Wednesday, February 19, 2014



Virginia Tech: Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out, a new book due for publication in the new year, pulls no punches in its investigation of the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech that claimed 33 lives. Author David Cariens delivers blow after blow in his look at systemic failures before, during and after the worst school shooting in the nation’s history. In 14 chapters, Cariens hammers away at dozens of key points from different perspectives – his own, drawing on both personal and professional experiences; through the eyes of family members of the shooting victims; in a scathing critique of the Governor’s Review Panel reports of the tragedy, and in discussions on gun control and American culture. He also gives an account of the lawsuit filed by two families, the trial, the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and the pending appeal.   
There are, regrettably, a lot of points to hammer home. They surface in summary fashion in the timeline of events that introduces most chapters, in more detail in the narratives that follow, and are reinforced by those affected directly by the tragedy.
The book’s first timeline is a sobering account of 35 school shootings; males with guns and mental health issues are all-too-common denominators. The timeline sets the tone for what follows. It also implies that lessons which come out of such tragedies are not learned universally or well, or with any staying power.
The first four chapters of Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out give a detailed accounting of the Virginia Tech shootings, including the background of the shooter, Seung Hui Cho, and the warning signs that even when duly reported seemed to fall through the cracks – cracks that too many in authority fail to acknowledge. This lack of accountability is the theme for the remaining ten chapters. Recurring issues are how school administrators and law enforcement handled – or didn’t handle – the events that day, how they interacted – or didn’t – with family members, and how the official reports that followed blurred facts and skated around issues central to improving school safety.
During the Virginia Tech tragedy, 2 ½ hours elapsed without a campus lockdown between the double homicide in a dormitory, which was under investigation, and the mass shooting in Norris Hall; two students were even allowed to leave the dorm and attend classes, fatally, in Norris Hall. Cariens notes that a precedent already had been set for a lockdown; that word had gotten out to select individuals, and that some departments had locked down independently. He writes that a flawed timeline covered the failure to issue a warning, and that the official report glossed over pivotal facts, and in some cases erred altogether. Questions of conflict of interest in the reporting, and possible ulterior motives, also abound.
Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out is Cariens’ attempt to make sure it does. Real improvements to school safety come from honest appraisals of tragedies, he asserts; anything less is a missed opportunity.

New Publishing Date

Due to editing and technical problems, the publication date for Virginia Tech: Make Sure It Doesn't Get Out is now set for between February 28th and March 4th. A Kindle version of the book should be available in 10 to 14 days after the book is published.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My OpEd I Cannot Get Picked Up

I know I have addressed the Virginia Supreme Court's decision to overturn the verdict in the Pryde/Peterson trial before, but here it is again. I tried to get the article below printed as an OpEd piece in some Virginia newspapers and had no luck. So, here it is:


All too often over the last few years there have been spectacles of large institutions protecting themselves and their reputations in the face of the most vile crimes. Penn State is a prime example of people in leadership positions placing the school and its highly regarded football program reputation ahead of the safety of young boys.

Sadly, in Virginia we have experienced a similar disregard for human decency and truth when confronted with a crime of monumental proportions. Here, it was not turning a blind eye toward years of sexual molestion of young boys, it was the murder of 32 people and the wounding of 17 at Virginia Tech.

Virginians know all too well that for nearly seven years the Virginia Tech victims and families have sought the truth. But the power of the governor’s mansion, the state’s Attorney General, and the influence peddling of the southwestern Virginia’s most powerful economic engine, Virginia Tech, have blunted their efforts.

First, came the school’s hiring of one of the most powerful public relations firms, Burson-Marsteller, (at a cost of around three-quarters of a million dollars) to spin the tragedy to the school’s benefit. Second, came the state’s hiring of a private, Arlington-based company to produce a badly flawed Governor’s Review Panel Report. The final version of that report, known as The Addendum, is still riddled with errors, fails to address critical questions, and assigns no blame despite evidence of gross incompetence.

Now, the third and most recent Virginia example of bureaucratic willingness to protect an institution’s reputation despite glaring evidence of incompetence and willful blindness, comes in the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision to set aside a jury verdict holding Virginia Tech accountable and liable for not warning the campus on the morning of April 16, 2007.

