“Lying is done with words and also with silence.”
~ Adrienne Rich, American poet, essayist, feminist
In my conversations with Michael Pohle, whose son, Michael Polhle, Jr., was killed in German class, I told him of my family’s experience in hopes that it might help prepare him for what lay ahead for not only the Pohle family, but all Virginia Tech families. I feared that they would all eventually come to the same defining moment my family and I had as we attempted to find closure after the Appalachian School of Law shootings. Angela Dales, the mother of our oldest grandchild, had been killed in that shooting, and yet we had to play detectives ourselves in order to find out any of the details related to her death.
Sheila Tolliver, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, had agreed to arrange a meeting for us with the police to try and answer some of our questions about Angie’s death. Angie’s father was especially upset because no one had ever taken the time to tell him some of the particulars—details that mean so much to the family. Who took Angie to the hospital? Where did she die? These are not earth shaking or accusatory questions they are simple details that help families heal by reconstructing the last moments of their child’s life. These were the kinds of details that many of the Virginia Tech families wanted.
What took place during the meeting was not only disconcerting, but it was alarming in terms of uncovering significant shortcomings in the criminal investigative procedures associated with the law school shootings.
We gathered in Tolliver’s office. Three state highway patrolmen were also there, John Santolla, Walt Parker, and Ashley Hagy. The three police officers were unable or unwilling to answer most of our questions or even give us something as simple as a timeline. In fact, the timeline is the foundation upon which much of the investigation rests. The parallels here with the Virginia Tech investigation are so close that one has to realize that this is a standard strategy for any organization that feels threatened: information is power, so don’t give it out.
All the Tech families would find out that a flawed timeline plays a critical role in covering up facts and evidence. Just as in the case of the Appalachian School of Law, the Virginia Tech families would discover that there was a lack of sound crime scene and investigative practices at the murder scene. In the case of Virginia Tech, as I have discussed and will continue to examine, this apparent malfeasance in investigating Cho’s first shooting would lead to many more deaths.
In addition to bureaucratic obstructionism, I cautioned Michael to be prepared for open hostility. It was another ingredient that made the meeting in Ms. Tollivers’s office our defining moment. From the outset, Officer Parker appeared to take an instant dislike to me. From the moment he entered the room, it was apparent that Officer Parker’s idea of answering questions that he found distasteful, involved the use of verbal abuse or sarcasm. He challenged why he was there, why any of them were there. I felt that the only thing limiting his abusive behavior was the presence of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. He even lashed out at our “lawsuit” which was an especially odd assertion because at that time there was no lawsuit against the Appalachian School of Law.
That anticipation of the lawsuit and the need to control information and opinions about the shootings would also come into play in the interactions between the Virginia Tech administration and the victims of the Cho shooting spree. One has to ask if there was not a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy at work here: two schools tried so hard to control the information about the respective shootings so that they could not be held accountable and sued.
The reality of what we faced began to sink in—a cover up.
The above is an abbreviated version of our story shared with Michael Pohle. What will follow are the experiences, of the Pohles, as well as the Goddards, whose son was wounded in the massacre, and the Whites whose daughter died at Tech. (To be continued)