Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech Report of the Review Panel Governor Kaine

Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech Report of the Review Panel Governor Kaine
Mass Shootings
at Virginia Tech
April 16, 2007
Report of the Review Panel
Presented to
Governor Kaine
Commonwealth of Virginia
APRIL 16, 2007
Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel
Presented to
Timothy M. Kaine, Governor
Commonwealth of Virginia
August 2007
FOREWORD ...................................................................................................................... vii
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................................................................................................ ix
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS .............................................................................................. 1
CHAPTER I. BACKGROUND AND SCOPE ................................................................... 5
Scope……………………………………………………………………… .......................... 5
Methodology………………………………………………………………. ........................ 6
Findings and Recommendations…………………………………………… .................. 10
CHAPTER II. UNIVERSITY SETTING AND SECURITY............................................. 11
University Setting………………………………………………………….. ..................... 11
Campus Police and Other Local Law Enforcement.................................................. 11
Building Security…………………………………………………………......................... 13
Campus Alerting Systems………………………………………………… ..................... 14
Emergency Response Plan…………………………………………………..................... 15
Key Findings……………………………………………………………… ........................ 16
Recommendations………………………………………………………… ....................... 17
CHAPTER III. TIMELINE OF EVENTS………………………………………................... 21
Pre-Incidents: Cho’s History ...................................................................................... 21
The Incidents .............................................................................................................. 24
Post-Incidents ............................................................................................................. 29
PART A – MENTAL HEALTH HISTORY ................................................................ 31
Early Years………………………………………………………………… ....................... 31
Elementary School in Virginia…………………………………………….. ................... 33
Middle School Years ................................................................................................... 34
High School Years…………………………………………………………. ...................... 36
College Years………………………………………………………………........................ 40
Cho’s Hospitalization and Commitment Proceedings .............................................. 46
After Hospitalization……………………………………………………….. .................... 49
Missing the Red Flags................................................................................................ 52
Key Findings…………………………………………..…………………… ...................... 52
Recommendations…………………………………………………………. ...................... 53
PART B – VIRGINIA MENTAL HEALTH LAW ISSUES....................................... 54
Time Constraints for Evaluation and Hearing ......................................................... 55
Standard for Involuntary Commitment .................................................................... 56
Psychiatric Information ............................................................................................. 56
Involuntary Outpatient Orders ................................................................................. 58
Certification of Orders to the Central Criminal Records Exchange........................ 59
Key Findings............................................................................................................... 60
Recommendations ...................................................................................................... 60
CHAPTER V. INFORMATION PRICACY LAWS………………………………................ 63
Law Enforcement Records…………………………………………………..................... 63
Judicial Records……………………………………………………………....................... 64
Medical Information................................................................................................... 65
Educational Records................................................................................................... 65
Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act…………… ............ 67
Key Findings…………………………........................................................................... 68
Recommendations…………………………………………………………. ...................... 68
Firearms Purchases………………………………………………………… .................... 71
Ammunition Purchases……………………………………………………...................... 74
Guns on Campus ........................................................................................................ 74
Key Findings……………………………………………………………….. ...................... 75
Recommendations………………………………………………………….. ..................... 76
Approach and Attack………………………………………………………. ..................... 77
Premature Conclusion?.................................................................................. ............ 79
Delayed Alert to University Community………………………………….................... 80
Decision not to Cancel Classes or Lock Down…………………………. ..................... 82
Continuing Events…………………………………………………………. ..................... 84
Motivation for First Killings?........................................................................ ............ 86
Key Findings……………………………………………………………….. ...................... 86
Recommendations………………………………………………………….. ..................... 87
CHAPTER VIII. MASS MURDER AT NORRIS HALL…………………………. ............. 89
The Shootings………………………………………………………………....................... 90
Defensive Actions…………………………………………………………. ....................... 92
Police Response……………………………………………………………........................ 94
University Messages………………………………………………………....................... 95
Other Actions on the Second and Third Floor……………………………................... 97
Action on the First Floor…………………………………………………… .................... 98
The Toll…………………………………………………………………….. ....................... 98
Key Findings............................................................................................................... 98
Recommendations………………………………………………………….. ..................... 99
West Ambler Johnston Initial Response…………………………………… ................ 101
Norris Hall Initial Response……………………………………………….. ................... 102
EMS Incident Command System………………………………………… ..................... 103
Hospital Response………………………………………………………… ....................... 110
Emergency Management………………………………………………….. ..................... 116
Key Findings……………………………………………………………….. ...................... 121
Recommendations………………………………………………………….. ..................... 122
Legal Mandates and Standards of Care……………………………………. ................ 123
Death Notification………………………………………………………….. ..................... 124
Events………………………………………………………………………. ....................... 124
Issues……………………………………………………………………… ......................... 127
Key Findings……………………………………………………………….. ...................... 131
Recommendations………………………………………………………….. ..................... 132
A Final Word .............................................................................................................. 133
First Hours…………………………………………………………………........................ 136
Actions by Virginia Tech…………………………………………………… .................... 136
Meetings, Visits, and Other Communications with Families and
with the Injured...................................................................................................... 142
Ceremonies and Memorial Events………………………………………………............ 144
Volunteers and Onlookers……………………………………………………….. ............ 144
Communications with the Medical Examiner’s Office………………………….. ....... 145
Department of Public Safety……………………………………………………… .......... 145
Key Findings............................................................................................................... 145
Recommendations…………………………………………………………………............. 146
APPENDIX A – EXECUTIVE ORDER 53 (2007)............................................................ A-1
APPENDIX C – PUBLIC MEETING AGENDA.............................................................. C-1
ALERTING SYSTEM ............................................................................ E-1
VIRGINIA EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN..................................... F-1
APPENDIX H – EXPLANATION OF FIRPA AND HIPAA LAWS ................................ H-1
OR INCAPACITATION ........................................................................ J-1
ON CAMPUS ......................................................................................... K-1
1966–2007. .............................................................................................. L-1
The Virginia Tech Review Panel invited the families of the victims to lend their
words as a dedication of this report. The panel is honored to share their words of
love, remembrance, and strength.
We dedicate this report not solely to those who lost their lives at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007,
and to those physically and/or psychologically wounded on that dreadful morning, but also to every
student, teacher, and institution of learning, that we may all safely fulfill our goals of learning,
educating, and enriching humanity's stores of knowledge: the very arts and sciences that ennoble
"Love does not die, people do. So when all that is left of me is love…
Give me away.…" – John Wayne Schlatter
"This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You
can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day
of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something
that you have left behind…let it be something good." – Anonymous
"We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we
should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh." – Friedrich
"Unable are the loved to die, for Love is Immortality." – Emily Dickinson
32 candles burning bright for all to see,
Lifting up the world for peace and harmony,
Those of us who are drawn to the lights,
enduringly embedded in our mind, indelibly
ingrained on our heart, forever identifying our spirit,
We call out your name:
Erin, Ryan, Emily, Reema, Daniel, Matthew, Kevin, Brian, Jarrett, Austin, Henry,
Liviu, Nicole, Julia, Lauren, Partahi, Jamie, Jeremy, Rachel, Caitlin, Maxine, Jocelyne,
Leslie, Juan, Daniel, Ross, G.V., Mary, Matthew, Minal, Michael, Waleed,
hold these truths ever so tight,
your lives have great meaning, your lives have great power, your lives will never be
forgotten, YOU will always be remembered,
--never and always . . .
