Sunday, April 30, 2017


“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result
of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our
children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life
free of violence and fear.”
~Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

It was not about money; it was never about money.

If you were to ask the parents of Erin Nicole Peterson or Julia Kathleen Pryde whether $8 million is a fair price for the lives of their children, they would throw the offer in your face. If you were to ask them if $80 million is a fair price for the lives of their daughters, they would say there is no amount of money that is worth a child’s life—period. There is nothing that can compensate parents for the agonizing silence when they enter their dead child’s bedroom; there is nothing that will ever make the pain completely go away.

For the plaintiffs, the whole purpose of the lawsuit was to find out the truth that had not been revealed by the Governor’s report that was supposed to have given them a complete picture of how their daughters were killed in the largest school massacre in modern U.S. history.

And it was not just about two families. Pryde and Peterson may have been the names on the suit, but they were not the only ones driven to find the truth. All the families of the victims were in the courtroom in spirit. Andy Goddard, father of Colin Goddard, who was seriously injured in the shooting, came every day to listen to the proceedings and take notes. Andy sent his notes each evening to families of the killed or wounded who were not able to attend the trial.

When the Pryde and Peterson families filed their lawsuit, many of us wondered if they could get a fair trial or if the cards were stacked against them. Stop to think of what they were doing: they were suing Virginia’s largest state university, a school that is the most powerful economic engine in southwest Virginia. The school has a powerful lobby in Richmond, and one member of the school administration, David Nutter, actually served in the Virginia House of Delegates at the time. As I have already noted, Nutter did not back legislation meant to strengthen school safety. Furthermore, the trial was to be heard by a Virginia judge appointed by the Virginia legislature. The potential for conflict of interest and the possibilities for undue influence and miscarriage of justice were alarming.

Not only did the school have powerful support in Richmond, but Tech was probably counting on swinging public opinion in its favor with the fact that 30 of the 32 dead victims’ families had settled with the state. The strategy apparently relied on the assumption that no one would learn what had motivated the other 30 families to sign, and that the factual flaws in the Governor’s report would never be discovered. Tech was gambling that there would be no need to formally acknowledge the errors, if discovered, until the two-year statute of limitations for filing legal claims or challenging the legitimacy of any settlement had expired.

The state of Virginia appeared willing to do anything to keep Virginia Tech from being sued. Michael Pohle remembers the families of the deceased being told, through their own attorneys, that the state would withhold payment for medical care for the wounded survivors if the families of those killed did not settle.  Given the emotional roller coaster the families were on and their inability to think clearly as they came to grips with their loss, they were easy prey.

Indeed, as soon as the terms of the settlement offer were known, the families began speculating among themselves that the wounded were being held hostage to get them to sign. Once the family meetings were held in October, 2008 with Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum and law enforcement officials (following the settlement), some family members, including Michael Pohle, publicly challenged the settlement, arguing they had been lied to and the state had used the wounded as pawns to force families to settle.

The fact that the families’ attorneys carried this message raises serious questions. Yes, on the one hand it would be appropriate for them to convey such information to their clients, but it is odd that the some of the families do not remember their attorneys going into detail about what other options were available other than accepting the settlement terms. Some families had the feeling they were being rushed into a settlement.

The state played the same game with the families of the wounded. Andy Goddard recalls being told the families of the deceased would get nothing if they, the families of the wounded, did not settle. (To be continued)

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Now that I have discussed Virginia Tech’s Capital Campaign fundraising effort, the seedy side of this story continues. I will now return to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and how Virginia Tech appears to have profited quite handsomely in another area. The question that leads into this segment is, does $8.5 million truly represent the “bulk” of the funds that were received at Virginia Tech in the aftermath of the tragedy?  The answer is, unfortunately, not by a long shot. To better set the scene, it is important to note that the Virginia Tech Foundation and Virginia Tech are two completely separate organizations from a financial perspective (although both are obviously very connected).

What follows are two tables. The first shows the changes in financial performance of the VT Foundation over four consecutive years, including the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007. Again, the VT Foundation was the sole entity that established the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund for donations to be held following the shootings. When you look at the table, note the rather large increase for the fiscal year that included April 16, 2007. From this, presumably, came the $8.5 million that was disbursed to the families.