The decision was announced, fittingly, on Halloween—October 31, 2013. In a poorly written decision that contains a critical error of fact, Justice Cleo E. Powell wrote, “under the facts of this case, there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties.”

There are two major problems with the Court’s reasoning. First is a major error fact. Justice Powell wrote on page two “… the Blacksburg Police Department led the investigation.” That is not true. The investigation was conducted under an agreement between Blacksburg and the school whereby the requesting police force led the investigation.The Virginia Tech Police Department’s Chief Wendell Flinchum led the investigation. How could the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously be wrong on this critical fact?

The second problem in the decision says the ruling is based on the facts of the case and then the supreme court interprets some facts in the most favorable way possible for the school and completely ignores other facts. For example, there is absolutely no evidence that the double homicide at Norris Hall at 7:15 a.m. was a domestic incident or love triangle—which was the the school’s excuse for not warning.

The court never explains why it was correct for Virginia Tech to warn the campus nine months earlier when William Morva broke out of the Blacksburg jail and killed two people, but the school failed to warn when no weapon was found at a double murder, with thirteen bloodly footprints leading away from the crime scene. All the evidence pointed to a killer being on the loose and on campus.

The court decision never explains why it was correct for Virginia Tech to warn the campus over the flu and mold, but not a murderer.  The court apparently is not interested in the discrepancies between the sworn testimony of Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum and notes taken at the school’s Policy Group over whether or not to warn the campus and lockdown.

It was bad enough that the timeline in the state’s official report of the rampage, The Addendum, could not even get the timing of Cho’s sucide correct and omits critical facts. Now the Virginia Supreme Court has added its name to the list of government organizations willing to play fast and free with facts in order to protect a school and its leaders.

In my classes on intelligence and crime analysis I teach there are two critical parts to an investigation: the timeline and the person in charge of the investigation (and how the  investigation is conducted). The Governor’s Review Panel Report got the first one wrong, the Virginia Supreme Court got the second one wrong—in a unanimous decision.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


By David Cariens, Jr. 

David Cariens is a retired CIA officer who currently teaches intelligence analysis and writing in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of A Question of Accountability: The Murder of Angela Dales -- an examination of the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia and a textbook, Critical Thinking Through Writing: Intelligence and Crime Analysis. He contributed to the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Agency’s Criminal Intelligence for the 21st Century.


PUBLISHING DATE: February 14, 2014

Virginia Tech: Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out details the multiplicity of causes that led to one of this nation’s worst school shootings — pointing out the incompetence on the part of people in positions of power: broken communications, failure to follow pre-approved emergency procedures, and how misunderstandings of the privacy laws allowed people in positions of authority to ignore the killer’s warning signs. The book illustrates how the age-old argument “no one can be responsible for when or how others will act,” is tantamount to cowardice and, in some cases, a shameful willingness to exploit and manipulate a tragedy for personal or ideological reasons.

For the first time eleven Tech families tell their stories in one place. A first-hand account of the shooting is given from a survivor of the massacre. In addition, several families’ speak candidly about their experiences in dealing with the Virginia Tech shooting and its aftermath.

The book explains that the road to recovery starts with the recognition that the shooter’s rampage could have been prevented. Indeed, the first step in moving on from the loss of life on April 16, 2007 is to understand that we will never fully recover because the Virginia Tech massacre was preventable.

Virginia Tech: Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out exposes the abdication of leadership and authority by law enforcement personnel, school officials, and politicians in connection with all aspects of the deaths of 32 people and wounding of 17 others at the Virginia Tech tragedy. It explains, in detail, what happened at Virginia Tech before, during, and after the shooting, and in so doing gives credence to the victims families’ efforts to bring changes in state and federal laws to tighten school security.  The book also helps all families across the nation understand how to keep their children safe and to make sure that schools have security measures in place and that those measures are completely understood by faculty, staff, and students.

The book analyzes the Governor’s Review Panel Report, exposing that document’s serious shortcomings, its failure to address critical questions, and its failure to name individuals and hold them accountable for their actions and inactions.  It also examines society’s shortcomings that have made our school campuses shooting galleries for disturbed individuals. The book exposes the lengths that those in leadership will go to hide the truth, including their failure to abide by their own written policies.