– Pat Craig
*Neither this dedication nor the use herein of the victims' photos or bios represents an endorsement of the report
by the victims' families.
Ross Abdullah Alameddine
Hometown: Saugus, Massachusetts
Sophomore, University Studies
Student since fall 2005
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, English
Christopher James Bishop
Residence in Blacksburg
Instructor, Foreign Languages
Joined Virginia Tech on
August 10, 2005
Ryan Christopher Clark
Hometown: Martinez, Georgia
Senior, Psychology
Student since fall 2002
Austin Michelle Cloyd
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
Sophomore, Honors Program,
International Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degrees:
Bachelor of Science, Biological
Bachelor of Arts, English
Bachelor of Science, Psychology
Posthumous degrees:
Bachelor of Arts, Foreign
Bachelor of Arts, International
Matthew Gregory Gwaltney
Hometown: Chesterfield, Virginia
Masters student, Environmental
Student since fall 2001
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Environmental
Brian Roy Bluhm
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Masters student, Civil Engineering
Student since spring 2005
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Civil Engineering
Kevin P. Granata
Residence in Blacksburg
Professor, Engineering Science and
Joined Virginia Tech on
January 10, 2003
Caitlin Millar Hammaren
Hometown: Westtown, New York
Sophomore, International Studies
Student since fall 2005
Jeremy Michael Herbstritt
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
Masters student, Civil Engineering
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, International
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Civil Engineering
Rachael Elizabeth Hill
Hometown: Glen Allen, Virginia
Freshman, University Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Science, Biological
Jarrett Lee Lane
Hometown: Narrows, Virginia
Senior, Civil Engineering
Student since fall 2003
Emily Jane Hilscher
Hometown: Woodville, Virginia
Freshman, Animal and Poultry
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Science, Animal and
Poultry Sciences
Matthew Joseph La Porte
Hometown: Dumont, New Jersey
Sophomore, University Studies
Student since fall 2005
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Science, Civil
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, Political Science
Liviu Librescu
Residence in Blacksburg
Professor, Engineering Science and
Joined Virginia Tech on
September 1, 1985
G. V. Loganathan
Residence in Blacksburg
Professor, Civil and Environmental
Joined Virginia Tech on
December 16, 1981
Partahi Mamora Halomoan
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
(originally from Indonesia)
Ph.D. student, Civil Engineering
Student since fall 2003
Posthumous degree:
Doctor of Philosophy, Civil Engineering
Henry J. Lee
Hometown: Roanoke, Virginia
Sophomore, Computer Engineering
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Science, Computer
Lauren Ashley McCain
Hometown: Hampton, Virginia
Freshman, International Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, International Studies
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Residence in Blacksburg
Adjunct Professor, Foreign
Joined Virginia Tech on
August 10, 2001
Daniel Patrick O’Neil
Hometown: Lincoln, Rhode Island
Masters student, Environmental
Student since fall 2006
Minal Hiralal Panchal
Hometown: Mumbai, India
Masters student, Architecture
Student since fall 2006
Daniel Alejandro Perez
Hometown: Woodbridge, Virginia
Sophomore, International Studies
Student since summer 2006
Erin Nicole Peterson
Hometown: Centreville, Virginia
Freshman, International Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Architecture
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, International
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, International Studies
Michael Steven Pohle, Jr.
Hometown: Flemington, New
Senior, Biological Sciences
Student since fall 2002
Julia Kathleen Pryde
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
Masters student, Biological
Systems Engineering
Student since fall 2001
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Science, Biological
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Biological
Systems Engineering
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Environmental
Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
Masters student, Civil Engineering
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Master of Science, Civil Engineering
Mary Karen Read
Hometown: Annandale, Virginia
Freshman, Interdisciplinary Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, Interdisciplinary
Reema Joseph Samaha
Hometown: Centreville, Virginia
Freshman, University Studies
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degrees:
Bachelor of Arts, International Studies
Bachelor of Arts, Public and Urban
Maxine Shelly Turner
Hometown: Vienna, Virginia
Senior, Honors Program, Chemical
Student since fall 2003
Posthumous degree: Bachelor of
Science, Chemical Engineering
Waleed Mohamed Shaalan
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
(originally from Egypt)
Ph.D. student, Civil Engineering
Student since fall 2006
Posthumous degree:
Doctor of Philosophy, Civil
Nicole Regina White
Hometown: Smithfield, Virginia
Sophomore, International Studies
Student since fall 2004
Posthumous degree:
Bachelor of Arts, International
Leslie Geraldine Sherman
Hometown: Springfield, Virginia
Junior, Honors Program, History
Student since fall 2005
Posthumous degrees:
Bachelor of Arts, History
Bachelor of Arts, International Studies
On April 16, 2007, a tragic chapter was added to Virginia’s history when a disturbed
young man at Virginia Tech took the lives of 32 students and faculty, wounded many
others, and killed himself. In the midst of unspeakable grief, the Virginia Tech community
stood together, with tremendous support from friends in all corners of the world, and made
us proud to be Virginians.
Over time, the tragedy has been felt by all it touched, most deeply by the families of
those who were killed and by the wounded survivors and their families. The impact has
been felt as well by those who witnessed or responded to the shooting, the broad Virginia
Tech community, and those who are near to Blacksburg geographically or in spirit.
In the days immediately after the shooting, I knew it was critical to seek answers to
the many questions that would arise from the tragedy. I also felt that the questions should
be addressed by people who possessed both the expertise and autonomy necessary to do a
comprehensive review. Accordingly, I announced on April 19 the formation of the Virginia
Tech Review Panel to perform a review independent of the Commonwealth’s own efforts to
respond to the terrible events of April 16. The Panel members readily agreed to devote time,
expertise, and emotional energy to this difficult task.
Those who agreed to serve were:
Panel Chair Col. Gerald Massengill, a retired Virginia State Police Superintendent
who led the Commonwealth’s law enforcement response to the September 11, 2001,
attack on the Pentagon and the sniper attacks that affected the Commonwealth in
Panel Vice Chair Dr. Marcus L. Martin, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Assistant
Dean of the School of Medicine and Associate Vice President for Diversity and
Equity at the University of Virginia.
Gordon Davies, former Director of the State Council of Higher Education for
Virginia (1977–1997) and President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary
Education (1998–2002).
Dr. Roger L. Depue, a 20-year veteran of the FBI and the founder, past president and
CEO of The Academy Group, Inc., a forensic behavioral sciences services company
providing consultation, research, and investigation of aberrant and violent
behavioral problems.