Virginia Tech Foundation
Financial Year
Increase in Net Assets (Millions)
Increase/Decrease from Prior Year (Millions)
Percentage Change
+ $ 56.9
+ $ 57.6
+ $ 0.7
+ 1.23%
+ $ 80.9
+ $ 23.3
+ 40.45%
+ $ 132.0
+ $ 51.1
+ 63.16%

Outside of the Virginia Tech Foundation, however, what shocked many families was the sudden and sharp improvement in the financial situation of Virginia Tech, a separate financial entity. In the table below, which contains information from Virginia Tech’s own financial reports, you will see an amazing change in the school’s asset amounts for the time period that includes the April 16th murders as compared to the three previous years. Clearly this money was coming in as part of the outpouring of sympathy in the wake of the shootings. This sudden increase raises all sorts of questions about the school’s ethical behavior in handling its newfound wealth. How is it that donations pouring into the school and were “allegedly” going to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund or other funds established, and controlled, by the Virginia Tech Foundation found their way to the school itself? Was the temptation just too great? Was someone diddling with the books to enrich the school? The percentage change from previous years is truly astounding. The question is where did that huge gain come from? I submit that answer is simple: From the blood of innocents who were killed or wounded.

Virginia Tech University

Financial Year
Increase in Net Assets (Millions)
Increase/Decrease from Prior Year (Millions)
Percentage Change
+ $ 61.2
+ $ 4.0
+ 6.99%
+ $ 58.8
- $ 2.4
- 3.92%
+ $ 39.4
- $ 19.4
- 32.99%
+ $ 148.9
+ $ 109.5
+ 377.91%

From the tables above, there can be no arguing that there is a huge difference between the $8.5 million figure that was publicly announced by the President of Virginia Tech in October of 2007 as representing the “bulk of the funds that were being disbursed to the families and the staggering $160 million net increase above the three-year norm for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007. Again, we have to ask, “How is it that Virginia Tech, a separate financial entity from the Virginia Tech Foundation, realized such a tremendous windfall?

The final question concerns the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund.  Remember, Virginia Tech did state that once the HSMF was closed, any additional donations would be kept by the school and placed into the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund. That is a fitting tribute to those who died and were wounded on April 16th. But, what really happened to those donations?

In an email sent in 2010 to one of the families whose son had been killed on April 16th, a school official discussed scholarships indicating that as of late 2010, the Hokie Spirit Memorial Scholarship Fund was endowed at about $1 Million dollars. He stated that no scholarships were awarded from 2007 to 2009.  In 2010, however, he said that just over $95,000 was awarded to 35 students [an average of just under $3,000 per student]. For 2011, and beyond, he expected that a total of around $48,000 would be awarded based on the endowment earning about $12,000 per quarter. Is Virginia Tech really telling us that only $1 million went to the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund at a time when the school and the Foundation were flooded with donations? This just does not make sense. There was never any transparency in the handling of these huge sums of money and the school made no effort to clarify its handling of its new wealth.

 So, the bottom line is that we have a school that was never transparent, never involved the families, kept information private, and cashed in big time on the blood of those killed and wounded on that terrible April day. It is now obvious that the school realized a net gain of well over $160 million, which is far greater than has ever been disclosed. Virginia Tech controlled every facet of the donations being sent to the school. Subsequently, I argue that an amount of just over $8 million spread out across 80 families does not represent anything close to the “bulk” of what was donated out of the extreme kindness, generosity, and compassion of so many people throughout the United States and the world.

For the families, the lies and half-truths are appalling. The healing process has been hindered by the school’s duplicity and greed. The families would have liked a say in how the money was distributed; many of them would have liked the bulk of the money to go to scholarships in the names of their loved ones, or charities of their choosing. That would have been a fitting tribute; that would have helped them. The families are not after any money; you could not give them $160 million for the life of any of their children, but to take the money that has come as a tribute to the dead and wounded, and to ride roughshod over them defies description. Senior Virginia Tech officials appear to have been involved in the solicitation of donations by providing guidance relative to when donors should send in their funds so as not to have an impact on their Capital Campaign interests. Additionally, senior Virginia Tech officials used an arbitrary decision-making process to determine what donations were intended for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and what were not. In other words, Virginia Tech controlled and manipulated everything, and may have even diverted money from the Virginia Tech Foundation to Virginia Tech (the school) so they could hide such a tremendous gain from casual investigation. (To be continued)

Friday, April 28, 2017


The money side of the Virginia Tech story, however, is not limited to what has been described up to this point. Concerns for fundraising appeared to remain a high priority based on other actions quietly being taken in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

