Monday, December 12, 2011

Another School Shooting in Virginia

Another school shooting; this time a Virginia Tech police officer, Deriek Crouse, is dead, shot by an obviously mentally disturbed student from Radford University, Ross Truett Ashley. Ashley went on to kill himself with the same gun. Authorities have not released details about Ashley and his motive, but it is clear even without knowing those details, that he was a deeply troubled.

That the shooter was mentally disturbed should be no surprise. An examination of all the campus killers uncovers some form of psychoses. Eric Harris at Columbine, Peter Odighizuwa at the Appalachian School of Law, and Cho Seng-Hui at Tech—all suffered from mental disorders.

The need for better mental care was stressed in findings after both Columbine and after the 2007 shootings at Tech. In fact, a key element to tackling the problem of campus safety centers on better mental health care, identifying those who are a danger to themselves and others, and getting them the care they need before they kill.

But Richmond has not lived up to promises made following the 2007 massacre to allocate more resources to mental health treatment. The truth is, Virginia now spends less on mental health than it did before April 16, 2007.

Governor McDonnell wants to weaken Virginia’s mental health care through privatization. McDonnell, to my knowledge, has never put forward any meaningful proposals on how to keep weapons out the hands of those who would do violence to themselves or others. In a state plagued by campus shootings, McDonnell doesn’t have a clue about what to do.

McDonnell did propose a jingle contest to promote safety awareness. We see how well the jingle worked on December 8th. His answer to everything is pure ideology—privatize everything including mental health, even if it does endanger our children on campus.

Tech Undercuts Its Own Excuses

Virginia Tech’s prompt reaction to the campus shooting on December 8, 2011, appears to have been nearly letter-perfect. The campus was warned and the school was locked down.

Tech’s response was a necessary and welcome change from the school’s response to the shooting on April 16, 2007, when Cho Seng-Hui murdered 32 people. At that time, the warning came far too late. In the aftermath of the 2007 shooting, Tech officials said they did not lock-down because the campus was too big and it would have created a panic. The school delayed nearly two hours in warning the campus that a killer was on the loose.

The sad irony is that December 8, 2011 proved the fallacy of the school’s excuses for its inaction on April 16, 2007.

That same big campus was locked-down on December 8, 2011, within minutes of the shooting and there was no panic. That same big campus was warned within minutes of Ross Truett Ashley’s murder of officer Deriek Crouse.

Was there panic? No.

Were lives saved? Possibly.

Were school individuals looking over their shoulders and thinking, “This time I will do the right thing. I will take every precaution. I will not repeat my mistakes.”? We will never know.

Granted the warning system at Tech is much improved, but even allowing for these improvements, the Steger administration’s delay in 2007 remains inexcusable. We can all just be thankful that no one has to make excuses for Virginia Tech’s response in 2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wrongful death suit against Va. Tech settled

The state will pay more than $123,000 to the family of a student who killed himself in 2007.

By Tonia Moxley (Roanoke Times)


Clarification (Nov. 29, 2011: 2:05 p.m.): References to Yang Xin, the victim of a violent killing at Virginia Tech in 2009, were convoluted in previous versions of this story. The story has been updated. | Our corrections policy

The state has agreed to pay $250,000 and create a $100,000 scholarship fund to settle a $43million wrongful death lawsuit brought against Virginia Tech by the family of a student who committed suicide, according to a court order.

The state will pay $250,000, to include up to $126,666 in legal fees to the plaintiff's attorney. The family is to receive at least $123,334.

Additionally, Tech will establish a $100,000 scholarship in Daniel Sun Kim's name, place a memorial plaque somewhere on campus and enact a policy of considering immediate notification of the parents or guardians of any student who is thought to be suicidal.

The family brought the civil suit in Fairfax County Circuit Court in 2009 to "learn why Tech didn't follow its protocols" in responding to a warning that Kim was suicidal, plaintiff's attorney Gary Mims wrote in a statement.

Now, the Kim family "can begin their journey to healing, and Tech can address future concerns, learn from this lesson and hopefully share this experience with other colleges and universities."

"Student suicide under any circumstances is tearful and heartbreaking," university spokesman Larry Hincker wrote in a statement.

While the university admits no wrongdoing, officials are "satisfied with the settlement between Daniel Kim's parents and the commonwealth," Hincker wrote. "We hope that they [the Kim family] see this in their best interests, too."

In the lawsuit, Elizabeth and William Kim of Reston alleged Tech officials were negligent in responding to an explicit warning that their son, Daniel, then a 21-year-old senior, had threatened to kill himself in messages to online acquaintances.

Kim was said to have become distraught over thoughts that he looked like Seung-Hui Cho, a Tech student who killed 32 students and faculty and wounded more than a dozen others in the April 16, 2007, campus shootings.

Shaun Pribush, an online acquaintance of Daniel Kim, sent an email to the university warning that Kim had threatened to kill himself and had acquired a gun.

According to deposition transcripts provided to The Roanoke Times by Mims, university officials and Tech and Blacksburg police searched for and found the Daniel Kim referenced in the email from among about a dozen similarly named students.

A Blacksburg police officer who conducted a wellness check on Daniel Sun Kim testified that the student denied knowing Shaun Pribush and denied being suicidal. Neither his appearance nor manner suggested he was in any distress, the officer testified.

Despite recommendations by Vicki Arbuckle, assistant director of psychiatry services at Tech's counseling center, and counseling center director Chris Flynn that Kim be invited in for a meeting to discuss the situation, his case was officially closed on Nov.12, 2007.

No one other than the Blacksburg officer ever contacted the troubled student, according to Mims.