Carroll Ann Ellis, MS, Director of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Victim
Services Division, a faculty member at the National Victim Academy, and a member
of the American Society of Victimology.
The Honorable Tom Ridge, former Governor of Pennsylvania (1995–2001) and
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1983–1995) who was also the first U.S.
Secretary of Homeland Security (2003–2005).
Dr. Aradhana A. “Bela” Sood, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Chair of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry and Medical Director of the Virginia Treatment Center
for Children at VCU Medical Center.
The Honorable Diane Strickland, former judge of the 23rd Judicial Circuit Court in
Roanoke County (1989–2003) and co-chair of the Boyd-Graves Conference on issues
surrounding involuntary mental commitment.
These nationally recognized individuals brought expertise in many areas, including
law enforcement, security, governmental management, mental health, emergency care,
victims’ services, the Virginia court system, and higher education.
An assignment of this importance required expert technical assistance and this was
provided by TriData, a division of System Planning Corporation. TriData has worked on
numerous reports following disasters and tragedies, including a report on the 1999 shooting
at Columbine High School. Phil Schaenman and Hollis Stambaugh led the TriData team.
The Panel also needed wise and dedicated legal counsel and that counsel was
provided on a pro bono basis by the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Skadden, Arps,
Slate, Meagher & Flom, L.L.P. The Skadden Arps team was led by partners Richard Brusca
and Amy Sabrin.
The level of personal commitment by the Panel members, staff and counsel
throughout the process was extraordinary. This report is the product of intense work and
deliberation and the Commonwealth stands indebted to all who worked on it.
The magnitude of the losses suffered by victims and their families, the Virginia Tech
community, and our Commonwealth is immeasurable. We have lost people of great
character and intelligence who came to Virginia Tech from around our state, our nation and
the world. While we can never know the full extent of the contributions they would have
made had their lives not been cut short, we can say with confidence that they had already
given much of themselves toward advancing knowledge and helping others.
We must now challenge ourselves to study this report carefully and make changes
that will reduce the risk of future violence on our campuses. If we act in that way, we will
honor the lives and sacrifices of all who suffered on that terrible day and advance the notion
of service that is Virginia Tech’s fundamental mission.
he Virginia Tech Review Panel thanks the many persons who contributed to gathering
information, provided facilities at which the panel held four public meetings around the
state, and helped prepare this report. The administration and staff of Virginia Tech, George
Mason University, and the University of Virginia hosted public meetings at which speakers
presented background information and family members of the victims addressed the panel. The
University of Virginia also provided facilities for the panel to meet in three sessions to discuss
confidential material related to this report.
The panel is grateful to more than 200 persons who were interviewed or who participated in
discussion groups. They are identified in Appendix B.
Finally, the panel is grateful for staff support and legal advice provided by TriData, a Division
of System Planning Corporation, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
TriData, a Division of System Planning Corporation
Philip Schaenman, panel staff
Paul Flippin
Hollis Stambaugh, panel staff
deputy director
Teresa Copping
Maria Argabright
Jim Kudla, panel public
information officer
Shania Flagg
Lucius Lamar III
Dr. Harold Cohen
Rachel Mershon
Darryl Sensenig
Jim Gray
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Richard Brusca
Brad Marcus
Amy Sabrin
Cory Black, Summer Associate
Michael Tierney
Michael Kelly
Ray McKenzie, Summer
Ian Erickson
Colin Ram, Summer Associate
n April 16, 2007, Seung Hui Cho, an angry and disturbed student, shot to death 32 students and faculty of Virginia Tech, wounded 17 more, and then killed himself.
The incident horrified not only Virginians, but people across the United States and throughout
the world.
Tim Kaine, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, immediately appointed a panel to
review the events leading up to this tragedy; the handling of the incidents by public safety officials, emergency services providers, and the university; and the services subsequently provided
to families, survivors, care-givers, and the community.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel reviewed several separate but related issues in assessing
events leading to the mass shootings and their aftermath:
The life and mental health history of Seung Hui Cho, from early childhood until the
weeks before April 16.
Federal and state laws concerning the privacy of health and education records.
Cho's purchase of guns and related gun control issues.
The double homicide at West Ambler Johnston (WAJ) residence hall and the mass
shootings at Norris Hall, including the responses of Virginia Tech leadership and the
actions of law enforcement officers and emergency responders.
Emergency medical care immediately following the shootings, both onsite at Virginia
Tech and in cooperating hospitals.
The work of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia.
The services provided for surviving victims of the shootings and others injured, the
families and loved ones of those killed and injured, members of the university community, and caregivers.
The panel conducted over 200 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of records, and
reports the following major findings:
1. Cho exhibited signs of mental health problems during his childhood. His middle and
high schools responded well to these signs and, with his parents' involvement, provided
services to address his issues. He also received private psychiatric treatment and counseling for selective mutism and depression.
In 1999, after the Columbine shootings, Cho’s middle school teachers observed suicidal
and homicidal ideations in his writings and recommended psychiatric counseling, which
he received. It was at this point that he received medication for a short time. Although
Cho’s parents were aware that he was troubled at this time, they state they did not specifically know that he thought about homicide shortly after the 1999 Columbine school
2. During Cho's junior year at Virginia Tech, numerous incidents occurred that were clear
warnings of mental instability. Although various individuals and departments within
the university knew about each of these incidents, the university did not intervene
effectively. No one knew all the information and no one connected all the dots.
3. University officials in the office of Judicial Affairs, Cook Counseling Center, campus
police, the Dean of Students, and others explained their failures to communicate with
one another or with Cho’s parents by noting their belief that such communications are
prohibited by the federal laws governing the privacy of health and education records. In
reality, federal laws and their state counterparts afford ample leeway to share information in potentially dangerous situations.
4. The Cook Counseling Center and the university’s Care Team failed to provide needed
support and services to Cho during a period in late 2005 and early 2006. The system
failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws, and passivity.
Records of Cho’s minimal treatment at Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center are
5. Virginia’s mental health laws are flawed and services for mental health users are
inadequate. Lack of sufficient resources results in gaps in the mental health system
including short term crisis stabilization and comprehensive outpatient services. The
involuntary commitment process is challenged by unrealistic time constraints, lack of
critical psychiatric data and collateral information, and barriers (perceived or real) to
open communications among key professionals.
6. There is widespread confusion about what federal and state privacy laws allow. Also,
the federal laws governing records of health care provided in educational settings are
not entirely compatible with those governing other health records.
7. Cho purchased two guns in violation of federal law. The fact that in 2005 Cho had been
judged to be a danger to himself and ordered to outpatient treatment made him ineligible to purchase a gun under federal law.