At the time of the shootings, most families were unaware that Virginia Tech had previously scheduled the single largest fundraising event in the school’s history to formally announce the public phase of its $1 billion Capital Campaign. That gala was originally scheduled for the last weekend of April 2007, less than two weeks after the massacre. Appropriately the event was canceled; however, what neither the families nor most others knew was that on the afternoon of April 16th, even before all of the dead bodies had been removed from Norris Hall, efforts had begun within the administration to resurrect the Capital Campaign initiative. In an email sent from then Chairman of the “silent” phase of Virginia Tech’s Capital Campaign, Gene Fife, to Elizabeth Flanagan, Vice President of Alumni Affairs, Mr. Fife proposed that the “gala/party” was inappropriate in wake of the tragedy. He went on to propose an idea where they could “have a large but low key working dinner during which we review the facts of today, what we have and will be doing with the situation and to solicit support both financially and morally.” He then concluded with, “The only alternative I see is to cancel the planned events and reschedule it at another time---probably next fall.” The fundraising effort was so important to the Virginia Tech administration that it could not wait; school personnel, who could have been used to deal with other, immediate aspects of the tragedy, were siphoned off.  Through the extraordinary efforts of the Virginia Tech staff the entire event for over 700 attendees was quietly rescheduled by April 24th, only eight days following the worst school shooting in American history. The efficiency and thoroughness in rescheduling the fundraiser was in stark contrast to many aspects of the school’s dealing with the families and the survivors.

A group of senior administrators were informed of the results of this rescheduling effort during a private meeting held on April 24th, when they were informed that the new date for the event had been set for October 20, 2007. Coincidently, April 24th was also the exact same day Teresa and Mike Pohle buried their son, Mike Jr.

Neither the families nor general public had any idea of this new plan. In addition, they had no idea of the relationship between the September deadline for formal submission of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund disbursement protocol and the largest fundraising gala in Virginia Tech’s history to be held one month later. Virginia Tech stuck to that schedule, yet kept it very quiet. On October 20, 2007 their event proceeded as planned.

In putting together a simple chronology of events you come up with a disturbing question: Did the school develop and stick to a cold and calculating plan to keep the families in the dark and reap huge amounts of money based on a horrific tragedy? Remember, even while the families were struggling, they were being pressed to complete a process dictated completely by the school, and without transparency.

Given the above, the timing of the school’s dealings with families relative to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and the timing of their Capital Campaign party attended by over 700 donors appears to be far more than mere coincidence. In other words, Virginia Tech’s fundraising plans secretly were set in stone only eight days following the shootings, and remained the school’s secret. This also suggests that the clear objective was to ensure that any funds intended to support the families had to be identified by Virginia Tech before the rescheduled kick-off for the public phase of their $1 billion Capital Campaign event. The whole thing was laid out like clockwork!

On October 21, 2007 an article appeared in the Roanoke Times discussing the fundraising gala held the previous night. Mr. Gene Fife, Chairman of the “private phase” of Virginia Tech’s Capital Campaign, was quoted in that article with a statement that tore through the heart of the families. His statement was: “You can’t wash it away and pretend it didn’t exist or happen; on the other hand, you can’t just wallow in it forever.”

On October 30, 2007, nine days following that major fundraising event, President Steger released a statement to the media discussing the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and the families. In his statement, Steger said that it would have required the “wisdom of Solomon” to determine the best use of the funds donated to Virginia Tech. He added that even though the school had tremendous needs, they (the administration) decided to disperse the “bulk of the funds” to the families. All along, school statements appeared to be a calculated effort designed to convey the impression that Virginia Tech was focusing on the needs of the families first. In fact, as I have pointed out, the families were never brought into the equation. They were never consulted and were given a take-it-or-leave-it deadline to participate in the fund.

In his comments President Steger stated, “The University never actively solicited monies.” Steger chose his words carefully; they were clever and danced around the truth. He immediately raised the families’ suspicions. Their suspicions were fed by a rumor that major donors were quietly being given guidance on the timing of their donations. Specifically, the rumor was that major donations should be delayed until after the families had received their money. That way the donations would go directly to the Capital Campaign and would not be considered part of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.

By reviewing the Capital Campaign financial results in the months following April 16th there appears to be an interesting pattern consistent with and supporting that rumor. The table below shows the gains in the value of Virginia Tech’s endowment fund by month from May to December of 2007. For reference, the fiscal calendar for both Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Foundation ends June 30 of each year. With that as background, note the monthly increases for May and June following the shootings, then for the next three months where they drop considerably, followed by the dramatically upward movement starting in October of 2007, when their Campaign fundraiser was held.

Virginia Tech Capital Campaign
Monthly Increase in Value

 & Year
Capital Campaign
May 2007
+ $ 15.7
June 2007
+ $ 23.0
July 2007
+ $ 8.5
August 2007
+ $ 8.7
September 2007
+ $ 9.5
October 2007
+ $ 38.6
November 2007
+ $ 11.7
December 2007
+ $ 31.8