For the Goddard family, the realization that something was amiss, that Virginia Tech was hiding something, came early—in the hours and days immediately following the shooting.
Unlike school officials such as Associate Vice President for University Relations Lawrence Hincker, whose memory repeatedly failed him on the witness stand during the Pryde and Petersen families’ trial against Virginia Tech, Andy Goddard remembers. Monday April 16, 2007 in vivid, painful detail. He was at home that day getting ready to take his mother-in-law to the train to return home to New Jersey. When the news of the double shootings at West Ambler Johnston Hall came over the television he told his mother-in-law not to worry, that Colin lives off campus in an apartment. But as the news of the Tech tragedy grew steadily worse, Andy’s concern for Colin’s safety turned to fear and then to panic. He tried to console himself by saying what are the odds? On a campus that big, what are the odds Colin had been shot?
He clearly recalls phoning his wife’s office only to be told she was on another line talking to Colin, who had been shot. All they knew was that he was in the hospital, was wounded, and apparently would recover. It was not until they got to the hospital and talked to the doctors that the Goddards found out their son had been shot four times and had five wounds—the fifth wound being where a bullet had exited Colin’s body.
The hospital Colin had been taken to was not far from the school. As Andy Goddard sat watching his son struggle to deal with his life-threatening wounds, he waited for someone from the school to contact him. But no one came. This absence on the first day, the day of the shooting, was not hard to explain. Andy told himself school officials were busy with the families of the deceased—as they should be. But months later when Andy met with some of the families of the deceased he was shocked to find out they had not been the main focus of the school administration’s attention either. By that afternoon Colin’s friends had found where he was and were at the hospital. Andy could not help but think if students could find Colin certainly the school could—surely someone from the school would show up soon. He waited that evening, yet no one appeared and the school made no attempt to contact the Goddard family or inquire about Colin’s condition.
Two professors’ wives did come to the hospital, but it was on their own initiative. As sympathetic and kind as their gesture was, the two women did not represent the school and had no authority to open up a line of communication. Their presence only underscored the school’s inaction and increasingly obvious indifference.
On Tuesday, still no contact with the school, but again, Andy assumed they were busy with the families of the dead. As the day progressed, there was no sign of anyone from Virginia Tech—no administrators, no counselors, no faculty, no one. Andy had sent messages through the hospital director and the two faculty wives, asking them to relay his concerns directly to Tech officials. But still there was no word or inquiry from the school, there was no contact point, and no school official came to the hospital or made any attempt to inquire about Colin.
For Andy Goddard, an engineer, when something is broken you spend time analyzing the problem and find out what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. Usually disasters, such as what occurred at Virginia Tech, are caused by many small things going wrong and by those things coming together with tragic consequences—a confluence of mistakes, missed signals, and sometimes negligence. Andy wanted answers and it did not take him long to realize school officials did not want to talk. Tech officials wanted minimal contact with the families of the dead and wounded; clearly, he thought, someone had gotten to Tech and told them not to talk.
By now Andy was not just annoyed, he was angry. He would later find out that the school had contacted none of the families of the wounded and that even three days after the shooting, the school did not know the names of the wounded, where they had been taken, or their conditions. It was as if once the injured were taken off the campus, the school had no responsibility or interest in them.
On Wednesday, as Colin was taken to surgery, there was still no official contact with the school. Again Andy turned to the hospital director to help open a line of communication to Tech, but once more the school did not respond.
An increasingly agitated Andy then went to the phone, called the school and asked when a school representative would appear at the hospital. The response was that nobody could come because of privacy issues, and they would not be allowed in unless they were family. The excuse was out and out false. President Steger did visit at least one wounded student after hours when the parents were not present. Furthermore, the school official added that Tech did not know names of those in the hospital, much less what hospitals the wounded were in or their conditions. Andy was furious. He wanted to blurt out, but did not, “For god’s sake, Tech has class rosters, the school knows the names of the dead and yet days after the shooting claims to have no idea who the wounded are, where they are, or their condition.”