8. Virginia is one of only 22 states that report any information about mental health to a
federal database used to conduct background checks on would-be gun purchasers. But
Virginia law did not clearly require that persons such as Cho—who had been ordered
into out-patient treatment but not committed to an institution—be reported to the database. Governor Kaine’s executive order to report all persons involuntarily committed for
outpatient treatment has temporarily addressed this ambiguity in state law. But a
change is needed in the Code of Virginia as well.
9. Some Virginia colleges and universities are uncertain about what they are permitted to
do regarding the possession of firearms on campus.
10. On April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police departments responded
quickly to the report of shootings at West Ambler Johnston residence hall, as did the
Virginia Tech and Blacksburg rescue squads. Their responses were well coordinated.
11. The Virginia Tech police may have erred in prematurely concluding that their initial
lead in the double homicide was a good one, or at least in conveying that impression to
university officials while continuing their investigation. They did not take sufficient
action to deal with what might happen if the initial lead proved erroneous. The police
reported to the university emergency Policy Group that the "person of interest" probably
was no longer on campus.
12. The VTPD erred in not requesting that the Policy Group issue a campus-wide notification that two persons had been killed and that all students and staff should be cautious
and alert.
13. Senior university administrators, acting as the emergency Policy Group, failed to issue
an all-campus notification about the WAJ killings until almost 2 hours had elapsed.
University practice may have conflicted with written policies.
14. The presence of large numbers of police at WAJ led to a rapid response to the first 9-1-1
call that shooting had begun at Norris Hall.
15. Cho’s motives for the WAJ or Norris Hall shootings are unknown to the police or the
panel. Cho's writings and videotaped pronouncements do not explain why he struck
when and where he did.
16. The police response at Norris Hall was prompt and effective, as was triage and evacuation of the wounded. Evacuation of others in the building could have been implemented
with more care.
17. Emergency medical care immediately following the shootings was provided very effectively and timely both onsite and at the hospitals, although providers from different
agencies had some difficulty communicating with one another. Communication of accurate information to hospitals standing by to receive the wounded and injured was
somewhat deficient early on. An emergency operations center at Virginia Tech could
have improved communications.
18. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner properly discharged the technical aspects of
its responsibility (primarily autopsies and identification of the deceased). Communication with families was poorly handled.
19. State systems for rapidly deploying trained professional staff to help families get information, crisis intervention, and referrals to a wide range of resources did not work.
20. The university established a family assistance center at The Inn at Virginia Tech, but it
fell short in helping families and others for two reasons: lack of leadership and lack of
coordination among service providers. University volunteers stepped in but were not
trained or able to answer many questions and guide families to the resources they
21. In order to advance public safety and meet public needs, Virginia’s colleges and universities need to work together as a coordinated system of state-supported institutions.
As reflected in the body of the report, the panel has made more than 70 recommendations
directed to colleges, universities, mental health providers, law enforcement officials, emergency
service providers, law makers, and other public officials in Virginia and elsewhere.
Chapter I
panel and its work, and other issues. Their
advice and counsel were invaluable.
n April 16, 2007, one student, senior Seung
Hui Cho, murdered 32 and injured 17 students and faculty in two related incidents on the
campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University (“Virginia Tech”). Three days
later, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine commissioned a panel of experts to conduct an independent, thorough, and objective review of the
tragedy and to make recommendations regarding
improvements to the Commonwealth’s laws, policies, procedures, systems and institutions, as
well as those of other governmental entities and
private providers. On June 18, 2007, Governor
Kaine issued Executive Order 53 reaffirming the
establishment of the Virginia Tech Review Panel
and clarifying the panel’s authority to obtain
documents and information necessary for its
review. (See Executive Order 53 (2007),
Appendix A.)
The governor requested a report be submitted in
August 2007. The panel devoted substantial time
and effort from early May to late August to completing its review and preparing the report. All
panel members served pro bono. The panel recognizes that some matters may need to be
addressed more fully in later research.
he governor’s executive order directed the
panel to answer the following questions:
1. “Conduct a review of how Seung Hui Cho
committed these 32 murders and multiple additional woundings, including
without limitation how he obtained his
firearms and ammunition, and to learn
what can be learned about what caused
him to commit these acts of violence.
Each member of the appointed panel had
expertise in areas relevant to its work, including
Virginia’s mental health system, university
administration, public safety and security, law
enforcement, victim services, emergency medical
services, and the justice system. The panel
members and their qualifications are specified in
the Foreword to this report. The panel was
assisted in its research and logistics by the
TriData Division of System Planning
Corporation (SPC).
2. “Conduct a review of Seung Hui Cho's
psychological condition and behavioral
issues prior to and at the time of the
shootings, what behavioral aberrations
or potential warning signs were observed
by students, faculty and/or staff at Westfield High School and Virginia Tech. This
inquiry should include the response
taken by Virginia Tech and others to
note psychological and behavioral issues,
Seung Hui Cho's interaction with the
mental health delivery system, including
without limitation judicial intervention,
access to services, and communication
between the mental health services system and Virginia Tech. It should also
include a review of educational, medical
and judicial records documenting his
In June, the governor appointed the law firm of
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP, as
independent legal counsel to the panel. A team of
their lawyers provided their services on a pro
bono basis. Their advice helped enormously as
they identified the authority needed to obtain
key information and guided the panel through
many sensitive legal areas related to obtaining
and protecting information, public access to the
measures that can be taken to improve
the laws, policies, procedures, systems
and institutions of the Commonwealth
and the operation of public safety
agencies, medical facilities, local
agencies, private providers, universities,
and mental health services delivery
condition, the services rendered to him,
and his commitment hearing.
3. “Conduct a review of the timeline of
events from the time that Seung Hui Cho
entered West Ambler Johnston dormitory
until his death in Norris Hall. Such
review shall include an assessment of the
response to the first murders and efforts
to stop the Norris Hall murders once
they began.
In summary, the panel was tasked to review the
events, assess actions taken and not taken,
identify lessons learned, and propose
alternatives for the future. Its assignment
included a review of Cho’s history and
interaction with the mental health and legal
systems and of his gun purchases. The panel was
also asked to review the emergency response by
all parties (law enforcement officials, university
officials, medical responders and hospital care
providers, and the Medical Examiner). Finally,
the panel reviewed the aftermath—the
university’s approach to helping families,
survivors, students, and staff as they dealt with
the mental trauma and the approach to helping
the university itself heal and function again.
4. “Conduct a review of the response of the
Commonwealth, all of its agencies, and
relevant local and private providers
following the death of Seung Hui Cho for
the purpose of providing recommendations
for the improvement of the
Commonwealth's response in similar
emergency situations. Such review shall
include an assessment of the emergency
medical response provided for the injured
and wounded, the conduct of post-mortem
examinations and release of remains, oncampus actions following the tragedy, and
the services and counseling offered to the
victims, the victims' families, and those
affected by the incident. In so doing, the
panel shall to the extent required by
federal or state law: (i) protect the
confidentiality of any individual's or
family member's personal or health
information; and (ii) make public or
publish information and findings only in
summary or aggregate form without
identifying personal or health information
related to any individual or family
member unless authorization is obtained
from an individual or family member that
specifically permits the panel to disclose
that person's personal or health
he panel used a variety of research and
investigatory techniques and procedures,
with the goal of conducting its review in a
manner that was as open and transparent as
possible, consistent with protecting individual
privacy where appropriate and the
confidentiality of certain records where required
to do so.
