Fifteen years have passed since the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law and ten years since the Virginia Tech rampage. Since the law school shooting in Gundy, Virginia on January 16, 2002, there have been over 31 school shootings in the U.S., resulting in the deaths of more than 126 people and the wounding of at least another 98. The killings go on and bodies pile up. Add to that figure shootings such as the ones at the Aurora, Colorado theater and Orlando nightclub; domestic violence and street crimes, and it is hard to deny we have an epidemic gun violence.
In the case of my family, the scars are still there. Angela Dales, the mother of my oldest grandchild, was killed at the law school. Danny Dales, Angie’s father, died in January 2013. His health deteriorated sharply after his daughter’s murder and he never recovered. Angie’s mother, Sue, has moved to be near her son and his family. Our granddaughter has graduated from college with honors and is in graduate school. But she is emotionally scared. Our son no longer blames himself for not being in the student lounge to protect Angie. His recovery from Angie’s murder has been long and costly. It took a good six years of support and tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills to get him back on his feet.
In the years since January 16, 2002, Virginia has not done nearly enough to make our schools safer. Indeed, five years after Grundy, the state had the worst school shooting in this nation’s history: April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech 32 dead and at least 17 wounded. The parallels between the state’s two shootings are staggering: ignored warning signs, failed leadership on the part of school leaders on the day of the shootings, and massive cover-ups. In the case of the Virginia Tech rampage, the Virginia Supreme Court broke the law and introduced false evidence into it decision making—lying about who was in charge of the investigation on April 16, 2007. Gross incompetence has been covered up, and the gun show loophole has not been closed. It is now easier than ever for people who are a danger to themselves and others to buy a gun in Virginia.
In the case of the Virginia Tech shooting, the state spent over $675,000 to have a company that has done business with the state write the analysis of the shooting determining if the state’s largest university was culpable: an obvious conflict of interest and waste of taxpayers’ money. In contrast, the Columbine report was written, at no cost, by the panel doing the investigation. The report analyzing the tragedy at Sandy Hook was written by the state’s Attorney General’s office at no cost to the taxpayers.
In Virginia, the electorate complains about wasting taxpayers’ money, yet the state went on a spending spree after Cho’s rampage and hired two public relations organizations to spin the tragedy in order to do minimal damage to Virginia Tech. The firms, Firestorm and Burson-Marsteller, were paid a total of $813,000. (Keep in mind the families of the dead students and faculty each got $100,000.) There is only one reason to hire public relations firms—you have something to hide. Neither Colorado (Columbine) nor Connecticut (Sandy Hook) needed to hire public relations firms to manage the media because there was no need to cover up or suppress the truth.
A prime example of Virginia’s chicanery came nearly three years after the Tech shooting when the lower house of the Virginia legislature significantly weakened state Senator John Edwards’ bill to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia relating to crisis and emergency management for public institutions of higher learning.
Specifically, members of the lower house took exception to university presidents and other school officials having to certify they comprehend and understand the school’s emergency plan—a plan those presidents played a role in draftingting. Here is the sentence as it cleared and passed the senate unanimously:
“In addition, the members of the threat assessment team, as defined …(by law)…, and the president and vice-president of each institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management, comprehension and understanding of the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan.”
Here is the sentence the lower house insisted on and appears ithe final bill:
“In addition, the president and vice-president of each public institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually (i) review the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan; (ii) certify in writing that the president and vice-president, or the superintendent, have reviewed the plan; and (iii) make recommendations to the institution for appropriate changes to the plan.”
Stop to think what members of the Virginia legislature have done: they have said presidents of the state’s colleges and universities do not have to comprehend and understand a document that is critical to the security of our children.
While the State Senate passed the original bill unanimously, the House of Delegates objected. The two most ardent opponents of the legislation—they wouldn’t vote for it in any form—were then-Delegate and Virginia Tech employee David Nutter, and Delegate Charles Poindexter.
The Virginia state legislature removed all chances of holding incompetent college and university president’s accountable for incompetence and poor judgment. And, on a cynical side, if you look at the working of the bill it says that presidents of the states institutions of higher learning don’t have to understand what they read. The lower house insisted on the change to protect school leaders from litigation.
I would ask, do you want to send your child to a school in which inept and maladroit school leadership can lead to the murder and wounding of faculty, staff and students—and you, or any family, have little to no recourse? (To be continued)