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.