Va. Tech Shootings Panel Seeks Reforms

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech recommended monitoring troubled students and increasing security Wednesday in an internal report that didn't address one of the most troubling questions about the massacre: Should administrators have locked down the campus after the first two deaths?

In another, outside report due next week, a panel established by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is expected to examine that issue and the other actions school staff took in the two hours between the killings of two people in a dormitory and the deaths of 31 more in a classroom building.

University President Charles Steger acknowledged the school could taken some steps it didn't.

"Looking back, yeah, there are some things that are obvious that, gee, maybe you should have done that, but I think at the time we were doing the best we could, and we're going to learn from this and try to make it a more secure campus," he said.

But he again defended the university's decision not to lock down buildings after the first two shootings.

"Such a lockdown is simply not feasible on a campus that's the size of a small city," he said.

Steger himself said the judgment on the staff's reaction will have to come from outside the school, and he said he had recommended Kaine set up the separate panel to investigate the handling of the shootings as well as student gunman Seung-Hui Cho's background.

"It's essential that there be an objective assessment for it to be credible," Steger said.

Steger had named committees to look at counseling services, security and communication following the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

In calling for creation of a team of police, counselors and other university personnel to monitor students who may pose a threat to themselves or others, the counseling committee said Tech needs a better system to deal with such students.

The university also should improve security with interior locks on classroom doors and Internet-based message boards alerting the campus of emergencies, the panels said.

The university's security committee recommended instructing students on what to do in emergencies; installing interior locks on 157 general assignment classrooms; removing "drop bar" door handles that can be chained, and installing electronic key card access to academic and administrative buildings.

Dormitories currently are accessed with key cards, and Tech recently required that the cards be used 24 hours a day.

The four classrooms that Cho entered in Norris Hall could not be locked from inside, and he had chained exit doors with bar handles to delay police entry into the building.

Tech told students and staff of the shooting at West Ambler Johnston dormitory in an e-mail that went out at 9:26 a.m., more than two hours after those killings. By that time, police believe Cho already was in Norris Hall.

The panel on relationships between Tech's counseling services and other departments and agencies cited a federal report on Cho's shooting rampage that noted confusion about what information can be shared under privacy laws.

"Sharing critical information is one of the most important aspects of managing the potential for violence with respect to at-risk students," the panel noted.

Jerome Niles, a retired dean who chaired the committee, said the panel was recommending the addition of two case managers to maintain contact with troubled students. The team dealing with students considered a threat should be able to act quickly, the committee said.

"It is essential that this team be charged with building a complete fact-based picture of any individual who is considered a threat to him- or herself or to the campus community," the committee wrote.

Cho, a senior, had shown signs to professors and others of being mentally troubled before his rampage. He had been removed from an English class because of his violent writing and offensive behavior. He also was ordered to receive outpatient treatment after an overnight involuntary commitment at a mental health center in December 2005 after police received a report that he was suicidal.

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On the Net:

Overview of the committees' report: http://tinyurl.com/258xu9


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