Saturday, December 20, 2008


As more and more details come to light concerning the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, the clearer it becomes that university President Steger failed miserably in his leadership responsibilities. If Governor Kaine will not take the lead in removing Steger, then Steger himself should do the honorable thing and resign or retire.

The sad truth is that President Steger fiddled for more than two hours after the initial shooting. He failed in his responsibilities to alert the campus—this lack of action played a role in the deaths of 30 students and professors at Norris Hall. There is no way to sugar-coat the harsh reality of Steger’s inaction. The university president must take some degree of responsibility for his failure to show leadership. His failure to act—to alert the campus, to close the campus down—doomed 30 people.

While Steger procrastinated, Cho prepared for his bloodbath at Norris Hall. While Steger waffled, others showed leadership—the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine locked-down. While Steger vacillated, others recognized the seriousness of the threat—the school’s Continuing Professional Education Center shut and locked its doors. While Steger fretted over what to do, others took the initiative—members of the University’s Policy Group were warning their family members about the shooting.

Unfortunately, President Steger showed himself to be woefully lacking in leadership skills on April 16, 2007—a man either unwilling or unable to make a fairly straight-forward—obvious—decision when confronted with two brutal murders. President Steger may be a good fundraiser, but his indecisiveness, poor judgment, and lack of backbone on that fateful day clearly demonstrate why he should not be in a position of authority; why he should not be the President of Virginia Tech University.

Charles W. Steger, do not compound your sins of inaction by continuing in office, do the honorable thing and leave. Your departure will not bring anyone back, but at least it will be a step forward in helping the families of the victims move ahead with their lives.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The unfolding saga of mistakes, contradictions, and the intentional withholding of vital information, means that the report Governor Kaine’s blue-ribbon committee produced on the Virginia Tech tragedy is essentially not worth the paper it is written on. If review panels charged with investigating school shootings are to have any impact, they must have all the facts; they must be brutally honest in their analysis and recommendations; and they must hold individuals accountable for their actions and inactions.
It is imperative that the objectivity and the makeup of these panels be above reproach. From the outset, Governor Kaine’s panel suffered from at least three serious flaws:
--First, some members of the panel lacked objectivity. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge publicly stated before the panel even met that the shootings probably could not have been prevented. If that is not a bias I don’t know what is. He should have said that he did not know if the shootings could have been prevented, that only a thorough analysis of the events before and during the tragedy could determine what should have been done to prevent the shootings.
--Second, vital documents were with held from the panel. The Virginia State Police and the ATF refused to give the panel documents related to Seung-Hui Cho’s purchase of firearms. This is both disgraceful and despicable. This pattern of withholding key documents in school shootings is not new in Virginia. Following the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia on January 16, 2002, the state police rejected requests from the dead student’s family to turn over documents related to threats the dead student had received prior to the shooting.
Third, the victims’ families were not represented by one of their own or someone of their choosing. Instead they were “represented” by the governor’s candidate—this is a conflict of interest.
The deficiencies and discrepancies in Governor Kaine’s report just continue to grow. The following are just a few of the inconsistencies that need to be cleared up:
A. The police identified the boyfriend of the first victim as a “person of interest” 45 minutes later than originally reported. What was Virginia Tech President Steger doing during that time? He told victims’ families that he found out the police were pursuing the boyfriend at 8:40am—a full half hour after the panel report claims Steger receive this information. If the timeline is so badly flawed on this point, how can we believe any of it?
B. Two members of the University Policy Group felt the initial shootings were serious enough to warn their children, but not serious enough to warn the student body. I have to wonder, how can these people live with themselves?
C. The contradiction over whether members of the Policy Group discussed whether or not to close the campus needs to be cleared up.
D. There is an unsavory suggestion that needs to be investigated—the suggestion that the University “wanted” the first two shootings to be a “domestic dispute” because that would be easy to explain and would not distract from their preparations for the largest on-campus fund raiser in the school’s history. The question has to be asked, did the school want to suppress the incident in hopes that it would not undercut the fund-raising initiative? It is important that the events and actions between the two shootings are nailed down, otherwise there is a nasty specter of self-serving greed on the part of university officials.
No matter how much time or how much money it takes, the state of Virginia must leave no stone unturned to get at the bottom of the events of April 16, 2007. AND, state officials must have the backbone to hold individuals—both school officials and members of the police forces—accountable. Until people are held accountable, no progress can be made in stopping the shooting tragedies on our school grounds.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


The Archangel Group, Ltd. is a private consulting group “providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels in the fields of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, the group took the initiative to investigate the Blacksburg tragedy. No government agency requested or paid for the group’s research. Their findings were published on September 5, 2008, in a report entitled: “AFTER ACTION REVIEW: An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response to the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday 16 April 2007.”

This is the third of several articles the author plans on doing related to the Archangel Group’s report on Virginia Tech. This article takes a critical look at the report itself. To sit by and say nothing when faced with Archangel’s biases, self-serving analysis, and intellectual dishonesty, would be unconscionable.


The Archangel Group’s After Action Review of the Virginia Tech tragedy is, sadly, a blatant attempt to sell the services of that organization. Nowhere is this more evident than in the self-serving parameters of the analysis in order to vindicate the police forces’ actions and responsibilities to the tragedy.

I am not going to go into the individual members that make-up Archangel Group; I did that in Part II. But I would like to call the reader’s attention—again—to the fact that two of the seven-member Archangel Group are attorneys. And that at least one of those attorneys was a primary drafter of the report.

I have trained a large number of attorneys in problem analysis and analytical writing over the last twenty years; I have done so at the FBI and CIA. As a group of well-educated individuals, the characteristic that stands out most about them is the fact that their analysis is one dimensional—win at all costs. They are not being dishonest—it is just that their job is to win cases for their clients.

This characteristic of the legal profession—the desire and drive to win—may be good for courtroom argumentation, but it does not transfer over well to other types of analysis because contradictory evidence is frequently shunted aside in hopes of winning the argument and ultimately the case. This type of selectivity can and is a problem. In addition, of all the categories of students I have had in my twenty years of teaching, attorneys (as a group) are the most likely to manipulate words—even to the point of intentionally obscuring the facts. I saw these characteristics in the Archangel report.

The most alarming omission is the fact that the Archangel authors do not tell the reader that the Virginia State Police and the ATF declined to turn over to Governor Kaine’s special panel the reports and documents dealing with Seung Hue Cho’s application to buy weapons. In other words, they refused to cooperate. On page 8, the Archangel report says, “It was the belief of the Archangel Investigating Team … that no conclusion would be of value to U.S. law enforcement, first responders and schools if complete factual accuracy could not be assured.” I agree! Then why didn’t Archangel’s investigating team try to find out why pertinent documents were withheld by the police? This is incredible! How can either the Archangel Group or the Governor’s panel analyze the shooting without key documents?

Another example of disturbing omission is the fact that the Archangel report also never looks at or examines the concept of premises liability. To establish premise liability, the defendant—Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Police Department—must have first hand knowledge of the individual’s propensity for violence. I am not sure what more first-hand knowledge you need that the fact that an English professor was so concerned for her safety that she told the head of the English Department that unless Cho was removed from her class she would resign.