Much of the panel’s work was done in parallel by
informal subgroups on topics such as mental
health and legal issues, emergency medical
services, law enforcement, and security. The
panel was supplemented by SPC/TriData and
Skadden staff with expertise in these areas.
Throughout the process, panel members
identified documents to be obtained and people
to be interviewed. The list of interview subjects
continued to grow as the review led to new
questions and as people came forth to give
information and insights to the panel.
5. “Conduct other inquiries as may be
appropriate in the panel's discretion
otherwise consistent with its mission and
authority as provided herein.
6. “Based on these inquiries, make
recommendations on appropriate
summaries from law enforcement officials about
their investigation rather than reviewing those
files directly. These included briefings by campus
police, Blacksburg Police, Montgomery County
Police, Virginia State Police, FBI, and U.S.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives (ATF). The first two such briefings
were conducted in private because they included
protected criminal investigation information and
some material that was deemed insensitive to air
in public. Most of the information received in
confidence was subsequently released in public
briefings and through the media. Although the
panel did not have direct access to criminal
investigation files and materials in their
entirety, the panel was able to validate the
information contained in these briefings from the
records it did have access to from other sources
and from discussions with many of the same
witnesses who spoke to the criminal
investigators. The panel believes that it has
obtained an accurate picture of the police
response and investigation.
From the beginning, the concept was to structure
the review according to the broad timeline
pertinent to the incidents: pre-incident (Cho’s
history and security status of the university); the
two shooting incidents and the emergency
response to them; and the aftermath. This
helped ensure that all issues were covered in a
logical, systematic fashion.
Openness –The panel’s objective was to conduct
the review process as openly as possible while
maintaining confidential aspects of the police
investigation, medical records, court records,
academic records, and information provided in
confidence. The panel’s work was governed by
the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, and the
requirements of that act were adhered to strictly.
Requests for Documents and
Information – An essential aspect of the
review was the cooperation the panel received
from many institutions and individuals,
including the staff of Virginia Tech, Fairfax
County Public School officials and employees, the
families of shooting victims, survivors, the Cho
family, law enforcement agencies, mental health
providers, the Virginia Medical Examiner, and
emergency medical responders, as well as
numerous public agencies and private
individuals who responded to the panel’s
requests for documents and information.
Finally, with respect to Cho’s firearms purchases, the Virginia State Police, the ATF, and
the gun dealers each declined to provide the
panel with copies of the applications Cho completed when he bought his weapons or of other
records relating to any background check that
may have occurred in connection with those purchases. The Virginia State Police, however, did
describe the contents of Cho’s gun purchase
applications to members of the panel and its
Notwithstanding some difficulties at the outset,
the Executive Order of June 18, 2007, and the
work of our outside counsel ultimately allowed
the panel to obtain copies of, review, or be briefed
on all records germane to its review. In this
regard, however, a few matters should be noted.
First, as explained more fully in the body of the
report, the university’s Cook Counseling Center
advised the panel that it was missing certain
records related to Cho that would be expected to
be in the center’s files.
Virginia Tech Cooperation – An essential
aspect of the review was the cooperation of the
Virginia Tech administration and faculty.
Despite their having to deal with extraordinary
problems, pressures, and demands, the
university provided the panel with the records
and information requested, except for a few that
were missing. Some information was delayed
until various privacy issues were resolved, but
ultimately all records that were requested and
still existed were provided. University President
Charles Steger appointed a liaison to the panel,
Lenwood McCoy, a retired senior university
Second, due to the sensitive nature of portions of
the law enforcement investigatory record and
due to law enforcement’s concerns about not
setting a precedent with regard to the release of
raw information from investigation files, the
panel received extensive briefings and
Interviews were conducted to understand Cho’s
history, including his medical and mental health
treatment during his early school and university
years, and his interactions with the mental
health and legal systems. This included interviews with the Cho family, Cho’s high school
staff and faculty, staff and faculty at the university, many of those involved with the mental
health treatment of Cho within and outside the
university (including the Cook Counseling Center and his high school counseling), and members
of the legal community who had contact with
him. The assistance of attorney Wade Smith of
Raleigh, NC, was important in dealing with the
Cho family. He helped obtain signed releases
from the family and arranged an interview with
them. Various experts in mental health were
consulted on the problems with the mental
health and legal system within Virginia that
dealt with Cho. They also provided insight on
ways to identify and help such individuals in
other systems.
official. Requests for meetings and information
went to him. He helped identify the right people
to provide the requested information or obtained
the information himself. The panel sometimes
requested to speak to specific individuals, and all
were made available. Many of the exchanges
were monitored by the university’s attorney, who
is a special assistant state attorney general.
Overall, the university was extremely
cooperative with the panel, despite knowing that
the panel’s duty was to turn a critical eye on
everything it did.
Interviews – Many interviews were conducted
by panel members and staff during the course of
this review—over 200. A list of persons interviewed is included in Appendix B. A few interviewees wanted to remain anonymous and are
not included. Panel members and staff held
numerous private meetings with family members
of victims and with survivors and their family
One group of interviews was to obtain first-hand
information about the incidents from victims and
responders. This included surviving students and
faculty, police, emergency medical personnel and
hospital emergency care providers, and coordinators. The police used hundreds of personnel from
many law enforcement agencies for their investigation, and the panel did not have nor need the
resources to duplicate that effort. Rather, the
panel obtained the benefit of much of the investigative information from the law enforcement
agencies. Interviews were conducted with survivors, witnesses, and responders to validate the
information received and to expand upon it.
In evaluating the aftermath—the attempt to
mitigate the damage done to so many families,
members of the university community, and the
university itself—many interviews were conducted with family members of the victims, survivors and their families, people interacting with
the families and survivors, and others. The family members were extended opportunities to
speak to the panel in public or private sessions,
as were the injured and some other survivors.
For these groups, everyone who requested an
interview was given one. Not all wanted interviews. Some wanted group interviews. Some
were ready to speak earlier or later than others.
To the best of the panel’s knowledge, and certainly its intent, all were accommodated. The
panel learned a great deal about the incident and
also confronted directly the indescribable grief
and loss experienced by so many. From families
and survivors, the panel learned about the positive aspects of the services provided after April
16 and also about the many perceived problems
with those services. The panel also considered
the many issues that the family members asked
to be included in the investigation. This input
To further evaluate the actions taken by law
enforcement, the university, and emergency
medical services against state and national standards and norms, panel members and staff also
conducted interviews with leaders in these fields
outside the Virginia Tech community, from elsewhere in Virginia and from other states. The
panel also solicited their expert opinions on how
things might have been done better, and what
things were done well that should be emulated.