Arbuckle testified that the office of the dean of students would have been responsible for inviting Kim to discuss his situation. But, she emphasized, Kim could not be compelled to speak with officials, or to see a counselor.

According to Mims, Kim's parents were not notified about Pribush's email, or the university's investigation of their son's case.

On Dec. 9, 2007, Kim was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a car in a Christiansburg parking lot.

The Kim case is one of three high-profile civil cases brought against Tech since the April 16th shootings, all alleging that university officials did too little to protect students who died violent deaths.

In a written ruling dated Nov. 1, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Bobby Turk dismissed a lawsuit brought against Tech officials by the estate of Yang Xin, a Tech graduate student and Chinese national who was beheaded in 2009 in an on-campus attack. Another student, Haiyang Zhu, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the killing.

Xin's estate alleged that Tech officials did too little to protect her from Zhu, who had been assigned by the Tech Association of Chinese Students and Scholars to help Xin settle in to life in Blacksburg and the university.

Zhu had been seen at the Cook Counseling Center, and had exhibited some erratic behavior toward his landlord. According to court testimony, he developed an obsessive attachment to Xin, and killed her after she rebuffed his romantic advances.

Turk ruled that the plaintiffs presented no evidence of gross negligence on the part of Tech officials and failed to show that the defendants "had any control over Mr. Zhu."

The most talked-about of the cases continues to wind its way through the court system.

Two $10 million wrongful death claims filed by the parents of women slain on April 16, 2007, are set for jury trial March 5-9 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

A trial originally set for September was continued after the plaintiffs' attorney accused the Virginia State Police and public relations firms hired by Tech of stonewalling on discovery requests.

The parents of the late Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson allege that Tech President Charles Steger and former Executive Vice President James Hyatt were grossly negligent in failing to warn their daughters of two fatal shootings in a dormitory just after 7 a.m. on April16, 2007.

About two hours later, Seung-Hui Cho opened fire in Norris Hall classrooms, killing 30 more people, including Pryde and Peterson.


Sunday, November 6, 2011


John Giduck’s book on the Virginia Tech tragedy sets lofty goals, but from the outset, his willingness to resort to name-calling (page 18, “ignorant experts”) for those who disagree with him cheapens his work and destroys his credibility. As I said in my first blog on Shooter Down, there always is a need for a book that pays tribute to the men and women of our first responders: the police, the fire fighters, and the medics. These men and women are true heroes and all to often do not get the credit and praise they deserve. It is absolutely true that many who deal with crimes scenes as large and violent as Virginia Tech, suffer from prolonged psychological problems. These can include flashbacks to what they saw as well as nightmares. These problems can be so severe that the FBI offers psychological counseling to their agents who witness the horrific crime scenes.

However, there are so many problems with Giduck’s book that it is hard to know where to begin. I could write volumes about the book’s errors, omissions, and faulty characterizations of the victims’ families’ actions and motives. Furthermore, the book’s numerous problems undercut some of the valid points the author makes. For example, by the time you get to Giduck’s accurate account of the media circus and the unscrupulous actions on the part of some members of the media, the reader is suffering from whip-lash because the author has already bounced around from fact, to fiction, to fantasy.

I have to begin with his reference to the families on page 15. Giduck writes: “The families of the victims hate them (the police and first responders) for what they couldn’t do.” This comment is especially scurrilous. I know many of the victims’ families. I have met with some in person and communicated with others by email. Not one time have I heard them express “hatred” for any of the police or first responders. The word “hate” is your word, Mr. Giduck.

I tell the students in my classes on intelligence and crime analysis that when you write you are exposing and telling something about yourself. The use of the word “hate” as well as the rest of the emotionally charged vocabulary you use, Mr. Giduck, is a window into your mindset, not the thinking of the families.

I also have to question the motive behind the book. Mr. Giduck, your company, Archangel, sells its services to law enforcement agencies. I notice that in your credentials you zero in on the highly publicized, emotion-laden tragedies such as Beslan and Virginia Tech. Where were you when the shooting took place at the Appalachian School of Law? I guess three dead and three wounded cannot compare with the headline grabbing 32 dead and at least 17 wounded. Your selectivity in picking only the big-name shootings, undercuts you credibility. Furthermore, even when you do analyze Virginia Tech, there is a lack of willingness to analyze what went wrong. You posture yourself as the defender of the police, at the expense of the truth. Your lack of objectivity undercuts you credibility; the book appears to be a blatant attempt to drum-up business, business that is based on the sufferings of others.

There also is irony in your words, Mr. Gudick. On page 24 you write, “It was the belief of the Archangel Investigating Team (‘Archangel Team’) that no conclusion would be of value to U.S. law enforcement, first responders and schools if accuracy could not be assured, or at least attempted to the greatest degree possible.” Well, let’s take a look at some of your accuracy:

1. You refer to shooting-victim Colin Goddard several times, but on page 230 you refer to him as Kevin, not Colin. That is not a typo. That is inaccurate writing and sloppy proof reading. Some may think this may be a minor point, but it is telling in terms of Giduck’s attention to detail and accuracy.

2. Shooter Down should be a serious analysis of this nation’s worst campus massacre. But, the book goes back and forth between fiction and analysis. Your repeated fictional presentation of what may have been going on in Cho’s mind is not only distracting, but is complete fantasy. This use of fantasy is a literary technique appropriate for fiction, not in crime analysis. Furthermore, in the author’s credentials, I see no reference to any training in psychology. The fictionalized part of the book undercuts the serious nature of what the author apparently intends to do—analyze a major crime. Mr. Giduck you need to make up your mind, are you writing fiction or analysis.