Examples of Archangel’s selecting facts and evidence can be found in section IX. FEDERAL LEGAL STANDARDS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT IN THE U.S. IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS. Nowhere does the report deal with premises liability and the concept of “foreseeable” threats. Nowhere does the report examine the responsibilities of those in positions to react to those “foreseeable” threats; to act and to take preventive measures.

In Virginia, the law is not written to protect public institutions and organizations (such as schools and universities) from legal action, but the law is consistently interpreted that way. First, the Virginia Supreme Court seems to adhere to a strict interpretation of “sovereign immunity.” Sovereign immunity has been borrowed from English common law and simply means the sovereign cannot be sued for any wrongdoing—no matter how egregious. This principle of immunity is extended to all state organizations no matter how incompetent and bungling the management of those organizations may be.

Second, the Virginia Supreme Court blindly adheres to the concept that no institution or person can be held responsible for someone else’s actions. Other state Supreme Courts, such as New York, do hold individuals and institutions responsible for another’s actions when there are unmistakable and foreseeable signs of violence.

The law in Virginia states that “before any duty can arise with regard to the conduct of third persons (Cho), there must be a special relationship between the defendant (Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Police Department) and either the plaintiff (the dead students and faculty members) or the third person (Cho).”

The fact is that Virginia Tech, by accepting the tuition money from the dead students, established a special—monetary—relationship. In many, many aspects of law, the exchange of money establishes the special bond. The fact that Virginia Tech accepted tuition money, established a fiduciary relationship—a relationship of trust.

The school and the Virginia Tech Police Department entered into a “special relationship” that included the safety of those students buying the school’s services. The Virginia Tech Police Department (an integral part of the university and therefore an adherent to this “special relationship”) violated that special arrangement in the period immediately after the first shooting by not recommending a campus-wide alert. The Blacksburg Police Department and the Virginia State Police, confronted with the initial crime scene, were accessories both before and after the fact in the deaths of the 30 students and faculty members in Norris Hall because of their failure to urge a campus-wide alert. The Archangel Report never bothers to thoroughly analyze and investigate the actions of the police departments in the critical time frame following the first two murders.

On page 77, the Archangel Report asserts that “The final point to consider is just what an earlier message (warning or campus-wide alert) would have said that could possibly have made a difference.” Then the authors summarily dismiss “non-tactical professionals, including those of political and academic orientations, parents and news media, who seem to believe that there exists one-size-fits-all tactic that can be employed that will serve as a panacea in any and all threatening situations in schools. This is not only unrealistic, but naïve. The remedy appears to garner the greatest support for harboring the illusion that if one particular step (a lockdown) had been taken (or is taken in the future) everyone will be safe …” Not only is the report out-and-out wrong in its assumption that “non-tactical” specialists are naïve, but it is arrogant. Rarely have I seen such a condescending attitude in dismissing opposing views in a so-called independent study. Incredible, truly incredible!

In fact, the only ones I know saying that “one size fits all” in campus security are the people at Archangel. Every security specialist I have talked to characterizes a lockdown as an important part of a broader security policy—not a single solution. The fact is that the State University system in New York is implementing an impressive lockdown system on all campuses as an integral part of an impressive security program, dramatically flies in the face of the Archangel assertion. Where on earth did you get your information Archangel Group?

On page 78, the report speculates that, “If locked down inside any building, it would have made it all the easier for Cho to trap his quarry.” In fact the exact opposite is true, if a lockdown had been instituted after the first two shootings, Cho would not have been able to get into Norris Hall. If Virginia Tech had instituted a lockdown immediately after the first two shootings, thirty innocent people might be alive today!

The report, on page 81, states that “In the real world the officers have to follow established procedures, rely on experience, follow their instincts, and use common sense.” Virginia Tech had an established procedure for a campus-wide alert in the event of an emergency and violated that procedure. Look at the facts: on April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two people at West Ambler-Johnston Hall on campus. Nearly two and one-half hours later he entered Norris Hall on campus and shot and killed 30 students and professors.

Virginia Tech University officials, the Virginia Tech Police Department, the Blacksburg Police Department, and the Virginia State Police:

--Did not rely on established procedures. The Virginia Tech Police (and the
university’s senior administrators—acting as the emergency Policy Group)
erred in not issuing an alert that two people had been killed on campus.
Neither the Virginia Tech Police nor senior school officials followed their own
security procedures. For example, on August 21, 2006, Virginia Tech did close
the school and send all students home because of a manhunt for William
Morva, accused of killing a police officer and security guard.

--Did not rely on their experience from the year before, much less the
experience of law enforcement investigations from other serious crime scenes.
The Archangel report, on page 61, says that the Virginia Tech police requested
twenty-eight officers to help in the investigation of the first shootings. In
other words the campus police thought the first shooting was serious enough
to request the help of more than half of the Blacksburg Police Department,
but not serious enough to issue a campus-wide alert.

--Did not follow the instincts that all officers should have in erring on the side of
caution when a murderer is on the loose—you don’t automatically assume you
have the killer based on suspicion and no real evidence. For example, the
police made a serious error in focusing solely on Karl Thornhill, Miss
Hilscher’s boyfriend as the prime suspect based on such statements as,
“Thornhill frequented a shooting range, and had taken both (Miss Hilscher)
and her roommate to the range with him.” If going to a firing range is cause
for making one person the sole suspect, half the men in Virginia would be
prime suspects every time a crime is committed in their neighborhoods. To
single in on one person as the suspect with such flimsy evidence is just
plain poor investigative procedure.

--Did not Use common sense!

The report goes on for twenty-one pages (pages 84-104) citing court rulings that support the report’s thesis that the police forces should not be held accountable for their actions. On page 93, the reader is told: “Although the deliberate indifference standard is very difficult for a plaintiff to meet, there have been instances where municipalities have been liable for failing to train or for inadequately training its officers. BUT, it is up to the reader to go to the footnote and look up the ruling for himself or herself!! How many reading this article have access to a law library and can look up those instances?

Parts of the Archangel Report’s conclusions are both incredible and distasteful. The second paragraph of the conclusion (page 121) is nothing but pure sensationalism—bordering on scare tactics. All of a sudden the reader is confronted with the specter of al Qaeda. The al Qaeda reference would make some sense if the Archangel Report had, in stating the purpose of the report on page 7, said that it would draw some sort of conclusions about how terrorist groups studying and learning from the Virginia Tech tragedy.

The Archangel Group states: “The goal of the Report is to offer relevant facts, findings and conclusions, concerning the tactical response of law enforcement and first responders to the shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007, and to offer recommendations for future preparedness and tactical response capability to all relevant agencies. Archangel Group, and the Archangel Team that conducted this investigation and assessment, hopes that this report can aid in planning for, and responding to future incidents like the tragedy at Virginia Tech.”

The stated goals of Archangel Group are highly commendable. Unfortunately, the report does not deliver on those goals. I would remind the reader that Archangel Group also states on page 7: “This Report has been prepared for distribution to U.S. law enforcement, security and first responder agencies, and is being made available at no cost to any such agency.” Again a very noble purpose, but clearly the unsaid, underlying purpose of the report is to drum-up business for Archangel. Archangel Group wants to sell its services, if their purpose was purely altruistic then they would offer all of their expertise and service to police forces at no cost.

