Why are the families due financial compensation for their loss? It is simple. Schools advertise that they provide a safe and secure learning environment. They spend millions on security systems; there are federal laws governing requirements to warn faculty, staff, and students of threats, and schools accept money from families to educate their children in a protected environment. The exchange of money creates a contract. When school, medical, and police officials break that contract because of incompetence or stupidity, and it results in injury or death, families are owed compensation.
Furthermore, the loss of a child or spouse causes untold emotional hardship, which may result in thousands of dollars in medical costs. The psychological trauma of a lost child can immobilize a parent, making it next to impossible for the parent to hold down a job for years.
Following the state of Virginia’s settlement with 30 of the Virginia Tech victims’ families, a number of people wrote letters to the editor and blogs criticizing this use of taxpayer money. Some incredibly unkind individuals accused the Tech families of greed, of trying to make money off the tragedy. This accusation is simply not true.
Specialists in grief counseling will tell you that rarely do victims of such horrors as the Virginia Tech massacre ask, “How much can I get out of this?’ “Who can I sue?” Certainly, the Virginia Tech families didn’t. Litigation is usually the last resort and comes when victims’ families realize they are not being told the truth. Again, grief counselors will tell you that it is far more likely that the survivors and families of survivors and victims will be more concerned about the wellbeing of others than about themselves. Civil litigation did not occur in the Virginia Tech case until it was readily apparent the families were at a disadvantage in access to reports and documents, and that people were not telling the truth. The families didn’t want money; they wanted what they needed the most and did not get—accuracy and accountability.
These same individuals frequently argue that no one can be held responsible for anyone else’s actions and that therefore the financial settlement was not justified. This assertion is not only contrary to a whole body of legal opinion, but shows a lack of knowledge, understanding, empathy, and conscience. Furthermore, to deny a family a miserly $100,000 compensation for the loss of a child is disgraceful.
Less than six weeks after the shootings Virginia Tech signed an agreement with one of the nation’s largest public relations firms, Burson-Marsteller, to spin the story of the tragedy in such a way as to do minimal damage to Virginia Tech and its administration.
In other words, the school paid $663,000.00 to a public relations firm, when Virginia Tech had its own office that dealt with public relations.
And for those of you worried about wasting taxpayers’ money, remember that Tech has some of the best minds in the country, yet it spent nearly $700,000 on outside public relations talent.
From my 51 years of work with law enforcement and intelligence officers, I can assure you there were people far more qualified than TriData employees to write the report on the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech. And, they would probably have volunteered to do the work.
This cavalier spending of over a million dollars by the state and by Virginia Tech University in an effort to manipulate opinion following the nation’s worst school shooting was the waste of taxpayers’ money, not the $100,000 the families received for the murder of their children and spouses.
So all of this begs the question: why are people ignoring the actions of the school and the state of Virginia? Why are they focused on pushing the families past a tragedy that can only be endured, never forgotten? In fact, when these well-meaning people say it is time for the Virginia Tech families to move on, they are really saying, we need to move on; we don’t want to think about that tragedy or any school shooting. We don’t want to think this could happen to us.
Unfortunately, when you have lost a loved one so suddenly and so tragically, not thinking about that loss simply isn’t an option. The Virginia Tech families will never stop thinking about the events of April 16, 2007—it will be with them every day of their lives. (To be continued)