3. You do not give a balanced account of police actions between 0715 and 0940 on the morning of April 16, 2007. Crime analysis 101 teaches not to zero in on a hypothetical “person of interest” when you have no real evidence against that person. They had two dead students in a campus dormitory and bloody footprints leading away from the crime scene. Why didn’t the police advocate a warning or a lockdown? The police chose to theorize that there was a love triangle involving the dead student, Emily Hilscher, the Ryan Clark (the RA), and Hilscher’s boyfriend, Karl Thornhill.

You are precise in giving the timing of many of the events, but on page 176 you write, “Heather Haugh had confirmed that the relationship (Emily’s) with Ryan, the male RA, was strictly platonic.” The timing of this information is critical—at that point, Karl Thornhill became much less of a person of interest. I read pages 173-185 and noted your repeated references to specific times. Then I noted you fell silent when it came to the timing of Haugh’s revelation. The clear implication is that the police knew early on that a love triangle was out of the question. You are aware of when the police knew the facts about why a love triangle was not in play and yet you do not reveal a time. Instead, you repeatedly refers to a possible love triangle in order to give the police cover for their inaction.

4. Shooter Down repeatedly tries to pass off conjecture as fact. Take a look at page 100 dealing with Cho and the Morva incident. You write, “Cho would have sat in his dorm, perhaps wandered the campus like many of the students, looking at the enormity of it all. He would have seen the unprecedented law enforcement response. The news media would have explained to him how long it took those 400-plus cops to arrive. He would have seen that the security guard (sic.) and police officers had been defenseless against a single armed prisoner who had easily wrestled an officer’s gun from his hand … He would have wondered if he could do that. … He would have watched coverage over hours on national cable news channels. He would have craved the fame …” How could you possibly know where Cho was or what he was doing during the Morva incident?

5. On page 145, your own words appear to indict the school and its police. “In addition to the Morva manhunt, Virginia Tech and its police department were no strangers to terrorist threats and other potential critical incidents. VT had been targeted by ELF, the Earth Liberation Front, and ALF, the Animal Liberation Front, in the past. For two small town police departments they had clearly entered the world-at-large, and were dealing with big city threats.” Yes, both the school and its police had experience in dealing with serious threats. So, why did they hesitate and dilly-dally while others acted? For example, Virginia Tech’s veterinary school locked down, the Blacksburg public schools locked, and trash collection was suspended. Virginia Tech had warned and locked down in the Morva case, why not now?

6. You attempts to justify the case that Karl Thornhill was the person of interest because of his keen interest in guns, being an avid shooter, and photos of him holding guns. I live in rural Virginia and I would be hard pressed to find a young man who is not interested in guns, who is not an avid shooter, and who does not have pictures of himself with weapons. Your evidence is flimsy and certainly does not warrant the police’s concentration on Thornhill as the person of interest—particularly after the love triangle theory was debunked.

7. On page 175, you asserts that between 0810 and 0925 “that morning the police had been working feverishly to identify, track and find the killer of the two kids searching everywhere on the sprawling campus and the network of rural roads and towns that satellite Blacksburg. During this period Chief Flinchum provided updated information via telephone to the Virginia Tech Policy Group (VTPG) regarding the status of the investigation into the WAJ shootings. Chief Flinchum informed the VTPG that a possible suspect had been identified, and that he was most likely off campus. The ‘possible suspect’ was Hilscher’s boyfriend, Karl Thornhill.” If we take you at your words, and if we believe the police were ‘feverishly” trying to find the killer, then why was an alert not part of this “feverish” activity. In Chief Flinchum’s many conversations with the Policy Group did he ever raise the possibility of an alert and/or lockdown? If not, why not? The fact is that there really was no solid evidence—only speculation—that Karl Thornhill was the killer. The lack of solid evidence against Thornhill should have made both a warning and a lockdown imperative. There were, after all, bloody footprints leading away from a double murder scene. This was strong evidence that the killer might still be on campus; certainly it was evidence that a killer was still at large.

8. On page 177, your own words seem to indict Chief Flinchum for not acting. You write, “At 8:13 Chief Flinchum requested additional officers from both VTPD and BPD to secure WAJ entrances and assist with the investigation. Due to the growing enormity of the event, and the need for multiple police to secure the perimeter, those officers that had gone off duty from the nightshift were recalled and assigned to Ambler-Johnston.” Your references the “growing enormity of the event” but never questions why Chief Flinchum did not urge a warning or a lockdown.

9. On page 181, Giduck writes, “One of the biggest mysteries about the massacre was just where the gunman was and what did he do during that two-hour (two and a half hour) window between the first burst of gun fire at a high-rise dormitory, and the second fusillade at a classroom building?’ In view of Giduck’s words about the enormity of the event and the furious action of the police—the biggest mystery is why Chief Flinchum did not take the initiative and urge a warning and lockdown. This mystery is further compounded by the fact that the police cancelled all trash collection on the campus at 9:05. It is a mystery to me how you can justify the police warning the trash collectors and not the faculty, staff, and students.

10. Sarcasm has no place in an analysis of the Virginia Tech tragedy. On page 196 you writes, “Nor can they (the police) be criticized for not being ‘seasoned’ enough to have clairvoyantly devised that Thornhill was innocent and that the GSR test would yield proof that he hadn’t fired a weapon within a four hour period.” Clairvoyance is not the question, competence is. If the police knew there was no love triangle (and they did early on), to concentrate so heavily on Thornhill at the expense of taking other actions, is faulty police work and unprofessional wishful thinking that had tragic consequences.

