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.