Va. Tech Shooting Report Corrects Timeline

80-minute Delay In Notifying University Community About 2 Shootings Acknowledged

December 05, 2009|By Brigid Schulte | Brigid Schulte , The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - - A corrected report released Friday on the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech officially acknowledges for the first time what relatives of victims have been saying for more than a year - that school officials not only failed to notify the university community about two shootings for more than 80 minutes, but also locked down some buildings and notified their own family members while the rest of the university was kept in the dark.

The corrections by the panel Gov. Timothy Kaine appointed to investigate the massacre do not change the overall thrust and recommendations of the original Virginia Tech report, which was first issued months after the shootings and sought to change mental health policy and safety procedures. But the revisions do for the first time significantly alter the timeline of events the morning of April 16, 2007.

According to the new report, two university officials notified their own family members at 8:05 a.m. that there had been a double shooting in one of the dorms about 7:15 a.m. At 8:45 a.m., a university official notified a colleague in Richmond, Va., saying there was a "gunman on the loose" and added, "This is not releasable yet."

It was not until 9:24 that university officials finally sent an e-mail to campus staff, faculty and students warning them that there had been a shooting. Less than 15 minutes later, Seung-Hui Cho opened fire and killed 32 teachers and classmates and injured 17 others before taking his own life.

The original panel report criticized Virginia Tech officials for the two-hour delay in notifying the community, saying that the decision to wait "cost lives."

But it wasn't until victims' families met with university officials in the fall of 2008 and later received access to volumes of e-mails, reports and other university data related to the shootings that details of the sequence of events began to emerge. The release of documents was part of an $11 million settlement that all but two of the families signed with the university.

Outraged by indications that the delay in getting the word out was longer than initially reported, families clamored for Kaine to reconvene the investigative panel to correct the report and hold the university accountable. Although more than 60 members of victims' families pushed him to do so in a public letter, Kaine resisted reopening the probe.

Instead, he offered to collect corrections offered by family members and university officials. Arlington, Va.-based TriData Corp., the company contracted by the state to write the original report, analyzed about 500 pages of suggested corrections and wrote an addendum to the report.

The report was given to panel members Thursday and released to family members Thursday evening.

"What happened at Virginia Tech is by its very nature inexplicable, and we may never fully understand the tragic events that transpired that terrible day," Kaine said in a statement Friday. "However, the commonwealth has remained committed to providing as accurate a factual narrative as possible. "

But some victims' family members say the addendum, although it does correct some errors, especially in the timeline, creates others.

For instance, Mike Pohle, whose son died in the massacre, said the new, corrected timeline reports that university officials tried to send out the first warning at 8:50 but were unable to do so because of technical errors.

"That's just more spin and false statements to protect the university," said Pohle of Flemington, N.J. "When I read that, I was floored. If that were really the case, if the university really tried to warn people a half-hour before they finally did - think of all the interviews, the press releases, the testimony before the panel, the meetings with the families - don't you think it would have surfaced at some point before now? It's unbelievable."

Virginia Tech officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday morning.

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