Virginia Tech’s decision to reach a legal and financial settlement with the dead students’ families is a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. The cash-strapped state of Virginia did not agree to an $11 million dollar settlement because it had the cash lying around and decided out of goodness to give the families some sort of compensation. The state decided to settle because the overwhelming evidence and the magnitude of inept handling of the shooting, was too great to ignore.

The dollar amount that Virginia decided to pay is approximately $100,000.00 per student. The amount of the compensation that each family will receive is both an insult and a disgrace. How many of those reading this article would value their son’s or daughter’s life at $100,000.00?

Having to deal with the loss of a child school shootings or any senseless crime is horrific. What the families need more than anything else is honesty, truth, and integrity as they attempt to heal. Unfortunately, those two qualities are rarely found. Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are people an organization that will use the sufferings of others to enrich themselves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


The Archangel Group, Ltd. is a private consulting group “providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels in the fields of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, the group took the initiative to investigate the Blacksburg tragedy. No government agency requested or paid for the group’s research. Their findings were published on September 5, 2008, in a report entitled: “AFTER ACTION REVIEW: An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response to the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday 16 April 2007.”

This is the second of several articles the author plans on doing related to the Archangel Group’s report on Virginia Tech. This article takes a critical look at the credentials of the members of the Archangel Group who took the lead in writing their report of the shootings. To sit by and say nothing when faced with Archangel’s biases, self-serving analysis, and intellectual dishonesty, would be unconscionable.


I was deeply disappointed when I read the Archangel Group’s report on the Virginia Tech shooting. The report is clearly fashioned in the form of a legal argument designed to make a point or win a case—not designed to get at the objective truth. The most positive thing I can say is that the approach taken by the report is intellectually shaky.

The report is entitled, AFTER ACTION REVIEW--An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response To the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday, 16 April 2007, and is dated 5 September 2008.

I have forty-one years of experience as an intelligence analyst, inspector for the CIA’s Inspector General, and an instructor for intelligence analysis for all levels of the federal government (CIA, FBI, DIA, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center), the state police intelligence units, and for numerous foreign governments including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian intelligence. If the Archangel Group had submitted their report to me in one of my classes, I would have given them a failing grade.

I was so thunder-struck by the poor quality of the report that I went back and took a closer look at the credentials and membership of the Archangel Group.

Do their backgrounds give them the skills necessary to a thorough analysis of a problem? Have they been trained in an academic field that emphasizes objectivity—or does their training emphasize argumentation and winning at all costs, no matter what the truth is? That closer look helped explain a great deal.

In the case of the Archangel Group, the answer to the above left me deeply worried. I have spent twenty years of my professional life trying to wean educated people from their biases and prejudice, both of which interfere with objectivity. Pages five, six and seven of the report lists the individuals who, “From the start of the investigation . . . were integrally involved in the effort (the investigation and writing the report) at different times.”

Almost all have police force experience—or as attorneys have defended or been consultants in law enforcement liability cases. I see a clear conflict of interest here. If the Archangel Group were to find the Virginia Tech Police or the Virginia State Police culpable in the Tech shootings, I doubt if any police force or law enforcement official would ever hire them.

Two of the individuals’ credentials appear to fall in the tactical area—one is the oversight commander for a SWAT team in Pennsylvania and a major in a police department; the other is the director of training for the Archangel Group. He too has experience in training SWAT teams as well as Armed Forces Special Units. Both have outstanding resumes if you are looking for tactical training in dealing with a shooter or shooters on a college or university campus. In terms of qualifications for drafting this particular Archangel Report, I found their credentials wanting.

A third member of the team is simply described as “an experienced law enforcement veteran.” I have no idea what that means or how that “experience” qualifies him to play a role in an analysis of the Virginia Tech shootings.

A fourth member is described as a “former navy corpsman and currently working for the Department of Homeland Security.” Here again, I am left scratching my head. What did the gentleman do in the navy and what does he do for Homeland Security. I teach classes for the Department of Homeland Security and many of my students from that agency would not be qualified to participate in the analysis and writing of this report.
Over the last two years I have had approximately 150 Homeland Security Intelligence Officers in my classes—the vast majority with experience in military intelligence, police work, and the legal profession. I reported to senior Homeland Security management that over 45 percent of their officers were substandard in the use of English—and as a result their analysis was seriously flawed. The readers of the Archangel Report need to know more if they are to make judgments about the report’s accuracy.

The team also consisted of a former Marine sniper; a man billed as having 18 years experience in law enforcement. Again, I have had Marine snipers in my class and I am not sure I would want them to play a role in an “objective” analysis of the Virginia Tech crime scene. Once again, the Archangel Group lets the reader down. Perhaps the former Marine is eminently qualified, but the biographical paragraph does not indicate that.

Finally, there are two licensed attorneys. One has defended police officers in liability litigation and the other is a senior consultant to Archangel Group. Both men clearly are paid for their services. If their livelihood depends on selling those services, I would again ask—is there a conflict of interests? I think any court in the country would say there is. I have taught a large number of licensed attorneys in analytical skills over the last twenty years; I have done so at the FBI and CIA. The one point I would make is that as a group of well-educated individuals, the one characteristic that stands out most, is the desire to win at all costs—even at the expense of objectivity and truth.

In teaching analysis and writing, many of the licensed attorneys I have instructed lacked a basic grasp of professional English. Further more, their training is based on the use of passive voice sentences—passive sentences allow for greater interpretation in a court room setting. Most of the attorney-students I have had in class recoil at the use of an active voice sentence because it is difficult to manipulate those sentences. Furthermore, in doing the class room exercises the attorneys—more than any other group of professional people I have trained—cherry-pick the evidence to make their case. Such an approach to analysis is not objective. I see this cherry-picking in the Archangel Report.

On page five of the report, Archangel Group describes itself as “…a U.S. NGO (non-government organization) providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels, in the field of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” In other words, the Archangel Group is in business to sell its services to schools, the military, and police forces. I repeat myself, if you make money selling your services to the police can you really be objective in analyzing the role of the police in the nation’s worst school shooting?

I have reluctantly concluded that this report is not an objective analysis of the Virginia Tech shootings; it is a 144-page advertisement for the Archangel Group.

Monday, October 20, 2008


The Archangel Group, Ltd. is a private consulting group “providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels in the fields of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, the group took the initiative to investigate the Blacksburg tragedy. No government agency requested or paid for the group’s research. Their findings were published on September 5, 2008, in a report entitled: “AFTER ACTION REVIEW: An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response to the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday 16 April 2007.”

On September 13, 2008, Washington Post staff reporter Theresa Vargas wrote an article on the report entitled, “Report Hails Va. Tech Police Response.” The following is an examination of Ms. Vargas’s article.

This is the first of several articles the author plans on doing related to the Archangel Group’s report on Virginia Tech. To sit by and say nothing when faced with Archangel’s biases, self-serving analysis, and intellectual dishonesty, would be unconscionable.


Washington Post staff writer, Theresa Vargas’ coverage of the Archangel Group’s “After Action Review” of the shootings at Virginia Tech is an extreme disappointment. Anyone reading her article is left wondering, “Did you even read the 144-page report, Ms. Vargas?”