11. You addresse (on page 242) the lessons from the Morva incident. And I quote, “Also the Morva event taught the police that with that level of response they needed to immediately arrange for thousands of bottles of water to be brought in, along with food. Moreover, portable toilets were needed.” These are the lessons from the Morva event? These are the shining examples of what the police learned? Surely something more was learned. Perhaps that the university need a plan in place to provide these essentials in case of a long lock down.

12. On page 279, you point out that the New York Times contacted Professor Lucinda Roy the afternoon of the shooting and asked her to write and op-ed on how the tragedy affected the Virginia Tech community. You then writes “Yet how she, or anyone, could have been expected to articulate how the community was affected by a tragedy of such horrific proportions that no one yet knew the magnitude of, or it would affect the university in the future, is a mystery.” Ironically, the same can be said of much of your own work. For example, how could you or anyone know what was going on in Cho’s mind? Yet you, on page after page, present what Cho was thinking at various stages of his life and in the days leading up to the shooting.

13. You several times refers to “blamism,” and makes snide remarks about litigation. You imply that the police and first responders were afraid to talk. Yet on page 305, you writes, “The panel (Governor’s Review Panel) was not authorized to issue subpoenas, but with most of the police and other first responders virtually dying for a chance to be heard, to tell their story, to let someone in authority know what they had done and why, they would have shown up voluntarily. They would have shown up on their own time. Many would have taken vacation leave to explain to someone—anyone—what had really happened that day. No subpoenas would have been necessary, if only the governor’s appointees would have listened to them. Still several of the officers reminded us that the governor could have given the commission subpoena power if he had wanted. They said he didn’t because he didn’t want certain things to come out. ‘It was ass covering,’ we were told.” I would argue that if the police knew that a cover-up was taking place and said nothing, they were derelict in their duty not to speak out. If the police knew pertinent information about the worst school shooting in this nation’s history, and remained silent, how are they better than those who lied?

14. On page 329, you writes, “For the police to initially commit enormous resources in attempting to examine whether a victim was killed by a random murderer (extremely rare) or for-hire killer (even rarer), would be to waste both resources and time in determining a strong suspect and being able to contact that individual.” If you believe that, then he certainly has to believe that it was a waste of resources and time to pursue Karl Thornhill as a prime person of interest, once the idea of a love triangle between Emily Hirscher, Ryan Clark and Karl Thornhill was debunked. The continued heavy focus on Thornhill at the expense of searching another suspect—is indefensible. Furthermore, in view of the facts, you assertion on page 333 becomes ludicrous, “Thus, the prioritization of steps in the (police) investigation was without flaw.”

The above are just some of the many errors and inconsistencies in your book, Mr. Giduck. What a shame. The first responders do need to be honored, and their response to the shootings at Norris Hall may have been letter perfect. But to project that perfection backward onto police actions following the double homicide at Ambler West Johnston Hall is not only ludicrous; it is intellectually dishonest.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


There is always room and need for a book that pays tribute to the men and women who are first responders to tragedies; the men and women who make up our police forces, our fire fighters, and our emergency medics. “Shooter Down” by John Giduck, however, is not that book. Sadly, Giduck’s book cherry picks the evidence, engages in hyperbole, resorts to name-calling, fantasizes about what was going on in the mind of Cho Seung Hui, and contains factual errors.

I am going to examine his book in greater detail in at least two blog entries. The first deals with what I consider to be one of the book’s major shortcomings—the failure to compare the two school shooting here in Virginia.

From a personal standpoint, Giduck’s passing reference to the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law is not only disheartening, but adds to the grief we feel over our loss. The mother of my oldest grandchild, Angela Dales, was killed at that shooting. Since then I have researched and written about that tragedy in numerous articles and in my book, “A Question of Accountability: The Murder of Angela Dales.” Giduck’s willingness to perpetuate the lie that after killing three and wounding three others, the gunman, Peter Odighizuwa, was stopped and captured by two armed students is not only poor scholarship; it is unconscionable. The fact is that unarmed students subdued Odighizuwa before the armed students returned from their cars with their weapons.

The parallels between the law school and Virginia Tech shootings are staggering, but Giduck never touches on them. Why Giduck chose to practically ignore the first school shooting in Virginia is a mystery. The following are some of the parallels:

1. Both Peter Odighizuwa and Cho Seung Hui had harassed students and the schools knew about it.

2. Both Peter Odighizuwa and Cho Seung Hui had been referred to mental facilities or were seeking psychiatric care and both schools knew about it.

3. Both men alarmed faculty members so much that they either wanted increased security or as in the case of Tech, threatened to resign.

4. The police failed to cooperate either with the families of the victims or the investigations. (The Governor’s Review Panel Report states that the police refused to turn over documents to the investigating panel. At the law school, the police refused to allow the student victim’s family to look at investigative reports--including a timeline of events. Officer Don Lambert did promise to retrieve the report, call me, and answer my questions. He made that promise in January 2003. I am still waiting for the phone call.)

5. At both shootings, the police made bad judgments. At Virginia Tech, for example, the police locked down Ambler West Johnston Hall after the double homicide. But despite the lockdown, the police allowed two students (Henry Lee and Rachel Hill) to leave the dormitory. Both were murdered at Norris Hall. At the law school, the police violated the basic rules of triage. Angela Dales was the most seriously wounded, but she was the last to be evacuated. The hospital is less than 10 minutes from the campus. Had the police made the right decision, she might be alive today.

It does no one any good to ignore or gloss over the horrific mistakes that good people make. The final sentence of Giduck’s conclusion reads: “For the families of the dead, and the families of all those who have died in school shootings in America, including the families of those students who have perpetrated such atrocities, their grief may never end.”