In addition to the primary speakers, every public
meeting included time for public comment. In
some cases the people testifying were
representatives of lobbying groups,
organizations, and associations, but the panel
also heard from victims, family members of
victims, independent experts, and concerned
citizens. There was even one instance of a
cameraman who put his camera down and
testified. Generally, the public presenters were
expected to restrict themselves to a few minutes,
and most did not abuse the opportunity. At one
meeting, more people wanted to speak than time
available, even though the meeting was extended
an hour. Those not able to present information
still had the opportunity to submit it to the panel
through letters, e-mails, or phone calls, and
many did.
was invaluable and substantially improved this
Most of the formal interviews were conducted by
one or two panel members, often with one or two
TriData staff present. Some were conducted
solely by staff. Generally, they were conducted in
private. No recordings or written transcripts
were made. All those interviewed were told that
the information they provided might be used in
the report but if they wished, they would not be
quoted or identified. These steps were taken to
encourage candor and to protect remarks that
were provided with the caveat that they not be
attributed to the speaker. The panel believes it
was able to obtain more candid and useful information using this approach. Panel members and
staff had many informal conversations with colleagues in their fields to obtain additional
insights, generally not in formal settings.
Web Site and Post Office Box – Shortly
after the panel was formed, its staff created a
web site that was used both to inform the public
and to receive input from the public. It proved to
be very valuable. There was a minimum of spam
or inappropriate inputs. The web site was used
to post announcements of public meetings and to
post presentations made or visual aids used at
meetings. More than 400,000 “hits” were
recorded, with 26,000 unique visitors. The web
site also was advertised as a vehicle for anyone
to post information or opinions. As of August 9,
2007, more than 2,000 comments were posted
from experts in various fields as well as the general public, victims, families of victims, and others as follows:
Literature Research – Especially toward the
beginning of the review but continuing throughout, much research was undertaken on various
topics through the Internet and through information sources suggested by panel members and
by individuals with whom the panel came into
contact. Many useful references were submitted
to the panel by the general public and experts.
Public Meetings – A key part of the panel’s
review process was a series of four public meetings held in different parts of the Commonwealth
to accommodate those who wished to contribute
information. The first meeting was held in Richmond at the state capitol complex, followed by
meetings at Virginia Tech, George Mason
University, and the University of Virginia. This
facilitated input from the public and officials of
various universities on issues they all cared
deeply about. Several other universities offered
facilities besides those chosen, including some
out of state. Each university site was fully supported by their leadership, public relations
department, event planning staff, and campus
police. The Virginia State Police provided added
protection at the meetings. (The agendas of the
public meetings are given in Appendix C.)
Parents (self-identified)
General public
Law enforcement officers
Family members of victims
Health professionals
Virginia Tech staff
Most persons who submitted information to the
web site appeared sincere about making a
dations regarding the methodology used by the
panel are presented in Appendix D; they were
put in an appendix to avoid having the procedural issues distract the reader from the heart of
the main issues.
contribution. Some lobbying groups on issues
such as gun control, carrying guns on campus,
and the influence of video games on young people
clearly urged their members to post comments.
A post office box also was opened for the public to
address comments directly to the panel. The
number of letters received was much smaller
than the number of e-mails but generally with a
high percentage of relevancy, especially from
experts, families, and victims.
The findings and related recommendations in
this report are of two kinds. The first comes from
reviewing actions taken in a time of crisis: what
was done very well, and what could have been
done better. Almost any crisis actions can be
improved, even if they were exemplary.
Telephone Calls and E-Mails – Some
information was received directly by panel members or staff through phone calls or e-mails.
Much of this information was received by one
panel member or staff member and was shared
with others when thought important.
The second type of finding identifies major
administrative or procedural failings leading up
to the events, such as failing to “connect the
dots” of Cho’s highly bizarre behavior; the missing records at Cook Counseling Center; insensitivity to survivors waiting to learn the fates of
their children, siblings, or spouses; and fundraising that appeared opportunistic.
Panel Interactions – The members of the
Virginia Tech Review Panel engaged on a personal level, participating in the majority of interviews conducted and exchanging many e-mails
and phone calls among themselves and with the
panel staff. The panel was impeded by the FOIA
rules that did not allow more than two members
to meet together or speak by phone without it
being considered a public meeting.
To help in understanding the events, the report
begins in Chapter II with a description of the
setting of the Virginia Tech campus and its preparedness for a disaster. In Chapter III, a
detailed timeline serves as a reference throughout the report—the succinct story of what happened, starting with Cho’s background, his
treatment, and then proceeding to the events of
April 16 and its aftermath. The events are elaborated in subsequent chapters.
he panel’s findings and recommendations are
provided throughout the report. Recommen-
Chapter II
efore describing the details of the events, it
is necessary to understand the setting in
which they took place, including the security
situation at Virginia Tech at the time of the
shootings. This chapter focuses on the physical
security of the campus and its system for alerting the university community in an emergency.
It also gives a brief background on the campus
police department and the university’s Emergency Response Plan. The prevention aspect of
security—including the identification of people
who pose safety threats—is discussed in Chapter
key element in the security of Virginia Tech
is its police department. It is considered
among the leading campus police departments in
the state. While many campuses employ security
guards, the Virginia Tech Police Department
(VTPD) is an accredited police force. Its officers
are trained as a full-fledged police department
with an emergency response team (ERT), which
is like a SWAT team.
The police chief reports to a university vice
On April 16, the VTPD strength was 35 officers.
It had 41 positions authorized but 6 were vacant.
The day shift, which comes on duty at 7 a.m., has
5 officers. Additionally, 9 officers work office
hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., including the chief, for a
total of 14 on a typical weekday morning. On
April 16, approximately 34 of the officers came to
work at some point during the day.
irginia Tech occupies a beautiful, sprawling
campus near the Blue Ridge Mountains in
southwest Virginia. It is a state school known for
its engineering and science programs but with a
wide range of other academic fields in the liberal
The main campus has 131 major buildings
spread over 2,600 acres. The campus is not
enclosed; anyone can walk or drive onto it. There
are no guarded roads or gateways. Cars can
enter on any of 16 road entrances, many of which
are not in line of sight of each other. Pedestrians
can use sidewalks or simply walk across grassy
areas to get onto the campus. Figure 1 shows
aerial views of the campus. There is a significant
amount of ongoing construction of new buildings
and renovation of existing buildings, with associated noise.
The campus police could not handle a major
event by themselves with these numbers, and so
they have entered into a mutual aid agreement
with the Blacksburg Police Department (BPD)
for immediate response and assistance. They frequently train together, and had trained for an
active shooter situation in a campus building
before the incident. As will be seen, this preparation was critical.
The VT campus police also have excellent working relationships with the regional offices of the
state police, FBI, and ATF. The high level of cooperation was confirmed by each of the federal,
state, and local law enforcement agencies that
were involved in the events on April 16, and by
the rapidity of coordination of their response to
the incident and the investigation that followed.