Ms. Vargas blithely accepts many of the reports assertions, does not investigate or compare the Archangel report with the findings of Governor Kaine’s review panel, and finally she accepts the report at face value. She does not give any indication that she critically examined the credentials of the people writing the report. Whatever happened to investigative reporting?

By engaging in such superficial journalism, Ms. Vargas has done nothing but help Virginia Tech and the police cover-up their shortcomings and weaknesses. She has played into the hands of school and police officials who engage in circular reasoning and disingenuous analysis.

Let me ask you Ms. Vargas—if the Archangel Group makes its living by selling its services to police and security forces, do you really expect them to be critical of the Blacksburg, Virginia Tech, or Virginia State Police? Let me pose this to you—Governor Kaine’s report on the shooting states that the Virginia State Police and ATF “declined” to turn over documents on Seung Hui Cho’s application to buy weapons. Why didn’t the Archangel Group report that? Others have described the refusal of the Virginia State Police and ATF to cooperate with the Governor’s investigation as “despicable.”

Ms. Vargas—look at the Archangel’s manipulation of the facts when it comes to discussing why neither Virginia Tech nor any of the police departments called for locking the campus down after the first shooting. Archangel asserts that a lockdown would create “better mass killing conditions.” If that is true, why is the state university system of New York implementing a lockdown system on all its campuses? Indeed, the SUNY campuses at Binghamton and Oneonta already have such systems in place—four strokes on a key board and they can lock down nearly all campus buildings. You needed to delve more deeply into the idea of campus lockdowns to determine whether or not the Archangel Group is making a valid point. Your reporting would have been better served and more ethical if you had given the other side of the “lockdown” argument.

I am puzzled why Ms. Vargas’ article in the Post doesn’t talk about the fact that the line of reasoning in the Archangel report is internally inconsistent—first, according to the report, you cannot use hindsight to criticize the police and university. Then the report uses hindsight to justify the actions of both police and university officials. The report cannot have it both ways. No where does Ms. Vargas’ story indicate that the underlying tone of the report wanders back and forth from matter-of-fact, to shrill, to defensive and then back again.

Perhaps the most glaring omission from Ms. Vargas’ article is her failure to look at the report’s conclusions. The Archangel report is about Virginia Tech, yet the second paragraph of the summary deals with al-Qaeda. Using blatant scare tactics, the report asserts that “al-Qaeda and its associated groups have monitored this situation.” This is absolutely incredible. There is no connection between the Virginia Tech shooting and al-Qaeda. To put that connection in the conclusion is an incredible violation of intellectual honesty!! The al-Qaeda reference is sensationalism at its worst!

The report makes several references to the shootings at Columbine; that is fine. But no where does the report compare the shootings at Virginia Tech to the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law. No where does the report look at the parallels between the feeble actions of police and school officials to the events before, during, and after the two shootings—at both schools. If the Archangel Group wanted to do a thorough analysis of the Virginia Tech shooting then they would have looked at the similarities between the Virginia Tech and the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law. Such a comparison would have been far more insightful than only a comparison between Virginia Tech and Columbine.

Ms. Vargas—your story has let all of us down. You have done a disservice to the victims of school shootings everywhere. Your failure to follow the basic tenants of good journalism—to investigate and to analyze—has given a boost to the cover-up of the real story of the shootings at Virginia Tech and the Appalachian School of Law.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The willingness of some in our society to play with words for their own ends is inexcusable, particularly when peoples’ lives are at state. It is bad enough that we live in a society that seems hell-bent on word games and on destroying the English language—but when innocent lives are lost because of these games, it is inexcusable. Nothing is what it seems, everything is how one perceives something—everything has to be “win-win;” no one loses, no one fails. At least that is what some want us to believe.

Our children are being taught in school that they don’t fail, they only have “deferred successes.” Incredible, absolutely incredible!! Silly me, I thought that part of a child’s development rested on teaching her or him how to deal with adversity; how to learn and grow from failure. Was I wrong? I don’t think so. This sort of shallow and superficial word gaming mean we are ignoring the real world and raising our children in a dream world environment that will make them unsuited to deal with reality. Please, someone free us from this “win-win” nonsense! People lose, people lose every day!

In fact, in school shootings there are no winners—everyone loses.. We all lose, the murder victims lose, the families lose, and society in general loses. Once again the glaring weakness of society surfaced and no one is ready to face up to the harsh realities of what needs to be done. In the case of the school shootings here in Virginia, no one is ready to support, much less adopt, laws and rules to keep guns out of the hands of violent people.

The Second Amendment advocates revel in word games; they are particularly manipulative. Their word games are insidious. They raise the fear that if you do not own a gun your home will be broken into, that your wives and daughters will be violated, and that your children’s lives are at risk. Actually they are right on one point, our children’s lives are at risk, but it is because the Second Amendment advocates have blocked the passage of laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill; out of the hands of individuals who are a danger to themselves and others. If you need proof, just look at the facts surrounding the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech.

The Second Amendment proponents cite the Constitution as giving the American people the right or liberty to own guns. But the Preamble to the Constitution talks about ensuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for all of us—not just gun owners. Clearly, the words of the founding fathers put the general welfare and tranquility—LIFE ahead of the right to bare arms. You cannot have liberty; much less own a gun, without life.

Most of the proponents of wide-open gun ownership are pro-life people. But, for them pro-life only seems to apply to the unborn. They are not pro-life if you are already here. The are not pro-life when it comes to our children in school; they are not pro-life when it comes to those of us who are here and walking around—if they were they would be working feverishly to protect our school children; they would be working to keep guns out of the hands of the unfit.

The worst word game of all is the failure of the Second Amendment advocates to recognize that life, according to our founding fathers, was more important than the liberty we have; more important than owning guns. Our founding fathers recognized that without life there can be nothing else—Second Amendment advocates ignore that fact.

The Declaration of Independence came before the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The founding fathers began the Declaration with the following: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

Without the Declaration of Independence, there would be no Constitution, there would be no Bill of Rights guaranteeing us the right to bare arms. But, the Declaration of Independence puts the right to life in the primary position of human rights. How can a secondary right trump the most basic right we have—LIFE? It does not make sense!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


If you are getting ready to send your daughter or son to college, part of your selection process should be to familiarize yourself with the prospective school’s security procedures, policies, and emergency plans.

For those of you sending your daughters and sons to school in Virginia these questions are extremely important. I have lived in Virginia for over forty years and all three of my sons went to Virginia colleges and universities. If I were selecting schools for my children today, I would probably not select a Virginia school because of the poor state of campus security—compared to other states. Compounding the problem in Virginia is the fact that the state’s legal system operates under the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity—meaning you have little or no legal recourse against a state school even in cases of gross negligence.

Parents also need to know that if their child is killed or hurt by someone on school grounds, Virginia is one of the most difficult states to prove premises liability. The Virginia Supreme Court time and time again refuses to recognize the responsibility of a business proprietor to protect “its invitees from unreasonable risk of physical harm.” The whole question of “foreseeability” is hard to pin down. But the Supreme Courts of other states do recognize that there is a point where a proprietor can be held responsible for not taking action to protect “its invitees.” Courts in other states do recognize that there comes a point when violent behavior is predictable and a proprietor can be held responsible for ignoring the warning signs.

