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.

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