You are right Mr Giduck, and I would add that our grief is exacerbated by books such as yours.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Times-Dispatch Perpetuates Law School Lie

The Times-Dispatch coverage, on August 8th, of the latest incident at Virginia Tech, “Guns on campus: Tech on Alert,” perpetuated a falsehood about the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law. Armed students did not subdue Peter Odighizuwa; he had been wrestled to the ground before the two students appeared with their guns. For those of us who lost family in Grundy on that terrible day, the mother of our oldest grandchild was murdered; the perpetuation of this lie is both offensive and painful. The NRA and some of its spokespeople have not hesitated to spread this blatant falsehood for their self interests. The one thing families need after these shootings is the truth, the spreading of lies does nothing to help get at the root causes of campus violence; it is unconscionable.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Governor McDonnell may not have broken the law, but as Virginia’s Attorney General, he turned his back on a waste of taxpayers’ money and something approaching fraud; specifically, the states’ contract with TriData to write the Governors’ Review Panel Report on the Virginia Tech shooting.

The legal concept in question, “willful blindness,” involves conscious avoidance of the truth that gives rise to an inference of knowledge of a crime. A crime may not have been committed, but certainly there appears to have been a conscious avoidance of the truth by then-Attorney General McDonnell involving unethical and highly questionable ties between Virginia and TriData.

McDonnell violated one of the basic tenants of his office’s Mission Statement, “… As Virginia’s law firm, the Office of Attorney General is dedicated to seeing to it that justice is served, wisdom is sought and the right course of action is consistently taken.” Look at the facts:

1. TriData, which does business with Virginia, was hired to write the report on the Review Panel’s finding. If TriData found the state’s largest university guilty of gross negligence and thus open to legal action, TriData’s work for the state would be over. Selecting TriData did not show “wisdom … and the right course of action.”

2. Virginia paid TriData over half-a-million dollars for a flawed report. There were over 20 errors or omissions in the crime-scene timeline. Only when the victims’ families called these errors to the governor’s attention were some corrected. The state rewarded TriData with another $75,000.00 to correct its own errors. How could McDonnell allow the state to enter into an agreement with TriData and not have a provision for correcting errors and quality control?

Then-Attorney General McDonnell stood by as the Tech report was turned into a canard.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cuccinelli to Appeal Department of Education Ruling

Some actions are legal but morally unconscionable. Attorney General Cuccinelli’s dealings with the Virginia Tech families and that tragedy fall into that category.

The latest example is Cuccinelli’s appeal the Department of Education’s (DoE) ruling that Virginia Tech violated federal law by not issuing an earlier warning on April 16, 2007. He calls the DoE decision “Monday morning quarterbacking at its worst.” But his own actions are tantamount to a cover-up.

Cuccinelli claims that the school administration “acted entirely appropriately” and did not violate federal law in not warning the campus for two hours and fifteen minutes after the first double homicide. Look at the facts:

--At 0715: two students were murdered

--At 0800: the Virginia Tech Office of Continuing Education locked down

--At 0815: two senior officials at Virginia Tech talked to their families and raised the shootings

--At 0823: the police cancelled all bank deposits

--At 0845: a Policy Group member emailed the Governor’s office stating, “a gunman (is) on the loose”

--At 0852: the Blacksburg schools locked down

--At 0852: the Executive Director of Government Relations, with an office adjacent to the school president’s, directed that doors to his office be locked

--Between 0900 and 0915: the Virginia Tech Veterinary College locked down

-- At 0926: the university Policy Group issued an email warning to the campus

--Between 0940 and 0951: Thirty people were murdered and 17 wounded

Cuccenilli also fails to mention evidence that some school officials were aware of errors in the crime timeline while the governor’s Review Panel was preparing its report, and said nothing. Cuccenilli, isn’t there a law regarding withholding of information pertinent to a crime investigation?

Monday, May 16, 2011


The National Rifle Associations’ (NRA) latest excursion into mind control and violation of the constitutional right of freedom of speech centers on their efforts to get states to adopt laws that make it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they have a gun at home. According to the 13 May edition of USA Today, three states are considering laws that would penalize doctors and other health care providers for asking patients or their parents whether they have a gun at home.

“The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun interest groups argue that doctors violate patients; Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms by inquiring about gun ownership. Doctors say they ask only because of safety concerns. Prohibiting them from asking guns violates the First Amendment, at least one constitutional law expert says.”

What about the right of any doctor to ask any patient any question pertaining to the patient’s wellbeing? Apparently the NRA believes there is only one amendment in the Bill of Rights and that is the second amendment. If you are going to apply order of importance to the amendments, then it is not unreasonable to think that the most important consideration on the founding fathers’ minds was freedom of speech. The last time I counted “one” came before “two.”

What a shame if the power of the gun lobby, coupled with the cowardice of the politicians, rewrites history and interprets the Constitution to the benefit of demented paranoia of the NRA.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

McDonnell’s Health Care Betrayal

Governor McDonnell’s intention to privatize Virginia’s mental health system is a betrayal of the electorate and an insult to the victims of the Virginia school shootings. The governor apparently bases his proposal on the system implemented by the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman. The New Jersey system has not saved money, has led to more vagrancy, (and probably crime), and has drastically undercut the quality of mental health.

Under the privatization scheme, vouchers are given to the mentally ill to use at private clinics. Most of these people are so ill that they have no jobs, cannot afford a car, and there is no public transportation to get them to the clinics. They are left homeless and on the street.

I recently witnessed the terrible results of the New Jersey program. I spent an evening with a professor and her students at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. We made over 100 peanut and jelly sandwiches and put them in bags along with fruit and water. We then went to the train station in Newark.