If the Virginia courts back away from holding people accountable, how will our schools and universities ever be safe?

If you are sending a son or daughter to a college or university, in many instances you do so at a terrible risk.

The following are some questions to ask:

1. Does the school have a plan in place that identifies aberrant behavior, and what steps will the school take to remove potentially dangerous individuals from the campus?

2. Does the school regularly review and update its security procedures?

3. Has the school brought the students into the dialog on what should be done in the case of an emergency?

4. Does the school have a campus-wide warning system in place, such as sirens, text messaging, and cell phone warnings?

5. What is the relationship between campus security and the local and state police? How closely do they cooperate and do they have a coordinated emergency plan?

6. What would happen to a student if he or she were found to have a weapon on campus?

7. How do you define weapons?

8. How quickly can campus security lock-down or secure all buildings on campus?

9. What is the school’s policy on bringing guns (or any weapon on campus including sling shots) onto campus?

10. What is the school’s policy if a student is caught sending harassing or threatening emails to someone?

11. Can a student, staff, or faculty member be directed to seek a psychological evaluation and treatment?

12. How quickly are parents notified if a student is causing a problem or disturbance—or appears to be exhibiting behavior that others consider threatening?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Searching for Answers; Searching for Justice

Two years following the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law I wrote the following article. The article appeared in two Virginia newspapers, but three others refused to print it for such reasons as: The article makes elected officials in Virginia look bad, and You live more than 50 miles from where the newspaper is published. These same newspapers willingly printed the words of Peter Odighizuwa who was sitting in a jail more than 50 miles away—and, by the way, the elected officials who “look bad” are the ones the papers endorsed for election.

Searching for Answers; Searching for Justice

Everyone sympathizes with the families when innocent men, women and children are gunned down in the all-to-frequent acts of violence in this country. Who didn’t agonize for the families and victims of Columbine? Every parent feels a deep sickness in the pit of the stomach when there is a school shooting—a sickness mixed with relief that, thank God, my child was not killed.

One day it is your child, or it is a member of your family. Two years ago a disgruntled student shot and killed the mother of our granddaughter, Angie Dales, and two faculty members at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. Two long years of pain and tears. I have watched Angie’s father nearly die from the anguish and stress; I have watched the grief on Angie’s mother’s face deepen as she copes with the tragedy; I have watched our granddaughter go—in a split second—from an exuberant seven year old to a morose child. The two-year journey since January 16, 2002 has been terrible.

Time does not heal. Time allows you to come to terms with what has happened—but some wounds never heal. How do you “heal” the hours of screams from a seven-year-old when she is told her mother has been gunned down?

Time helps you live with the anger and rage stemming from the fact that a human being bled to death because she did not get help—when the hospital was three minutes away. Time allows you to think about her plea not to let her die—without losing your mind.

Those of us left behind spend hours and days saying if only she hadn’t been in the student lounge, if only she had not cancelled her lunch with a friend.

But she was there.

In the search for answers we look for warnings, indications of violence. Could this shooting have been prevented? Yes! Were there were warnings that should have alerted authorities to the potential for violence at the school? Yes!

The indicators were there. They were clear; there were many. The Appalachian School of Law had no campus security on January 16, 2002. Peter Odighizuwa, the gunman, was a threat. Indeed, he was such a threat to the staff, that one employee—fearing for her safety—had had him banned from her office. Others expressed their alarm to school officials, yet nothing had been done. He had argued and fought with students and staff alike. Yet nothing was done. The school did nothing and ignored all the warning of danger time and time again.

Mr. Odighizuwa was not the only threat on campus. A year before Angie was murdered, she received the following from a fellow student after her computer accidentally sent a virus to another student:

“You fucking cocksucker, If you ever try to send me another virus again, I will track you down, cut your nipples off, and stick jumper cables in you and connect them to my truck. I’m not bullshitin. May the sheriff will find you hanging from a tree in Longbottom.”

The e-mail was reported to the school and to the police, but the investigation turned up “nothing.” No realistic investigation was conducted, and still there was no campus security. The family’s request to see the police investigation of the e-mail has been denied. We have been told it is “confidential.” Even the State Police promise to retrieve the report from Richmond and answer our questions has never been met—after months of waiting.

Indeed, a State Highway patrolman has angrily lectured us. He told the family we should be content the Mr. Odighizuwa will get his punishment in the hereafter. We should be content with that! The police claim they do not know who wrote the e-mail and that there is no connection to the murders on January 16th.

How would they know there is no connection if they do not know who wrote the e-mail?

In any case, there was a connection, because this was one more warning of danger to students that the law school knew about, but took no precautions for the safety of their students.

Our two-year journey has taken us to schools throughout Virginia. Is it unreasonable for us—or any parent—to ask that a school have campus security? No. Between 30 and 40 Virginia colleges and universities contacted—all sizes, private, and public—have campus security predating September 11th. The Appalachian School of Law had none.

We have been cautioned, warned not to press our questions, not to press for answers. Privately, friends in the legal profession tell us we will only bring more grief on ourselves. These friends have even raised the specter that in ways, both big and small, life will become difficult for us in the Old Dominion. Virginia’s politicians and legal professionals will close ranks to protect the law school, they warned. We have been warned that the legal establishment in Grundy has so many ties to the school and has so much invested in it that a retired coal miner and his wife, a retired school cook will never get their day in court. From Richmond, to Fairfax County, to Norfolk, to Grundy—the answers have been the same. Law firm after law firm has refused to take on the law school.

The American Bar Association says there is no more fitting response to the tragedy than to continue to build a program of legal education that promotes the rule of law, opportunity, and justice.

Where is Angie’s opportunity? Where is our justice when those in charge do everything they can to keep the truth from coming out?

When the police and school failed to bring the author of the hideous e-mail to justice, Angie told her family, “I guess I don’t amount to much.” You are wrong Angie, you mean everything to us and we will not let go of your memory, we will not let go of this fight for justice. On May 8th Angie should have graduated from the Appalachian School of Law—instead of attending the ceremony, we waited for answers.

Wherever you are, Angie, feel our anguish, feel our love. If you are calling our names, our hearts are answering.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The following article appeared in two Virginia newspapers ten days after the Virginia Tech tragedy:

The Rappahanock Record
April 26, 2007

Virginia Tech: Let the Cover-up Begin

By David Cariens, Jr.

The sad truth is that the terrible loss of life at Virginia Tech could have been prevented if state and school officials in Blacksburg would have learned the lessons from the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law on January 16, 2002. The parallels between the two tragedies are staggering.

Angela Dales, the mother of our granddaughter, was the student killed at the law school. In the five years since that tragedy we have repeatedly sought answers. But we have been met with disingenuous expressions of sympathy followed by outright refusal to answer our questions. The same will happen to the families of those lost at Virginia Tech.

Students, staff, and faculty warned law school officials that the murderer, Peter Odighizuwa, was a threat and they feared for their safety. The same is true at Virginia Tech—there were warnings about Cho Seung Hui.

