Thursday, February 19, 2009


Cynthia Paris’ story in the February 15, 2009 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch misses the point about Virginia Tech altogether. Frankly, the story was short on substance and long on vague words. Indeed, Ms. Paris’ story has a slightly condescending tone from start to finish. For example: “It isn’t that the newly opened archive of documents is not a good idea. Different perspective will come to light when fresh sets of eyes examine the thousands of notes and e-mails … Such reviews may yield new guidelines for coping (sic) with –God forbid –a comparably horrific future event.” Ms. Paris did you really mean to use a form of the verb to cope? Am I right, are you asking people to learn to cope with the loss of a son or daughter in a school shooting? I won’t even dignify your incredibly poor word choice with a comment.

The point behind the investigation into the Virginia Tech massacre is to learn and put in place measures to help prevent future school shootings; to hold people in positions of authority liable for their actions or inactions. In the case of Virginia Tech, President Steger and the school’s leaders clearly have flunked crisis management, and even worse—the basics of crime scene reaction and response. That is a fact, to ignore that fact is adding insult to injury.

Yes, President Steger should go. I am not a casual observer and I say this not out of a desire for vengeance, but out of the cold, hard facts of the reality of what happened on April 16, 2007. I teach intelligence and crime analysis at all levels of the federal and state governments, as well as for the Canadian Police College. Rarely, if ever, have I seen such incompetence when confronted with a crime scene. That incompetence rests squarely on the shoulders of President Steger. President Steger failed to react when confronted with the initial two murders. He failed to act while other parts of the university were locking down or taking security measures; he failed to act while members of the school administration were warning their family members of the threat.

You are just dead wrong, Ms. Paris. Virginia Tech officials, beginning with the school president, should be held liable for their incredibly poor judgment on the morning of April 16, 2007.

I use the tragedy of Virginia Tech in my classes as an example of what not to do at a crime scene and in crime analysis. Furthermore, Governor Kaine’s review panel report is nearly as badly flawed as the actions of the Virginia Tech leadership. In one sense, the report is more disturbing than Steger’s inaction. If Virginia is to learn from the Tech tragedy, the report needed to be honest, have access to all primary documents, and it needed to be accurate.

The report is none of these. The report engages in the worst sort of word games and sugarcoats reality; the report did not have all the documents it needed (the State Police, ATF, and gun dealers did not allow the panel to access to Cho’s applications to buy weapons); the report’s timeline is badly flawed. If something as elementary to any analytical process as a timeline is not right, how can you believe anything in the report? Ms. Paris, any college student, anywhere, knows the importance of having access to primary documents and the importance of a timeline.

By the end of 2009, I will introduce a case study exercise on Virginia Tech—based on the facts surrounding that tragedy. The case study will also include Governor Kaine’s Review Panel Report. The case study will not gloss over President Steger’s actions nor will it sugarcoat the governor’s report.

Ms. Paris, the April 16, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech not only happened on President Steger’s watch, his failure to act doomed 30 people. He does need to be held liable for his mistake—liable in every sense of that word.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Losing a child in a school shooting immobilizes you. You have difficulty thinking; you cannot articulate thoughts clearly; the depth of your depression knows no bounds.

It is just at that moment—when you are the weakest—that the gun rights proponents go on the offensive with: “Don’t limit our access to guns, we are law abiding citizens!” “We all have the right to defend ourselves!” Those words are yours not ours. No one says you are not law abiding, no one wants to limit your access to guns. Every single human being has the right to defend himself or herself—there is no debate on that point. But what does that have to do with keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill or unstable? “We cannot take guns away from hunters!” I couldn’t agree more, and most hunters I have talked to in my family and outside agree that the problem is not “hunters,” but individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.

The second amendment advocates’ words blur and obscure the real issue—the problem is to pass laws that keep guns out of the hands of the unfit and mentally ill and yet ensure the right of law abiding citizens to own weapons. The most perplexing aspect of the gun advocates arguments is their willingness to make their points by spreading false arguments. To deliberately deviate from the truth at the expense of shooting victims and their families is unconscionable.

This is specifically what has happened in the case of the shooting at the Appalachian School of law. NRA officials and supporters have spread the word that armed students subdued the gun man on the law school grounds. The fact is that the two students, who went to their cars to retrieve guns, arrived after unarmed students subdued the killer--Peter Odighizuwa. The head of the NRA gave an address in Roanoke several years ago and made the assertion that armed students played the key role in the apprehension of Odighizuwa. A few days later the Roanoke Times ran a rebuttal from a student who witnessed Odighizuwa’s capture, flatly denying the NRA assertion.