Training together, working cases together, and
On April 16, the campus population was about
34,500, as follows:
students (9,000 live in dorms)
university employees (not
counting student employees)
visitors, contractors, transit
workers, etc.
Figure 1. Aerial Views of Virginia Tech Campus
Many other school buildings are considered public spaces and are open 24 hours a day. The university encourages students to use the facilities
for classwork, informal meetings, and officially
sanctioned clubs and groups.
knowing each other on a first-name basis can be
critical when an emergency occurs and a highly
coordinated effort is needed.
The purpose of the Virginia Tech campus police
is stated in the university’s Emergency
Response Plan as follows: “The primary purpose
of the VTPD is to support the academics
through maintenance of a peaceful and orderly
community and through provision of needed
general and emergency services.” Although
some do not consider police department mission
statements of much importance versus how they
actually operate, the mission statement may
affect their role by indicating priorities. For
example, it may influence a decision as to
whether the university puts minimizing disruption to the educational process first and acting
on the side of precaution second. There are
many crimes and false alarms such as bomb
threats on campus, and it is often difficult to
make the decision on taking precautions that
are disruptive. The police mission statement
also may affect availability of student information. Explicitly including the police under the
umbrella of university officials may allow them
to access student records under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations.
Most classrooms, such as those in Norris Hall,
have no locks. Staff offices generally do have
locks, including those in Norris Hall.
There are no guards at campus buildings or
cameras at the entrances or in hallways of any
buildings. Anyone can enter most buildings. It is
an open university.
Some buildings have loudspeaker systems
intended primarily for use of the fire department in an emergency. They were not envisioned for use by police. They can only be used
by someone standing at a panel in each building
and cannot be accessed for a campus-wide
broadcast from a central location.
This level of security is quite typical of many
campuses across the nation in rural areas with
low crime rates. Some universities are partially
or completely fenced, with guards at exterior
entrances; usually these are in urban areas.
Some universities have guards at the entrance
to each building and screen anyone coming in
without student or staff identification, again
usually on urban campuses. Some universities
have locks on classroom doors, but they typically
operate by key from the hallway. They are
intended to keep students and strangers out
when they are not in use and often cannot be
locked from the inside.
Several leaders of the campus police chiefs of
Virginia commented that they do not always
have adequate input into security planning and
threat assessment or the authority to access
important information on students.
A few universities (e.g., Hofstra University in
Nassau County, NY) now have the ability to
lock the exterior doors of some or all buildings
at the push of a button in a central security
office. Most require manual operation of locks.
Virginia Tech would have to call people in scores
of buildings or send someone to the buildings to
lock their outside doors (except for dormitories
between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. when they are
locked automatically).
he residence halls on campus require placing a student or staff keycard in an electronic card reader in order to enter between
10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. A student access card
is valid only for his or her own dormitory and for
the mailbox area of another dormitory if one’s
assigned mailbox is there.
Existing System – Virginia Tech had the capability on April 16 to send messages to the student body, faculty, and other staff via a broadcast e-mail system. The associate vice president
for University Relations had the authority and
capability to send a message from anywhere
that was connected to the web. Almost every
student and faculty member on campus has a
computer and e-mail address (estimated at 96
percent by the university). Most but not all student computers are portable. Many are carried
to classes. However, an e-mail message sent by
the university may not get read by every user
within minutes or even hours. The e-mail system had 36,000 registered e-mail addresses.
Distribution of an emergency message occurred
at a rate of about 10,000 per minute.
Many levels of campus security existed at colleges and universities across Virginia and the
nation on April 16. A basic mission of institutions of higher education is to provide a peaceful, open campus setting that encourages freedom of movement and expression. Different
institutions provide more or less security, often
based on their locations (urban, suburban, or
rural), size and complexity (from research universities to small private colleges), and
resources. April 16 has become the 9/11 for colleges and universities. Most have reviewed their
security plans since then. The installation of
security systems already planned or in progress
has accelerated, including those at Virginia
Although the 2004 General Assembly directed
the Virginia State Crime Commission to study
campus safety at Virginia’s institutions of
higher education (HJR 122), the report issued
December 31, 2005, did not reflect the need for
urgent corrective actions. So far as the panel is
aware, there was no outcry from parents,
students, or faculty for improving VT campus
security prior to April 16. Most people liked the
relaxed and open atmosphere at Virginia Tech.
There had been concern the previous August
about an escaped convict and killer named
William Morva whose escape in the VT vicinity
unnerved many people. Also, some campus
assaults led some students to want to arm
themselves. However, if the April 16 incident
had not occurred, it is doubtful that security
issues would be on the minds of parents and
students more than at other universities, where
the most serious crimes tend to be rapes,
assaults, and dangerous activity related to
alcohol or drug abuse by students. These issues
were addressed by the State Crime Commission
Report and were given an average level of
attention at Virginia Tech.
The university also has a web site that it uses to
post emergency warnings, mostly for weather
events. The system has high-volume capacity.
(As events unfolded on April 16, the VT web site
was receiving 148,000 visits per hour.) An emergency message can be put in a box on the web
site that anyone reaching the site would see no
matter what they were looking for.
The university also has contacts with every local
radio and TV station. The Virginia Tech associate vice president for University Relations has a
code by which he can send emergency messages
to the stations that could be played immediately. This process could take 20 minutes or so
because each station has its own code to validate the sender. The validation codes are necessary because students or members of the public
could send spoof messages to the media as a
prank. The public media are used for the occasional weather emergencies, and the campus
community is trained to tune in to get further
An estimated 96 percent of students at Virginia
Tech carry cell phones according to the university. Most bring them to classes or wherever else
they go. A text message to cell phones probably
will reach more students faster than an e-mail
message because the devices are more portable
and can be rung. But some are forgotten, turned
irginia Tech was in the process of upgrading
its campus-wide alerting system in spring
off, or intentionally not carried. The university
was still in the process of installing a text messaging system on April 16 and had no way to
send a message to all cell phones.
Personal digital assistants (or PDAs) such as
Blackberries are used by fewer students and
faculty than cell phones because they are more
expensive and are not as capable as computers.
They have the capacity to receive e-mails and
would be treated either as a computer or as a
phone or both, depending on how it is registered.
The university also has a broadcast phone-mail
system that allows it to send a phone message
to all phone numbers registered with its messaging system. VT used this system to send
messages to all faculty offices and some students on April 16. Students and faculty must
voluntarily register their phones with this system if they want to be notified. It takes time to
reach all the phones; 11 separate actions are
required to send a broadcast message to all registered numbers, said the associate vice president for University Relations. It is not a useful
approach when time is critical.
Figure 2. One of the Six Sirens Being
Installed on Virginia Tech Campus
buildings to personally spread a warning. In
Norris Hall, for example, the chairman of the
Engineering Mechanics Department, whose
office was on the second floor, said he had been
issued a bullhorn to make announcements and
was instructed to rap on classroom and office
doors to alert people if there was an emergency
and other notification systems failed, if a personal approach was needed to convey safety
information, or if an evacuation or sheltering in
place was required.