Five years ago, no alarm was sounded on the second floor of the law school building after the initial shootings—an alarm that might have saved Angela Dales life and prevented the wounding of three other students. At Virginia Tech, over two hours lapsed between the first shootings and the second. And, no alarms were sounded!

Court documents indicate that several weeks before the law school shooting, female staff and faculty members—citing Odighizuwa—expressed concern for their safety. The President of the Appalachian School is said to have responded, “Oh you women and your hormones, nothing will happen.” The President of Virginia Tech knew of the first shooting and did nothing to immediately close or alert the campus. Both men should be fired.

Both Peter Odighizuwa and Cho Seung Hui had harassed fellow students and the schools knew about it.

Both Peter Odighizuwa and Cho Seung Hui had been referred to mental facilities or were seeking psychiatric care, and the schools knew about it.

The office of former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore refused to help us get access to the investigation report of a threatening e-mail Angela Dales received prior to the shooting. The same will happen to Virginia Tech families when they turn to state officials for help.

The Virginia Tech families will learn the bitter truth that in dealing with these tragedies, all elected officials want to do is plant a tree, put up a plaque, or adopt a bill commemorating the shooting. None of them, Republican or Democrat, have the will or backbone to really investigate the causes of the tragedy and propose laws, or enact regulations, that will begin to deal with the prevention of these atrocities.

Since the horrible events on April 16th the phrase, “Let the healing begin” has been repeated over and over again. What would be closer to reality is, “Let the cover up begin.”

The sad truth is that when put to the test, numerous elected officials and far too many members of the legal and law enforcement professions show that our beliefs and values mean little or nothing to them. Values such as honesty, courage, integrity—and justice—frequently disappear in a fog of deceit, treachery, and bureaucratic incompetence.

In our case, when the words of law enforcement as well as law school and elected officials took on a pejorative, even a disparaging tone—our pain deepened. When we turned to these individuals to find answers, to find “justice”—we found intellectual fraud and deceit. The same will likely happen to the families who lost loved ones at Virginia Tech.

What could have been done to prevent the tragedy of April 16th? A great deal!

First, the Virginia legislature should adopt a law stating that if a faculty or staff member identifies a student as mentally unbalanced and potentially violent, the student must be referred to mental health authorities for evaluation. At the same time an alert should be issued to all gun stores banning the sale of weapons and ammunition to that individual. Any person selling a gun to someone for whom a warning has been issued should serve a mandatory, long jail sentence.

Second—and by law—all educational facilities in Virginia, both public and private, should have in place a mandatory emergency plan. All students and faculty should be aware of the plan, and that plan should be periodically rehearsed as are fire drills.

Third, in the event of any shooting on school grounds, the school should immediately be closed. Police should be called and posted around the facility until it is clear that the shooter has been captured—not just a suspect as was the case at Virginia Tech.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Some of the Virginia Tech victims’ families, not satisfied with the Virginia Tech Panel Report, hired Vincent Bove (a leading authority on school violence) to analyze the report. All I can say is, bravo—Vincent Bove—bravo!

Mr. Bove accurately points out the report’s numerous shortcomings: its willingness to play fast and free with words, and its failure to hold people accountable for their actions and inactions. What Bove does not say or point out, are the parallels between the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law six years earlier and the Virginia Tech tragedy. These parallels are painfully clear to anyone familiar with both incidents. The fact that no one in Virginia, at any level, learned from the earlier school murders is inexplicable. Despite the lack of reference to the school shooting less than 200 miles from Virginia Tech, Bove’s report is on-the-money and highly commendable for his willingness to accurately and forcefully indicate the report’s deficiencies. For example:

First, Bove is correct in stating that the families of the victims “deserve to be treated with respect. They deserve apologies from those who failed them and left an indelible scar on their lives.” That has not happened at Virginia Tech, and the parents of Angela Dales, the student killed at the Appalachian School of Law, were often not treated with dignity and respect—and certainly never received an apology from any one.

Second, Bove is absolutely correct in asserting that, “(The) communications breakdown and the failure to effectively deal with Cho’s mental health issues are significant (factors that allowed the shootings to take place).” Just as in the case of Cho, the mental health warnings from Peter Odigwazuwa were ignored and never communicated properly. The report uses such phrases as “may have erred,” and Bove correctly asserts that such phrases call into question the veracity of the report. Indeed, “may have erred” is not only a cruel UNDERSTATEMENT, it is flat-out-wrong and borders on negligence of duty!

Third, Bove could not have picked a better word than “despicable” to describe the fact that the Virginia State Police and the ATF each declined to provide the panel with copies of the application Chou completed when he bought his weapons. In the case of the murder of Angela Dales, the State Police refused to give the Dales family access to a threatening email Angie received before she was killed, saying they did not know who sent it, but it had nothing to do with the shooting. If you don’t know who sent it, how do you know it had nothing to do with the shooting? Again, despicable!

Fourth, Bove points out that Virginia Tech’s lack of having a threat assessment team is a glaring deficiency in the school’s priorities when it comes to security and safety. Not only did the Appalachian School of Law not have a threat assessment team, the school had no security!

Fifth, Bove is correct in criticizing the school and its defenders who claim that a school cannot be locked down. He asserts, “It is irresponsible and illogical … that (the school) could not lockdown because Virginia Tech does not have locks on the inside of classroom doors, as in the case of most universities and schools.” A lockdown is not JUST locks on doors—it is cancelling classes, issuing warnings, calling in police and security, and taking every step possible to secure the campus. The Appalachian School of Law and its defenders also said they could not do anything. Really?! If someone on the second floor of the main school building, where the first shootings took place, had even thought to pull the fire alarm, the students on the first floor would have been alerted. If school leaders are not thinking, if they are not engaged in crisis planning, if they sit around in la-la land--nothing can or will be done. That is exactly the point!!!

Friday, September 19, 2008


In the horrific school shootings that this nation is plagued with, one of the most difficult problems victims’ families have in overcoming the tragedy is dealing with the manipulation of our grief and sorrow—the word games played by the media, by the schools, and by people in positions of authority.

The parents of Angela Dales, the only student to be killed at the Appalachian School of Law, joined forces with the three wounded students to file suit against the law school, the president of the school, and professor Rubin. Once the suit was settled (out of court), a news conference was held in the Dales’ home. What ensured was an almost surreal hour or two. The press was not concerned with the dead student, or what would happen to her young daughter. Those subjects never came up.

What the reporters zeroed in on was the money; how would the surviving students spend their portion of the settlement? The press stories that appeared never mention anything about a young child left without a mother; never bothered to inquire about the psychological problems the child faced and continues to face. The press never ventured to ask, “How did the student get the gun or why the school ignored the danger signs?” It was all money, money, money.

One of the few weapons in the arsenal of the dead student’s family was our words—our written words. When the press engaged in “lies of omission,” we tried to use our own words to get the word out. But, when our words pressed too hard, pointed to possible cover-ups, or posed questions about why people in positions in authority failed in their responsibilities, several newspapers declined to print what we wrote. One major southwestern Virginia newspapers indicated it would not print what I wrote because I lived more than 50 miles from the city of publication—not because my writing was poor or because what I had written had no merit, but because of the distance of my home. That same newspaper printed every word the murderer uttered even though he was sitting in a jail cell far more than 50 miles away.

