While I was working on my book about the Virginia Tech shooting, I asked Michael Pohle if he or his family had run into any hostility, verbal abuse, or threats because of the financial settlement the state of Virginia reached with the families. His answer was “yes,” and I found out from talking with other families that the Pohles were not alone.
Michael Pohle said there had been sarcastic remarks about all the money they had received, including snide comments about the Pohle family being rich. As if any amount of money was worth the life of Michael Pohle, Jr. What the Pohles and many of the Tech families encountered is an inexplicable and totally repulsive phenomenon—envy over financial compensation for the murder of a child or loved one, coupled with an irrational hatred of victims who dare to question or speak out.
I then proceeded to tell Pohle what had happened to me. On the second anniversary of the law school shooting in Grundy, I wrote an OpEd that appeared in several newspapers, including one in southwestern Virginia. My wife had gone to upstate New York to visit her brother and I was home alone when I received a phone call from a man who had read the article. He warned me that what I had written had made “officials in Grundy and the law school look bad.” He said I could be on a “hit list,” and warned me to be “careful when I visited family in that part of the state.” He cautioned me to “stop at every stop sign, obey every traffic law.” He also warned that if a law enforcement officer wants to get you, he or she will. “A favorite trick,” he said, “is to stop someone and plant contraband or drugs in the individual’s car.” In an ominous tone he asserted, “People have a way of going to jail in Grundy and not coming out alive.”
A few weeks later, I was teaching at the CIA. My biography carries a reference to the book I wrote on the Appalachian School of Law murders. After the class, one of the CIA managers came up to me, saying he was born and raised just outside Grundy. He wanted to know more. When I told him about the book’s contents he warned me to be careful. “People down there have a way of doing things. There are deep abandoned mine shafts where bodies can disappear.”
He then relayed a story about what happened to him when he was growing up. A couple of police officers were having sex with underage high school girls and got them pregnant. A doctor treated the girls and subsequently reported the pregnancies to the authorities. A few months later, the doctor was found shot to death in his car. The vehicle had over thirty bullet holes in it. The cover story was that he refused to stop for a traffic violation. The subsequent investigation came to naught, and the officers were not held accountable. “So,” he said, “be careful and look over your shoulder at every turn when you are in the Grundy area.” He too warned me and indicated that there was risk for me in trying to hold people accountable.
Grundy is less than 130 miles from Blacksburg and some of my work colleagues have expressed concern for my safety because of my work to get at the truth about April 16, 2007—and to hold people accountable. A close friend of mine cautioned me (half joking and half serious) not to make dinner reservations in Blacksburg and to get a remote starter for my car.
More recently, when I told someone here in Kilmarnock, Virginia that I was working on a book that is an exposé of the Virginia Tech shooting, she asked me, “Have you received any threats?”
What strikes me now is the attitude of fear and the idea of a cover up is so pervasive that warnings came to me from multiple sources. The Virginia Tech families have experienced the same atmosphere of distrust and aggression and on such a large scale that it has had a lasting impact on many of them.
An especially disturbing is story is the one I was told by one family who lost a child at Tech. I am not identifying the family by name out of respect and concern for their safety.
As part of their healing process, as part of their moving on, they decided to speak out publicly about the need to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who are dangerously mentally ill. They were quoted in the local papers and spoke openly about their feelings on television interviews.
Shortly after a television appearance, the husband was working on his wife’s car and found intentional sabotage. Earplugs with a rope cord were wrapped around the brake line and tied to the end of the tie rod. The saboteur hoped the brake line would rupture causing the brakes to immediately fail. Then a few weeks later the husband was working on the car again and found that the passenger-side tires had razor-like slits as if someone had taken a box cutter on the sidewall. The wife’s car had been parked in an open parking lot where she works. When the family went to the wife’s employer’s security office, they found that the parking lot security cameras had malfunctioned, so the criminal was never identified.
The intimidation worked. The family had already paid a heavy price because of Virginia Tech’s incompetence and stupidity—they could not risk another family member being killed by a mentally ill person. The family stopped speaking in public on gun control. (To be continued)