A report issued on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education placed blame squarely on the shoulders of officials of Virginia Tech, contending that they broke federal law when they waited over two hours to notify teachers and students that a gunman was loose on the campus. The resulting massacre was the deadliest peacetime shooting in the history of the U.S.
The education department found that the university violated the federal Clery Act, which requires timely warning of on-campus threats. The report said that the school did not issue a warning to those on campus that a student gunman, Seung-Hio Cho, shot and killed two students in a dormitory on the morning of April 16, 2007. Virginia Tech’s own policies for emergency notification were not followed, after campus police discovered the two murdered students.
Investigators said that if the school had responded more quickly and appropriately, Cho might not have been able to fire on a classroom of students later that same morning. At issue was whether the school had sent out a timely and appropriate warning. If teachers and students had been notified of what officials knew, “the other members of the campus community may have had enough time to take similar actions to protect themselves,” the report states.
School officials first became aware of the possible threat at about 7:30 a.m. with the discovery of the two students that were shot in a dormitory. A campus-wide email was not sent until two hours later at 9:26 a.m. saying that there had been a “shooting incident”, not that two students were dead. Cho began his shooting rampage at Norris hall at about 9:30 a.m.
Long before the release of the email, campus officials, looking to protect themselves, had already locked down their own offices. One safety official sent an email home saying that her office was locked down and that there was an “active shooter” on the campus.
The Department of Education had previously blamed the school for the manner in which the notification was handled, and gave the school time to address the preliminary findings. The school’s defense consisted primarily of arguing the definition of “timely.”
As a result of the ruling, Virginia Tech could lose up to $98 million in student aid for breaking the law. Currently, about one-third of students there receive such aid. The school plans to appeal the findings