a previous settlement with the State worth $11 million
  • the only way a cap on the jury award could be lifted would be action by the Attorney General or the State Legislature
  • both sides are submitting briefs for the court to consider
  • State panel that investigated the shootings concluded that officials erred in not sending an alert earlier
  • delay in issuing a campus warning also brought Virginia Tech a $55,000 fine from the U.S. Education Department
  • Virginia Tech was going to appeal

Now let's fast forward to October, 2013 where a unanimous decision from the Virginai Supreme Court Justices wrote that, "there was no duty for the commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts". Harry Pryde, whose daughter Julia was killed in her Advanced Hydrology class on the second floor of Norris Hall, said the families were "deeply saddened that the court was so dismissive of assigning responsibility and was so protective of the commonwealth. The lawsuit was about accountability, not money. We still take a good measure of satisfaction that the jury listened to all of the evidence and decided as it did. We don't feel at all that the Supreme Court can take that away from us." 

While expressing sympathy for the victims of the massacre, "the Virginia Supreme Court has found what we have said all along to be true: The commonwealth and its officials at Virginia Tech were not negligent on April 16, 2007," said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, in a written statement. "Cho was the lone person responsible for this tragedy." 

 

 

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