The Governor’s Review Panel Report on the Virginia Tech massacre, The Addendum, never really addresses the question of responsibility and accountability. Indeed, TriData makes just enough revisions to give them the fig leaf of being able to say, “We listened to the families; we made revisions.” Did they really? Ok, let’s lift up the fig leaf and take a look at one of the revisions.
In fact, the panel seemed to go off on tangents and interviewed at least one expert who added little insight to gun violence on campuses and school grounds. Dr. Jerald Kay is a case in point. Here is the explanation for including Dr. Kay in the report:
“The panel heard a presentation from Dr. Jerald Kay, the chair of the committee on college mental health of the American Psychiatric Association about the large percentage of college students who binge drink each year (about 44 percent), and the surprisingly large percentage of students who claim they thought about suicide (10 percent). College years are full of academic and social stress. The probability of dying from a shooting on campus is smaller than the probability of dying from auto accidents, falls, or alcohol and drug overdoses.”
Even with this explanation, the relevancy of the testimony of Dr. Jerald Kay on the frequency of shootings on campus is especially puzzling. What was the purpose of interviewing him? Were his words an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the Virginia Tech shootings in light of other dangers to students such as drunk driving? Here is TriData’s excuse for including Kay’s words:
“The Review Panel invited Dr. Kay’s presentation for two reasons: First to consider the risk from guns as part of the larger picture of campus emergency planning. The Review Panel wanted colleges and universities to consider, as part of emergency planning, the whole range of threats and their likelihood, not just guns. Second, this testimony was of interest as part of the discussion of whether guns should be allowed to be carried on campuses. The frequency and nature of shootings on campus was very relevant to the deliberations of the Review Panel in making recommendations regarding these issues. It also was relevant in understanding the risk of a further shooting faced by the Policy Group after the double homicide.”
1. Nowhere does the report state that Dr. Kay says anything about guns as part of emergency planning.
2. If the frequency and nature of shootings on campus was relevant to the Review Panel deliberations, why is Dr. Kay not quoted on the subject?
3. What insight did Dr. Kay provide on understanding the risk of a further shooting faced by the Policy Group after the double homicide?
Is TriData trying to tell us that binge drinking played a role in the killings at Virginia Tech? As for the sentence: “The probability of dying from a shooting on a campus is smaller than the probability of dying from auto accidents, falls, or alcohol and drug overdose.” What possible reason could there be for this sentence in the report other than to downplay the significance of gun violence on campuses?
TriData’s response is that they wanted colleges and universities to examine the whole range of threats. Fine, but that was not the Panel’s overwhelming priority and responsibility, nor was it the duty to emphasize those threats at the expense of analyzing the Virginia Tech shootings. There is nothing in the Panel’s mission statement telling them to go into a broader range of campus threats. Here is the Review Panel’s Mission Statement:
“The Panel’s mission is to provide an independent, thorough, and objective incident review of this tragic event, including a review of educational laws, policies, and institutions, the public safety and health care procedures and responses and the mental health delivery system. With respect to these areas of review, the Panel should focus on what went right, what went wrong, what practices should be considered best practices, and what practices are in need of improvement. This review should include examination of information contained in academic, health and court records and by information obtained through interviews with knowledgeable individuals. Once that factual narrative is in place and questions have been answered, the Panel should offer recommendations for improvement in light of those facts and circumstances.”
Are we saying the interview was worthless? Not necessarily, although it is hard to tell when exact quotes are not included in the text. What we are saying is that the inclusion of Dr. Kay was a misplaced band aid attempting to cover the massive gaps left by some notable absences. The Panel interviewed Dr. Jerald Kay, but look at the list of key individuals they did not interview:
1. Dr. Robert Miller, the director of the Cook Counseling Center at the time Cho was taken to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital. He was the man who “accidently” took Cho’s medical records home, meaning those records were not available to the Review Panel nor to the families before they settled with the state.
2. Kim O’Rourke and Lisa Wilkes, both of whom took notes at the Policy Group meeting the morning of April 16, 2007. Those notes indicate the police on the scene at West Ambler Johnston Hall advised there was no need to warn the campus. The police liaison with the Policy Group during this time was Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum.
3. Heather Haugh, the roommate of murdered student Emily Hilscher. Haugh was the one who identified Hilsher’s boyfriend, Karl Thornhill. An interview of Haugh would have pinned down the time Thornhill was identified as a person of interest.
4. Karl Thornhill, Emily Hilscher’s boyfriend, was never interviewed by the panel.
5. Ralph Byers, a participant in the Policy Group, who at 8:45 am sent an email to Laura Fornash in Richmond telling her not to release details of the shooting.
For those who say the families should now move on, we ask, “How can anyone move on when their child has been gunned down and there is a cover-up? How can anyone move on when he or she knows that there are lies of omission dealing with the death of a child?” We want to ask then-Governor Kaine, then-Attorney General McDonnell, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, Virginia Tech Chief of Police Wendell Flinchum, and members of the Virginia Tech school administration, the review panel, and the people at TriData, “Did you really read the Review Panel’s Report? If you did, why did you remain silent about this incredibly flawed document?” (To be continued)