Many well-intentioned but misguided Virginians argue that now, three years after the slaughter at Virginia Tech, it is time to move on and begin the healing process. Nothing could be further from truth. To call for the healing process at this point is a misnomer; it would be more of a scarring process. As long as the truth lies shrouded in a cloud of deceit and cover-up, it is impossible to move on, and the scars will never heal.
Virginia has suffered two of the worst campus massacres in the history of this country—at the Appalachian School of Law on January 16, 2002, and at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of both shootings, school officials and politicians have engaged in wholesale cover-ups.
The parallels between the two shootings are striking—the similar profiles of the killers, the ignoring of warning signs, and the bureaucratic incompetence at both schools before, during, and after the shootings. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that if a candid analysis of the shootings at the law school had been done, those at Virginia Tech might have been prevented. Sadly, for the 32 people killed and 17 wounded at Blacksburg, no such analysis was made.
If we are ever to make progress in trying to prevent these tragedies, we need to understand the magnitude of the cover-up that has gone on concerning Virginia Tech. Some scoff at the idea of a cover-up, but look at the facts:
¨ The state of Virginia paid the princely some of over $700,000 to a private contractor to write the analysis of the shooting. That company, Arlington-based TriData, already had business dealings with the state, a clear conflict of interest. Does anyone think TriData will cite the state’s largest university for wrongdoing and jeopardize future contracts?
¨ The report glosses over Tech’s failure to lock down the campus, not mentioning that failure to do so was a violation of the school’s own standards, set some months earlier when the university was locked down because an escaped conflict (who had murdered two people) was on the loose. Contrary to the school’s assertion, there was no panic during that lock-down; there may have been confusion, but no panic.
¨ Much of the report is written in the passive voice to cover up who knew what and when. For example, in the two-hour interval between the double homicide and the massacre at Norris Hall—an interval when the school should have been locked down—the report reads, “Information continued to be received.” Ok, who received the information and why didn’t she or he act?
¨ Had West Ambler Johnston Hall truly been locked down after the double homicide at 7:15 am, two students would not have gone to their deaths at Norris Hall. Rachel Elizabeth Hill and Henry Lee would be alive today. Both were in West Ambler Johnston Hall and both would not have been allowed to leave that building for classes at Norris. That is an absolute fact. The TriData report makes no mention of those two, and even after the omission was drawn to TriData’s attention, the company failed to put it in the Addendum.
¨ The report does not examine or even raise the possibility that Virginia Tech violated the Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to issue timely warnings to faculty, staff, and students in the event of danger. Virginia Tech’s nearly two-hour delay in issuing a warning came just minutes before Cho went on his killing rampage. It is a near certainty that most if not all of those killed at Norris Hall would be alive today if the school had locked-down and issued a warning. The report skirts this point.
We must analysis the problem, identify the shortcomings and hold people accountable for their actions or inactions. I am not talking about revenge. I am talking about accountability and preventing future mistakes.