Why the NRA would resort to twisting the truth is beyond me. Everything is on their side—they have money, power, and clearly control the Virginia state senate (how else do you explain the fact that the senate killed the bill that would have closed the gun show loophole for buying guns).

For those who stand on soap boxes and beat their chests about the right to own guns; for those who cite the second amendment as the source for doing away with restrictions on the right to own guns—I would remind you that your obstinacy has prevented laws from being enacted that would keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. Both the shooters at the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech were mentally ill. Is this really what you want? You need to make your position clear—otherwise it looks as if you want to make it legal for unstable and potentially violent people to buy guns anywhere, at anytime, without restriction.

I would remind the second amendment proponents that before the Constitution, there was the Declaration of Independence. That document begins with the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, chief among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The founding fathers put the right to “life” before the right to bear arms and certainly before the right to give guns to the mentally unstable. If you don’t have “life,” you cannot have anything guaranteed in the second amendment, the Bill of Rights, or any part of the Constitution.

No victim or group of victims of school shootings can ever compete with the NRA’s power and influence. The NRA is probably the most powerful lobby in Richmond and is the second most powerful lobby in Washington. We simply cannot compete. When was the last time you saw the head of the NRA or one of that organization’s advocates interviewed on television? When was the last time you heard a spokesperson for the victims of gun violence, or a victim interviewed?

One news network, Fox, carries the slogan “fair and balanced” when referring to their standards. It is not uncommon for Fox to interview or host someone representing second amendment rights or the NRA. But, when was the last time you saw a gun control advocate or a shooting victim’s family member on Fox? The few times that I have seen gun control advocates interviewed, the Fox commentators interrupt, challenge, and are openly belligerent. By contrast, when those same commentators interview NRA officials and their supporters, they are respectful, do not interrupt, and never ask pointed questions. The deck is stacked against those of us who are “pro-life for the living.”

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I have just finished reading Vincent Bove’s book, Listen to Their Cries, and I am impressed. The author comes through as a decent man, deeply worried about the flaws in American society—especially the flaws evident in the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.

Some of the words regarding the Tech tragedy are well worth repeating in this blog:

“How is it conceivable that two people are killed on a college campus during the week of the anniversary of Columbine and the killer is at large and (a) lockdown is not immediately called for? Even if it were determined that the first two killings could not have been prevented because of the complexities and confusion surrounding mental health and privacy issues, it is inexcusable that nothing was done to prevent the 30 killings and multiple injuries that occurred two hours later.” (page 80)

“The (Virginia Tech) policy group owes the public a full accounting of their discussions regarding the delay in sending notification and their decision not to immediately lockdown the campus.” (page 81)

“It is unfortunate that at a time when the focus and priority should have been on meeting the needs of the families of those who have died and on the injured victims and their families, university leadership went on a damage control mode and displayed a lack of empathy toward the victims and their families.” (page 81)

“A website in support of President Charles Steger and Police Chief Wendell Flinchum ( was created within THREE DAYS of the tragedy while the Office of Recovery and Support website ( for the victims and their families took FOUR MONTHS to get online.” (page 83)

“It is also interesting to note that the university felt it necessary to hire Burson-Marsteller, by some accounts the fifth largest public relations firm IN THE WORLD, to handle communications related to (the) April 16th tragedy. … The engagement of this public relations behemoth must be at a significant cost to the university, since they would not release the details of the contract. Wouldn’t this money be better spent on enhancing safety, security, and recovery activities on campus?” (page 83)

The sections I have quoted are just the highlights of Vincent Bove’s references to Virginia Tech. His book contains broader pointers for campus safety. Indeed, every parent considering sending a son or daughter to an institution of higher learning in Virginia should read Bove’s suggestions on campus security. Parents should grill campus officials and demand to know what security measures are in place.

The sad truth is that while progress has been made in Virginia, our schools are still woefully lacking in the security training, systems, and leadership to make them safe.

All three of our sons attended college and university in Virginia. They got excellent educations. However, if I had known then, what I know now about the poor state of campus security in Virginia I would have sent them elsewhere. I would gladly pay the out-of-state fees to send my children to a school that ranks campus security as a number one priority.

If you are reading this and your son or daughter is considering a Virginia school, think twice. Check the school’s security and safety policy and if not satisfied, tell the school’s administration and admissions departments why you will not allow your child to enroll at that particular college or university; that you will look for another school. If every parent would do that, it will eventually force university and college officials to give campus safety the highest of priorities.

Listen to Vincent Bove. I was particularly struck by his section on Citizens of Character (page 163). I could not help but think that his words apply to many of the people who were in positions of authority at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007; especially the quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”