The station was packed with homeless, the vast majority of whom suffered from some form of mental illness. There were police everywhere, (an added taxpayer expense), in an effort to prevent crime and assure commuters they were safe.

Virginians should reject any move to cut funds for mental health or to privatize the program. Both the shooters at Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech were unstable and in need of mental health care. Following the Virginia Tech massacre, President George W. Bush called for greater government spending on mental health.

McDonnell’s argument for privatization of mental health care is specious. It is an insult to the victims of the two school shootings and their families.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Virginia Tech President Steger’s annual salary is $748,892.00. This is a man who is being sued for gross negligence, who is about as inspiring as a turnip, and who completely bungled the April 16, 2007 tragedy. Governor McDonnell, what happened to merit pay and pay for quality of work?

Steger’s pay includes $479,842 in salary (including a $22,852 bonus), $245,000 from deferred compensation and a $20,000 car allowance.

Tech spokesperson, Larry Hincker, justified the princely sum by saying Steger has held he position for 12 years, making him one of the senior heads of a major university. Hincker made no reference to quality of leadership, and pretended that April 16th never happened. Hincker did say that under Steger, Tech’s research budget has nearly doubled. Clearly Hincker puts money ahead of other leadership traits such as respect for human life and crisis management.

Hincker did not mention that under Steger’s administration the school has been found in violation of federal law in connection with the April 16, 2007 massacre and fined over $50,000. He also did not mention that a judge has ruled there is enough evidence of gross negligence against Steger to allow a lawsuit to go forward in connection with the shooting.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Realco guns tied to 2,500 crimes in D.C. and Maryland

By David S. Fallis

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 24, 2010; 12:34 PM

Outside a baby shower in Landover three years ago, Erik Kenneth Dixon snapped. As he argued with his sister and her boyfriend in a parking lot, the 25-year-old man whipped out a .45-caliber Glock and shot her in the leg. Then he chased down her boyfriend, firing between cars and at the running man's feet until he slipped on wet grass. As the prone man held his hands up in futile defense, Dixon executed him, firing seven times.

By law, Dixon was prohibited from owning a gun. He had spent almost three years in prison for shooting at a man. But three months before the baby-shower killing, he gave his girlfriend $335 and took her to an old brick house on a commercial strip just beyond the District line in Forestville, home to a gun shop called Realco.

"He knew which one he wanted and picked it out," the woman would later tell police.

Dixon's Glock was one of 86 guns sold by Realco that have been linked to homicide cases during the past 18 years, far outstripping the total from any other store in the region, a Washington Post investigation has found. Over that period, police have recovered more than 2,500 guns sold by the shop, including over 300 used in non-fatal shootings, assaults and robberies.

Realco has been known as a leading seller of "crime guns" seized by local police, but a year-long Post investigation reveals the magnitude of Realco's pattern and links the guns sold by the store to specific crimes. The Post compiled its own databases of more than 35,000 gun traces by mining unpublicized state databases and local police evidence logs.

The Post investigation found that a small percentage of gun stores sells most of the weapons recovered by police in crimes - re-confirming the major finding of studies that came out before federal gun-tracing data were removed from public view by an act of Congress in 2003. For the most part, these sales are legal, but an unknown number involve persons who buy for those who cannot, including convicted felons such as Dixon, in a process known as a "straw purchase." Such sales are illegal for the buyer and the store, if it knowingly allows a straw purchase. But cases are hard to prove. Law enforcement officials rarely prosecute gun stores, deterred by high bureaucratic hurdles, political pressure and laws that make convictions difficult.

The investigation also found that:

Nearly two out of three guns sold in Virginia since 1998 and recovered by local authorities came from about 1 percent of the state's dealers - 40 out of the 3,400 selling guns. Most of those 40 had received government warnings that their licenses were in jeopardy because of regulatory violations. But only four had their licenses revoked, and all are still legally selling guns after transferring their licenses, reapplying or re-licensing under new owners.

A gun store in Portsmouth, Va., transformed over the past seven years from a modest family-owned business into one of the state's top sellers of "crime guns," leading Virginia in the category of how quickly its guns moved from the sales counter to crime scenes.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigates gun trafficking and regulates the firearms industry, is hamstrung by the law, politics and bureaucracy. The agency still has the same number of agents it had three decades ago. It can take as long as eight years between inspections of gun stores. And even when inspectors turn up evidence of missing guns, they cannot compel a dealer to take inventory.

In Maryland, Realco towers over the other 350 handgun dealers in the state as a source of guns confiscated in the District and Prince George's County, the most violent jurisdictions in the area. Nearly one out of three guns The Post traced to Maryland dealers came from Realco. The rest were spread among other shops across the state.

The store is a paradox for law enforcement and politicians. Its owners say they scrupulously follow handgun laws. State and federal regulators have documented only minor problems in numerous inspections.

Since 1992, more than 2,500 guns recovered by police and tied to crimes in the Washington area have been traced back to their original sale at Realco Guns in Forestville, Md. The total is four times that of the dealer with the next highest number of gun traces.

"The owners of Realco Guns are cooperative with our detectives and have been compliant with all reporting requirements," said Maj. Andy Ellis, commander of the public affairs division for Prince George's police. "It shows a weakness in our system when a company like Realco can adhere to the law yet still be the source of so many crime guns. I can only imagine how much lower our violent-crime rate would be if Realco sold shoes instead of guns."

Dealers on the front lines

Tracing brings into sharp relief the fact that virtually all crime guns are first sold as new weapons by a licensed dealer to someone who cleared a background check. The criminal demand for weapons - especially new ones that cannot be tied to previous crimes - puts dealers at the front line of crime prevention.

