The more you look at the words of Virginia Tech officials regarding the April 16, 2007 shooting tragedy, the more you realize they will say just about anything—without checking the facts. For example, in August, 2006, William Morva escaped from custody and killed two people. Virginia Tech closed down in response to the threat. Morva was captured on university property. Following the incident, a review of the university’s Emergency Response Plan (ERP) recommended adding a section dealing with armed and dangerous individuals on campus to the ERP.
Virginia Tech spokesperson, Larry Hincker, however, is quoted in the May 23, 2007 edition of the Roanoke Times as saying, “After we went back and looked at that (the plan), we felt that was not a correct assessment of our emergency plan…” Hincker then asserted that the emergency plan did mention a plan for armed intruders on campus.
I have read the Emergency Response Plan, and I find no reference to armed intruders. The recommendations following the Morva incident, therefore, were correct and Hincker was wrong. Guidance on dealing with armed and dangerous individuals should have been added to the report—and the university was alerted to that need. The obvious question is, had such a section been added, would Tech have been better prepared to deal with Cho’s killing rampage?
The ERP indicates that the Cho’s initial double homicide met the Level III incident criteria. This fact raises the question, why didn’t the school follow more closely the guidelines that did exist? A Level III incident is defined as: “An incident occurring at the university that adversely impacts or threatens life, health or property at the university on a large scale. Control of the incident will require specialists in addition to university and outside agency personnel. Long-term implications may result.”
Under the criteria for a Level III incident there are some important points that indicate the university should have taken immediate action after discovering the homicides at Ambler West Johnston dormitory. Look at the first criterion for the “resolution” of a Level III incident—it was met. That criterion reads: “Serious hazard or severe threat to life, health, and property.” The fifth criterion was also met. It reads: “Duration of event is unpredictable.”
Even if you look at a Level II incident, as defined by the plan, clearly the school should have warned immediately. The first sentence of the definition of a Level II reads: “An unplanned event of unpredictable duration that may adversely impact or threaten life, health or property on a large scale at one or more locations within the university.” Those words call for immediate action.
Another of Hincker’s spins of the school’s actions is the explanation of why the Virginia Tech delayed in issuing a campus-wide warning. The reason for the school’s timidity in issuing a warning was the so-called panic that occurred when a warning was issued during the Morva incident eight months earlier. The panic—which was not really a panic, but the circulation of unfounded, alarming rumors—centered on false stories that Morva had taken a hostage in Tech’s Squires Student Center. Police did surround the Student Center, and students leaving the facility did find officers with drawn weapons, but to call it a panic appears to be a gross exaggeration.
Perhaps the most blatant self-serving explanation of the school’s inaction comes from Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. He is quoted as saying that the “panic” at the time of the Morva incident created a dangerous situation that could have cost hundreds of lives. This comment is a feeble attempt to white-wash Steger’s inaction on the morning of April 16, 2007.