Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let Them Marinate in Their Guilt

The jury decision (in the Pryde and Petersen lawsuit) that Virginia Tech was negligent for not warning the campus after the double homicide at Ambler West Johnston Hall is, once again, proof of the bungling incompetence of Charles Steger’s administration at that school. The Department of Education has already decided that Virginia Tech was guilty of violating the Clery Act for not issuing a warning.

Virginia Tech is one of this nation’s premier schools. It is an outstanding institution of higher learning. Our youngest son is a graduate of the engineering school at Virginia Tech—I am so proud of the education he got there; I am so ashamed that the school is run by such inept people.

To those who say Steger and school officials shouldn’t be held accountable for their inaction, I would remind you that school’s advertise they offer a safe and secure environment for learning, and that the courts have ruled that schools have a “special relationship with students” and do have a responsibility for their safety. Furthermore, how can anyone justify issuing the following warnings and not issuing a warning on April 16, 2007, when there were bloody footprints leading away from a double homicide in the middle of the campus? Tech had

--Issued a campus-wide warning when a convict, William Morva, escaped from a Blacksburg jail and killed two people and there was no evidence Morva was on campus.

--Issued a campus-wide warning about measles.

--Issued a campus-wide warning about mold in the library.

--Issued a campus-wide warning about mumps.

--Issued a campus-wide warning about a bomb threat even though the school knew it was probably false.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Virginia Tech trial, Day 8: Families of two April 16 shooting victims awarded $4 million each

A Virginia Tech spokesman said the university is "disappointed with today's decision" and maintained that Tech responded appropriately, given the information available on that day.

The Roanoke Times

Updated 4:03 p.m. | Posted 9:21 a.m.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski responded to a jury's decision to award $4 million to the families of two April 16 shooting victims after finding that Virginia Tech's actions on that day contributed to their deaths.

Owczarski said, in a statement: "We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007."

Updated 3:25 p.m.

Virginia Tech contributed to the deaths of two students, Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, in the mass shooting that took place on the campus April 16, 2007, a jury ruled today.

The seven-person jury in Montgomery County Circuit Court also awarded each parent of Peterson and Pryde $2 million. In total, the jury awarded damages of $8 million. The state may only be responsible for paying $100,000 in damages. The judge will rule on the awards cap later.

The trial brings closure to five years of questions that victims' parents have had about decisions police and university administrators made the morning of April 16.

After two students were murdered in a residence hall, the university waited more than two hours to notify the campus of a shooting. The university was not put on lockdown as police searched for a person of interest -- wrongly, the boyfriend of the first female victim -- off campus.

The gunman opened fire minutes later in Norris Hall, killing 30, including Peterson and Pryde.

The families in court today were the only two estates of victims and wounded students who chose not to settle with the university or forgo a lawsuit.

When the jury announced its verdict after deliberating almost three and a half hours, Peterson’s mother, Celeste, began to weep.

Presiding Judge William Alexander then offered his condolences for the pain Celeste and Grafton Peterson, parents of Erin, and Harry and Karen Pryde, parents of Julia, have felt.

-- Katelyn Polantz | The Roanoke Times

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chardon Rampage

The shooting rampage in Chardon, Ohio, is a stark reminder to all Virginians of how little politicians have done to protect our schools. Following the Virginia Tech massacre, Richmond made promises to improve school safety on a wide range of fronts. Few of those promises have been kept.

The common threat connecting these killers is mental or emotional illness. The shooter at Chardon, an emotionally disturbed young man, proves that point again.

The official reports following both Columbine and Virginia Tech called for increased emphasis and spending on mental health in an effort to identify and get help for these future killers. In the crime analysis courses I teach, some of my students, who are mental health specialists, estimate that between 50 and 70 per cent of all crime in America could be prevented through improved mental health programs.

But Governor McDonnell and the Virginia legislature are cutting spending on mental health. Now, McDonnell proposes to privatize the state’s mental health program. Privatization has failed in other states. Furthermore, privatization will lead to a further decline in the quality of mental health care, thus helping to make the state more vulnerable to school shootings.

School safety is not cheap; mental health is not cheap. But what price would Governor McDonnell say is a fair price for the life of any student, staff, or faculty member?

I tried raising mental health and school safety issues with Delegate Ransone, Senator Stuart, and Congressman Wittman. They either don’t answer letters, or in Wittman’s case, he won’t take my questions on his phone survey. All three are afraid of the problem because it means addressing two issues: spending more money on mental health for school safety, and examining ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.