Another Virginia newspaper declined to print an article (which appeared in two other newspapers) because it made elected officials look bad! Has that newspaper ever heard of investigative journalism? The real problem was that my article pointed a finger at a politician the newspaper had endorsed.

Following the publication of my book, A Question of Accountability: The Murder of Angela Dales, a Virginia newspaper was going to run a review of the book to coincide with a book signing. The book signing was on a Saturday; the editor told me the review would run the same day. That review has never appeared. There are indications that influential backers of either elected officials or the law school did not want a review or any publicity that would increase the sale of the book—therefore, the paper caved in.

So much for freedom of the press and freedom of speech! Interesting that all the papers involved are ones who beat their chests about family values and rant and rail about the bias of the liberal media. But when a family suffers one of the worst calamities that can happen—the murder of a daughter or son—they turn their backs. All I can say is, “I wish we had more of the liberal media and less of the fair and balanced conservative stuff.”

The families of the Virginia Tech tragedy face the same “lies of omission.” Virginia Tech apparently has systematically tried to manipulate the words used to deal with the tragedy. The school’s “lie of omission” was to substitute pablum for the truth.

The Washington Post reported on August 4, 2008, that within a week of the incident, a school memo shows that university officials had developed a media strategy centered on three main passages: “We will not be defined by this event,” “Invent the future,” and “Embrace the Virginia Tech family.” The Post cites school documents as saying that getting these phrases out would help the healing begin. In fact, they should have said that posting these words would allow the scarring to begin.

No matter how much the media, the school involved, or elected officials try to play word games, there are no words or phrases to cover up the truth about these horrendous crimes. Word games are the most vicious form of lies of omission because they are a calculated effort to prevent the truth for being made public. In the case of Virginia Tech, the three main messages about the school should be “the bungling way the school handled the shooting,” “the damage done to the school’s present and future reputation,” and the “betrayal of the Virginia Tech families—not just the families of wounded and killed, but all the families with ties to the school.”

If the Washington Post article is true, Virginia Tech’s attempt to manipulate the truth and hide reality is a desecration of the memories of the victims. I wanted to throw up when I read the article. A fitting tribute to the memories of the shooting victims would be for the school to dedicate itself to getting at and telling the truth about the events of April 16, 2007. The truth, coupled with the adoption of rules and laws to prevent future school shootings, would be a far better tribute to those slain than candles and plaques; certainly far better than “lies of omission.”
The actions of both the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech in the wake of their respective shootings are pathetic and certainly not a commensurate pursuit of the truth or freedom of speech. One is left wondering, what standards do Virginia’s institutions of higher learning have?

Sunday, September 14, 2008


When I began writing the story of the murder of Angela Dales, the mother of our grandchild, I was not sure anyone would buy it or anyone would care. I just knew that I had to get the truth out. To my surprise, the reaction has been far better than I ever imagined.

The response from people at book signings, from colleges and universities, and from people who have read the book has been not only gratifying, but highly supportive. I have received letters, emails, and phone calls of support from places such as Ohio, Maryland, Arizona, and as far away as England. More than one of these individuals has indicated he or she would buy extra copies of the book and donate it to libraries in order “to get the story out.” I have had expressions of concern for my personal safety; I have had expressions of bewilderment and disbelief over the content of the book; and I have had expressions of outrage and anger--at the school, members of the legal profession, and elected officials.

The subject matter—the murder of a college student—is painful. At the book signings many have come up to me to wish me good luck, but have said they cannot read the book—the thought of a son or daughter being gunned down on a college campus is just too horrific.

In Oneonta, New York, a young man in his late teens stopped by the signing. It was clear that he and his buddy were hanging around at the mall. He was rather scruffy and unkempt. He kept lingering around the signing table and finally got up enough nerve to ask me some questions. He wanted to know what else I had written and what it felt like to have a book published. He asked in an awkward, teenage fashion, almost as if he did not want his friend to know he was interested in books.

I asked him if he wrote or liked to write and in quiet tones, as if he didn’t want to be heard, he said “yes.” “I have notebook full of poems and short stories,” he added. The young man indicated he had not finished high school and was working on his GED. In even quieter tones he volunteered that he had a poem published in a school paper once.

The young man was embarrassed to say that he liked to write, as if it somehow being creative undercut his masculinity. I had the feeling that for a brief moment he was opening up his inner self to me and revealing his dreams and aspirations. I could not help but wonder if he is getting any support or encouragement to pursue his creativity. I wanted so badly to tell him, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot write; that you are not creative.” I wanted to tell him there are so many people around you who will tell you that writing is a waste of time—don’t believe them.

I wanted to tell him about Angie and her dream of writing a great novel. I wanted to tell him about the wonderful young woman whose aspirations, talents, and breath were snuffed out by a pistol. I wanted to tell him to never stop believing in himself. I wanted to tell him not to squander his imagination and creativity and write that great piece of literature, but I could not. I wish I had told him to pick up Angela Dales’ dreams from the blood-stained floor of the student lounge at the Appalachian School of Law and to write the book or poem that Angie wanted to write—I could not make the words come.

There are times when I can talk about Angie and there are times when I cannot.

Friday, September 12, 2008


After spending nearly an hour at the State University—Oneonta, I phoned Hartwick College (in Oneonta) and asked to meet with the head of campus safety, Tom Kelly. Just as in the case of SUNY—Oneonta, Hartwick College had security and emergency plans in place before the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Mr. Kelly said that Hartwick is undergoing a major review and upgrade of campus security. Campus security is improving the professionalism of the staff and is looking at ways to attract, hire, and keep professional security personnel. The campus security at Hartwick is not a police force so by law its officers may not carry weapons.

It is against the law for anyone to bring a weapon on campus and Mr. Kelly cited a recent incident where someone spotted a shotgun in a car parked on campus. The Oneonta police were called. The car did not belong to anyone associated to the school, but to a town resident who parked it on school grounds after meeting a co-ed and returning with her to the school dorm. The individual was found, arrested and spent the night in jail—the law had been broken and Kelly said, “We will not tolerate any weapons on campus.”

If a student is caught with a weapon the Oneonta police department is called immediately and he or she is suspended. Usually the student withdraws for the term.

Senior school officials meet once a week to discuss campus problems, specifically case reviews of individuals who are having academic, behavioral, or emotional problems. The campus also has a hot line. Anyone can dial #3333 to report anyone on campus that is causing concern.

Mr. Kelly indicted that if aberrant behavior is brought to his attention, he has the right to act immediately to ensure campus safety. Hartwick College has just gotten approval to NY ALERT—a campus-wide cell phone, email, and text messaging system already in use at nearby SUNY-Oneonta.

Mr. Kelly emphasized that no weapon of any kind is allowed on campus—including sling shots or toy guns. The school is so strict that for a recent play using a prop toy gun, the prop had to be signed in and out of the office of security.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I spent nearly one hour discussing campus security with Barton Ingersoll, Chief of University Police, State University of New York—Oneonta (SUNY—Oneonta). He is truly an impressive man in charge of an impressive security operation on a large college campus. If every school in this country had as well thought out and run security plan as the one at Oneonta, our school grounds would be a far, far safer place.