One ATF study found that about half the guns in trafficking cases started as "straw purchases" from licensed dealers. As in the Dixon case, a person with a clean record buys a gun for a person who cannot or does not want to do so. The ATF looks to merchants to proactively weed out suspicious customers, such as a girlfriend buying for a boyfriend.

Most experts and ATF officials agree that the number of conscientious dealers far outweighs the minority that break the law. Straw schemes can be hard to detect. A gun traced to a merchant does not necessarily signal that the merchant did anything wrong, the experts say. The number of traces a store generates is shaped by many factors, including the type and number of guns sold, geography, clientele and how clerks vet customers.

The District has no walk-in gun shops but is ringed by more than 100 in Maryland and Virginia. Of the 996 guns successfully traced last year in the city, about one-fourth were tracked back to Maryland dealers, one-fourth to Virginia dealers and the rest to shops nationwide, according to the ATF.

To track crime guns in the District and Prince George's, The Post used public information requests to obtain local police logs listing 76,000 guns recovered by police in the two jurisdictions, then matched the serial numbers against a Maryland database of gun sales.

About 9,400 had no serial numbers and could not be matched. Another 13,300 were rifles or shotguns, which the state does not track. About 44,000 guns were not listed in state sales records, meaning the weapons were probably sold by dealers scattered across the country or had their serial numbers entered into police logs incorrectly.

About 8,700 guns were tracked to the Maryland merchants that last sold them.

Police in the District and Prince George's on average seized more than 160 Realco guns annually from 1997 through 2008. Realco's firearms end up at local crime scenes at a rate nearly twice that of any other active Maryland dealer that had 10 or more guns seized.

On a single day, police have logged two, three or even four guns sold by Realco, records show.

A Taurus .40-caliber pistol sold by the store in March 2004 was put to work in a murder three weeks later at a Popeyes in Oxon Hill, where 20-year-old Robert Garner Jr. killed 22-year-old Kelvin Braxton. Police learned that Garner's girlfriend had bought the gun.

A Glock .45-caliber the shop sold to Alfred L. Evans in June 2004 was used in October 2005 in Clinton at a busy traffic light to kill 28-year-old Keith Ingaharra. After one driver cut the other off in evening rush-hour traffic, Ingaharra stepped from his car waving his hands. Evans shot Ingaharra in the hip, leg and chest and then drove home.

"He had the gun right there at his fingertips," said Ingaharra's mother, Bonnie Rogers. "He just took it out and blew him away."

A Kel-Tec 9mm sold by Realco in January 2007 was used by Terris T. Luckett seven months later to shoot his wife 20 times, killing her at their Clinton home. He then killed a barber, John Scales III, in his shop. Luckett, who bought the gun, incorrectly thought the two were having an affair, police say.

Realco's president, Carlos del Real, declined repeated requests to be interviewed, dismissing the news value of gun tracing.

"It's such a ridiculous topic," said del Real, who took over the shop after his brother died in 2008. "Maybe we should just move our shop a few hundred miles away."

Glenn Ivey said that after he became Prince George's state's attorney in 2002, he asked law enforcement colleagues if he could do anything about the flow of guns from Realco, which he said he knew of from his time in the 1990s as a prosecutor in the District.

"I had an eye toward trying to take action," Ivey said. "The feedback we got was: They are doing it the way they are supposed to. They are following the letter of the law."

Asked about Realco, ATF spokeswoman Clare Weber said stores with greater numbers of traces are inspected more frequently.

"The number of traces that come back to a [gun dealer] is not a revocable offense if the dealer is found in compliance with record-keeping requirements," she said.

Joseph R. Vince Jr., who retired from the ATF's Crime Gun Analysis Branch in 1999 and has worked as an expert for lawyers who represent victims of gun violence, said the pattern prompts questions.

"If a gun store is bleeding crime guns, you have got to ask yourself what . . . is going on," Vince said. "I have no problem with somebody being in the firearms business. That is a legitimate business. But why can't the public be aware of where guns to criminals are coming from?"

Realco walks the line

Realco, one of dozens of dealers licensed over the years to sell handguns in Prince George's, opened more than 35 years ago when Carlos del Real's older brother Greg secured an ATF dealer's license.

The store - whose address is now in District Heights after an annexation three years ago - occupies a 1930 Craftsman-style house on a strip of Marlboro Pike, between the Loose Ends Hair Studio and the Black Ribeye drive-through. Across the street is a Dunkin' Donuts and a check-cashing service. Down the block is a liquor store and a police substation.

Stretched across one end of the front porch at Realco is a "Team Glock" banner, a marketing nod to the angular-shaped handgun. Bars line the windows. Customers enter in the back next to a sign announcing the "Realco Outdoor World & Gun Hospital."

Inside is a small paneled showroom lined with glass display cases and space for only a handful of customers. Rifle bags, gun safes, animal trophies and assorted gun gear fill the shop. Tacked behind the counter is a small yellow notice: "We will refuse the sale of ammo and guns to suspected straw purchasers."

Researchers in law enforcement, academia and the media first began to examine gun tracing data for clues to potential illegal sales in the late 1990s. (The efforts so angered gun supporters that they successfully lobbied Congress to impose a blackout on the once-public data in 2003.) In 1999, The Post identified Realco as the source of 493 guns used in crimes from 1996 to 1998, based on data from the ATF. That was twice the number of any other dealer in the region, and later researchers would rank Realco in the top 10 in the nation for crime-gun traces.

At the time, Greg and Carlos del Real disputed the numbers. They said they operated in a high-crime area but obeyed all laws.