Adding insult to injury, the school official asked Andy to go around the hospital and gather the names of the other injured and then report that back to him. A livid Andy Goddard refused.
At this point Andy lost his temper and demanded that someone representing the school administration come to the hospital. He said he would be at the front door waiting for someone to show up. And wait he did. While Colin lay in the recovery room, Andy Goddard stood for hours at the front door of the hospital, but no one came. What Andy wanted was a contact point, a name or a number to call; he didn’t want answers, he didn’t want apologies, he just wanted a line of communication with school officials. He wanted contact with the people who had been responsible for his son’s education right up to the point when he was loaded into an ambulance and driven away. Those people, however, appeared to have washed their hands of Colin Goddard once he was taken to the hospital.
Finally, late in the day some nurses from Tech did appear. By then Andy had no patience, he could only respond, “What we want is an administrator—we have nurses! Has someone told Tech not to find out information, or does the school just not care?” Andy realized that Tech was a big school, and this was a crisis, but it stretched all credibility to think that a school the size of Tech could not find four administrators to send, one each, to the four hospitals where the wounded were being cared for.
Andy Goddard’s suspicion of obstruction grew. It was becoming clear; Tech was trying to hide something. It was at that point that Andy realized that Tech had embarked on a campaign to cover up and hide incompetence and bureaucratic inertia. He believed there could be only one explanation for the school’s lack of responsiveness; Virginia Tech had played a role in Cho’s massacre. It remained to be seen just what that role was, but as the evidence and facts surfaced over the succeeding weeks and months, not only would the school’s complicity in enabling Cho to carry out his massacre become clear, but evidence of the lengths to which the Steger administration would go to cover up the school’s negligence would become glaringly apparent.
Upon reflection, Andy realized how naïve he had been. He had thought that everyone was in this together; they were all victims—the school and the families. He was finding out just how wrong he was.
The school did finally assign a liaison person, and she contacted the Goddards on Friday, April 20th.
Andy stayed in Blacksburg, in Colin’s apartment to help him get back on his feet. After a couple of weeks he asked if he could contact the families of the deceased, or just be given the names, he was told no. Andy was told those families did not want to talk. Andy soon found out that was a lie. Just as he was trying to get the names and contact numbers for the families of the wounded, Joe Samaha, whose daughter had been murdered, was trying to do the same for those whose children and loved ones had been killed. Samaha was also intent on contacting the families of those who survived. The school apparently wanted the families to have as little contact with each other as possible. Tech officials did not want the families talking to each other and comparing notes. Their strategy appeared to be to divide and conquer.
When he got back to Richmond, some three weeks later, Andy again raised the subject of contacting the families of the injured and those killed. The school offered to take the Goddards’ contact information and give it to other families, who could then decide if they wanted to talk to the Goddards. That was the last Andy Goddard would hear on the subject and none of the families he later talked with remember ever being offered the contact information. Clearly the school had lied.
Again, Andy Goddard took the initiative. He went through press reports and collected the names of the families of the dead and wounded. It took him three or four weeks to draw up a master list of family names and to make his first contact with other families. One by one he began contacting other families and one by one he found them all eager to talk. Andy contacted Joe Samaha and found that he and others were not only anxious, but eager to talk to the families of the survivors. The picture was clear that school officials had lied when they said the families of the deceased did not want to talk to the families of the survivors. There could be no doubt Virginia Tech was hiding something and had been willing to lie to attempt to keep the families apart.
For the Goddards then, the defining moment came soon after arriving in Blacksburg—within the first 24 hours. The school’s lack of willingness to send a representative to the hospital alerted Andy Goddard to some sort of nefarious activity on the part of the Steger administration, a suspicion that was confirmed when Andy Goddard found out he had been lied to about the families of the dead not wanting to talk to the families of the wounded. (To be continued)