The campus security at SUNY-Oneonta is a police department; therefore its officers carry weapons. The Regional Police Academy is tied to the campus police department. The academy runs a wide variety of specialized law enforcement courses, trains new officers, and trains officers to be instructors.

Chief Ingersoll told me that the SUNY-Oneonta campus has had an emergency plan in place since 1994, but since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the school has tightened and improved campus security. The chief began by telling me that it is against the law to bring a weapon of any kind on a school campus in New York. That law covers both state and private schools. Indeed, every state university in New York is required to have an emergency plan in place, and the Oneonta and Binghamton campuses are the first to meet the state’s standard for security. Highlights of the SUNY—Oneonta plan include:

  1. The ability to lock down every building on campus (with the exception of the gym) with four strokes on the computer keyboard.
  2. Radio systems in all buildings for emergency use.
  3. Blue prints of all campus buildings are on hand in the police headquarters in case of an emergency.
  4. A Behavioral Assessment Team that meets every week to discuss student problems and activities. The group is made up of Chief Ingersoll, the Director of Counseling, the Director of Residence Life, the Associate Vice President for Judicial Affairs, the Vice President of Student Development, and the Health Center Director.
  5. The Chief of Police has the power to act immediately and to take whatever action he deems necessary if an individual is thought to be a danger to himself or herself or others.
  6. A campus-wide siren for notification that there is an emergency on campus.
  7. The ability to notify all students, staff, and faculty of an emergency through NY ALERT—a cell phone/email/text messaging system. All New York State University campuses will have this system within the near future.
  8. SUNY—Oneonta will soon have in place a video and card access system for all campus buildings.
  9. SUNY—Oneonta has bought and installed a sophisticated key system for all buildings. The keys cannot be duplicated.
  10. The school gives its officers extensive training through a variety of courses including Active Shooter Course and Patrol Officers Course.
  11. SUNY—Oneonta has hired a full-time Emergency Management Coordinator.
  12. The school is linked to major criminal data bases in Albany.
  13. The school regularly reviews it crime prevention security analysis for all campus buildings.
  14. The University Police Department has an ambulance on hand, on campus.
  15. It is a state law that university police departments on state affiliated schools must have a Memorandum of Understanding with the state police on immediate emergency response responsibilities and actions. SUNY-Oneonta has such a memorandum and maintains close ties with the New York State Police and the city of Oneonta Police Department.
  16. Students are given a full security briefing as part of their campus orientation.
  17. Each staff and faculty member has at her or his desk a bright orange Crisis Management folder for immediate and easy reference. The folder contains phone numbers and contacts. The subjects covered are:
a. Emergency Responses—Shelter in Place, Notification, and Building Evacuation.
b. To Report an Emergency on Campus—Bomb Threat, Fire, Accident or Medical Emergency.
c. Threat of Physical Harm from a Person or Persons—Threat by Email, Text Message, Phone, or Note—Threatening or Aggressive Behavior, and Policies and Procedures.
d. Student Emergencies—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Serious Illness or Injury, Threatening or Irrational Behavior, Crime in Progress or has been Committed, and Sexual Assault.
e. Non-Emergency Student Problems—Disturbed or Disturbing Emotional Behavior, Illness or Injury, and Learning, Psychological, or Physical Disability.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Governor Kaine’s Review Panel Report on the shootings at Virginia Tech is badly flawed; it does not address the problems central to the causes behind the shooting and shies away from making the tough recommendations need to get at the heart of the problem and prevent future shootings on school grounds.

I have read the report several times and each time I come away scratching my head. The sheer size of the report is noteworthy, but its failure to face up to what needs to be done—hold people accountable for their actions and inactions—makes the report an exercise in futility.

First, the report did not address issues that needed to be addressed such as identifying mistakes in judgment and the individuals who should be held accountable for their actions or inactions. Indeed, the report is an amazing exercise in avoiding accountability and legal liability.

Second, the panel itself which investigated the tragedy and wrote the report is a prime example of conflict of interest. A state panel examining the behavior of state employees and a state organization cannot be completely objective—classic conflict of interest. To even suggest that the panel was completely objective is sheer folly—particularly when the state was so well represented and not one member of the victims’ families was a panel member. And, there is the state’s bought-and-paid-for family representative and spokesperson on the panel—again, a conflict of interest that is hardly conducive to impartiality.

Third, several key players declined to cooperate with the review panel. I find that lack of cooperation disheartening and puzzling. Specifically, the Virginia State Police, the ATF, and the gun dealers “declined to provide the panel with copies of the applications” Seung Hui Cho completed when he bought the weapons that would eventually kill over thirty innocent people. I cannot imagine why they failed to cooperate with this blue-ribbon panel. The report notes that “the Virginia State Police … did describe the contents of Cho’s gun purchase applications to members of the panel and its staff.” The state police’s willingness to “describe” is a limp attempt to explain their failure to cooperate and provide the panel with documents related to the shootings is a lethal flaw in the report—it is inexcusable.

Fourth, the panel was impeded in its work by the FOIA rules that did not allow more than two members to meet together or speak by phone without it being considered a public meeting. This is bureaucracy at its worst. The report needs to be more specific in detailing the problems this bureaucratic obstacle presented.

Fifth, the report sugar-coats glaring errors and problems: for example, the report on page 10 says talks about the findings and recommendations in the report being two different kinds. “What was done well, and what could have been done better.” The report should talk about people in positions of authority failing to do their jobs—“could have been done better” is backing away from holding individuals and institutions accountable for their actions. Until accountability becomes part of the analysis and remedial steps, these tragedies are doomed to continue.

In this same vein, the report says that the police may have made an error in reaching the premature conclusion that their initial lead (following the discovery of the first two shooting victims) was a good one and that the person of interest was probably not on campus. May have made an error? They did make a very serious error by jumping to a premature conclusion and giving the wrong impression to school officials. This error should never be glossed over!

Sixth, the report appears to make excuses for the decision of the university’s Policy Group not to put out a campus-wide alert following the discovery of the first two bodies. The previous August, the university had put out an alert that a convict named William Morva had escaped from a nearby prison and killed a law enforcement officer and a guard. The alert indicated that the murderer was on the loose and could be on campus. The university set its own standard in August of 2006 by issuing that alert, and then violated that standard in April 2007. Lives could have been saved had that alert gone out. The report skirts around this critical point.

In sum, the report fails to do its job in critical areas; it is bland, and raises no real red flags. The report is the equivalent of reading a book with no thesis. The recommendations indicate this or that “should” be done. The “shoulds” relate to such things as analyzing, training, complying with this or that act, police being members of panels, and so on and so forth. Yes, these “shoulds” need to be done. But, nowhere does the report say that individuals should be held accountable for their actions or inactions; that organizations and individuals must be held accountable when they break their own standards and over 30 lives are lost.

The report is impressive in size and unimpressive in content. The report falls short of what it needed to do…make clear that everyone in a position of responsibility must be held to standards of safety and that failure to meet those standards will result in stiff penalties. Instead, the reader is left wandering from page to page in an effort to tie ends together and make these conclusions for herself or himself.