"We step all over these people's constitutional rights to prevent these straw purchases," Greg del Real said.

Months later, Maryland State Police officials told The Post they were "taking an aggressive look" at Realco and potential straw purchases. Nothing came of the investigation, records show.

Greg del Real followed news of the state probe with a letter to The Post, disputing that "our store is in any way responsible for the flow of 'crime guns."

Guns, he wrote, are traced for many reasons that might not include "criminal use," including stolen guns and guns used in self-defense.

"We suspect that those reasons for traces, coupled with our high volume of sales, may account for the 'higher than average' number of gun traces attributed to our store," he wrote.

"The hundreds of sales that we have refused to make over the years," he also noted, "are not reflected in any statistical report."

Realco was back in the news in August 2007 when D.C. police issued a report that identified the leading sources of crime guns seized in D.C. in 2006 - Realco was No. 1 with 76, three times the number of the next-most-frequent dealer.

That month, prosecutor Ivey joined Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition and others outside Realco in a "protest against illegal guns." Inside the shop, Maryland State Police pored over Realco's paperwork. Investigators found little of concern.

"The brothers Del Real were cooperative during the inspection," they wrote.

Crime guns stack up

The gun industry often says that traces reflect little more than the number of guns a merchant has sold. But Maryland dealers that have sold almost as many or more guns than Realco have had their guns seized at much lower rates, records show.

Realco is listed in the Maryland database as selling 19,000 guns since 1984. Of every 1,000 sold, analysis shows, police later recovered 131.

About five miles away from Realco, near Andrews Air Force Base, is Maryland Small Arms Range Inc. The longtime dealer has sold about 15,000 guns over the past 25 years. For every 1,000 it sold, police later recovered 41.

Jack Donald, a longtime salesman at the shop, said police officers often use the range on site, potentially affecting who shops there.

"It may be some kind of a deterrent," Donald said.

Atlantic Guns, a long-established dealer in Silver Spring, has sold more than 18,000 guns in the past 25 years. For every 1,000 sold, police have recovered 28.

And in Rockville, a second Atlantic Guns location has sold more than 21,000 firearms since 1984 - the most listed in state records. Out of every 1,000 guns sold, police recovered eight.

One of the main ATF indicators of trafficking is how quickly guns are seized after they are sold, known as "time to crime." The faster guns are recovered, the ATF has found, the more likely they were bought by someone with criminal intent, sometimes through straw purchases. Anything less than three years is considered a potential red flag.

In general, Realco guns have been recovered more quickly than guns sold by other Maryland dealers. In Prince George's and the District, 55 percent of the recovered Realco guns were logged by police within three years, compared with 40 percent for the guns recovered from other Maryland dealers.

A Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun sold in March 2006 was recovered by Prince George's police 13 months later not far from a body, surrounded by shell casings, on a Landover street. A 26-year-old man was shot and killed after finding two men breaking into his car. The shooter told police that he asked a 21-year-old woman to purchase the handgun for him because he was 20 at the time and "not of legal age to purchase one himself," police said.

In a May 2006 straw purchase, a man bought a handgun at Realco for a felon friend who wanted to shoot abortion doctors. The plot was foiled after the felon's family called authorities weeks later.

In another straw scheme that ended later that year, a 22-year-old District man on probation for a handgun violation had his 47-year-old girlfriend, an office manager at a law firm who had a clean record, buy handguns for him on four shopping trips to Realco, prosecutors said. The scheme unraveled after police recovered one of the guns in the District.

The ATF trace revealed that the woman had bought it at Realco two months before. After talking with an ATF agent, she filed reports that one of the guns was stolen, but she eventually said she gave it to her boyfriend.

The man "went to Realco Guns with her on each occasion," she told the ATF, according to a document filed in court.

The straw purchase

When Erik Dixon first shot at a man, he had in his grip a relatively new Ruger .40-caliber handgun from Realco.

Dixon, then 21, had a string of arrests, was on federal probation, had abused drugs and complained of hearing voices in his head.

Standing outside his mother's home in Landover the night of May 3, 2003, he accused a man, an acquaintance, of attacking him. Dixon ordered the man to the ground, took $200 from him and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the asphalt, and lead fragments ricocheted into the victim's face and shoulder.

As Dixon put the gun to the back of the man's head, a police car turned onto the street. Dixon fled.

When police arrested Dixon two days later, the gun fell from his waistband. Realco had sold the gun about eight months before, records show, to a man who had lived in the area.

Charged with attempted murder, Dixon claimed he was insane. The courts sent him to prison on a lesser charge of felony assault.

Once out, he met Cathy R. Anderson, 31, and soon asked that she buy a gun for him. In January 2007, the pair visited Realco, where she made a down payment on a Glock .45, signing a form saying she was buying the gun for herself. Dixon was in the store with her, she later told police.

She told investigators she didn't know of his criminal past. She said she never touched the gun after she picked it up on a return trip to Realco.

"I took it back to Erik's truck and gave it to him," she told police.

Two months later, Anderson called Maryland State Police, nervous about what she had done. That day, April 5, they opened a straw-purchase investigation to track down Dixon and the gun. Nine days later, he murdered his sister's boyfriend.

He was arrested nine days after that in Virginia. Anderson cooperated with prosecutors, who chose not to charge her. Dixon is serving a 60-year sentence.

In phone messages, Anderson declined to be interviewed, saying Dixon is no longer in her life.

"That was then; this is now," she said. ". . . I'm sorry for what happened."

Contributing to this report were staff writers James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, videographer Ben de la Cruz, staff researcher Julie Tate and former staff researcher Meg Smith.