A university switchboard with up to four operators is working during normal business hours. It
can handle hundreds of calls per hour.
To augment the range of messaging systems it
had available, the university was in the process
of installing six outdoor loudspeakers to make
emergency announcements. Some are mounted
on buildings and others on poles, as shown in
Figure 2. They can be used for either a voice
message or an audible alarm (such as a siren).
Four had been installed and were used on April
16, but they did not play a significant role in
this incident. (The announcement was made
after the 9:05 a.m. class period in which the
mass shooting had already started.)
New Unified Campus Alerting System – In
spring 2007, Virginia Tech was in the process of
installing a unified, multimedia messaging system to be completed before the next semester. It
would allow university officials to send an
emergency message that would flow in parallel
to computers, cell phones, PDAs, and telephones. The message could be sent by anyone
who is registered in the system as having
authority to send one, using a code word for
validation. The president of the university or
associate vice president of University Relations
As part of its emergency planning, the university has another system in place as a last-ditch
resort—using resident advisors in dorms and
floor wardens in some older classroom and office
can be anywhere and send a message to everyone—all that is needed is an Internet connection.
students and staff quickly, but also planning
what to say and how quickly to say it. Pursuant
to its Emergency Response Plan in effect on
April 16, the Virginia Tech Policy Group and the
police chief could authorize sending an emergency message to all students and staff. Typically, the police chief would make a decision
about the timing and content of a message after
consultation with the Policy Group, which is
comprised of the president and several other
vice presidents and senior officials. This process
of having the Policy Group decide on the message was used during the April 16 incidents.
However, while the Virginia Tech campus police
had the authority to send a message, they did
not have the technical means to do so. Only two
people, the associate vice president for University Relations and the director of News and
Information, had the codes to send a message.
The police could not access the alerting system
to send a message. . The police had to contact
the university leadership on the need and proposed content of a message. As a matter of
course, the police would usually be consulted if
not directly involved in the decision regarding
the sending of an alert for an emergency.
Students must be registered with the new system to receive messages. A student can provide
a mobile phone number, e-mail address(es), or
instant messaging system to be contacted in an
emergency. Parents’ numbers can be included.
All students and staff are encouraged but not
required to register with the new system. Each
user can set the priority order in which their
devices are to be called. The message will cascade through the hierarchy set by each user
until it gets answered. This system has the
enormous advantage of transmitting a message
to the entire university community in less than
a minute.
For the Virginia Tech community of about
35,000 users, the system will cost $33,000 a
year to operate and no out-of-pocket expense to
start. However, it takes considerable staff time
to select a system and then oversee its startup.
The operating cost is a function of the bandwidth used and the frequency of messages. The
more people and devices on the system and the
more messages sent per year, the higher the
cost. Initially, Virginia Tech is planning to use
the system only for emergency messages. Other
schools have started using such systems for
more routine purposes such as sending information about special events on campus and administrative information, at an extra charge.
Virginia Tech was willing to share the criteria it
used in its selection of a messaging system
(Appendix E). Several competing commercial
options have excellent capabilities. Some are
only suitable for small schools. Universities and
colleges need to balance their needs and the system capability versus costs.
There are no preset messages for different types
of emergencies, as some public agencies have in
order to speed crafting of an emergency message. All VT messages are developed for the particular incident.
The timing and content of the messages sent by
the university are one of the major controversies
concerning the events of April 16. (Chapter VIII
addresses the double homicide at West Ambler
Johnston residence hall and the messaging decisions that followed).
he university’s Emergency Response Plan
deals with preparedness and response to a
variety of emergencies, but nothing specific to
shootings. The version in effect on April 16 was
about 2 years old. Emergencies such as weather
Message Content and Authorization – A
critical part of security is not only having the
technical communication capability of reaching
A system being developed sends a message to anyone
within range of a tower or set of towers. It does not matter
who you are or whether you have “registered”; if you have a
cell phone and are in range, you get the message.
problems, fires, and terrorism were in the fore of
VT emergency planning pre-April 16.
gency response coordinator. The ERRG is supposed to meet at the EOC. Decisions made by
these groups and their members on April 16 are
addressed in the remainder of the report, as the
event is described.
The plan addresses different levels of emergencies, designated as levels 0, I, II, and III. The
Norris Hall event was level III, the highest,
based on the number of lives lost, the physical
and psychological damage suffered by the
injured, and the psychological impact on a very
large number of people.
The VT Emergency Response Plan does not deal
with prevention of events, such as establishing a
threat assessment team to identify classes of
threats and to assess the risk of specific problems and specific individuals. There are threat
assessment models used elsewhere that have
proven successful. For example, at two college
campuses in Virginia, the chief operating officer
receives daily reports of all incidents to which
law enforcement responded the previous day,
including violation of the student conduct code
up to criminal activity. This information is then
routinely shared with appropriate offices which
are responsible for safety and health on campus.
The plan calls for an official to be designated as
an emergency response coordinator (ERC) to
direct a response. It also calls for the establishment of an emergency operations center (EOC).
Satellite operations centers may be established
to assist the ERC. As will be discussed in
describing the response to the events, there
were multiple coordinators and multiple operations centers but not a central EOC on April 16.
Two key decision groups are identified in the
Emergency Response Plan: the Policy Group
and the Emergency Response Resources Group.
The Policy Group is comprised of nine vice presidents and support staff, chaired by the university president. The Policy Group deals with procedures to support emergency operations and to
determine recovery priorities. In the events of
April 16, it also decided on the messages sent
and the immediate actions taken by the university after the first incident as well as the second
mass shooting. The Policy Group sits above the
emergency coordinator for an incident. It does
not include a member of the campus police, but
the campus police are usually asked to have a
representative at its meetings.
he Emergency Response Plan of Virginia
Tech was deficient in several respects. It did
not include provisions for a shooting scenario
and did not place police high enough in the
emergency decision-making hierarchy. It also
did not include a threat assessment team. And
the plan was out of date on April 16; for example, it had the wrong name for the police chief
and some other officials.
The protocol for sending an emergency message
in use on April 16 was cumbersome, untimely,
and problematic when a decision was needed as
soon as possible. The police did not have the
capability to send an emergency alert message
on their own. The police had to await the deliberations of the Policy Group, of which they are
not a member, even when minutes count. The
Policy Group had to be convened to decide
whether to send a message to the university
community and to structure its content.
The second key group, the Emergency Response
Resources Group (ERRG), includes a vice president designated to be in charge of an incident,
police officials, and others depending on the
nature of the event. It is to ensure that the
resources needed to support the Policy Group
and needs of the emergency are available. The
ERRG is organized and directed by the emer-
The training of staff and students for emergencies situations at Virginia Tech did not include
shooting incidents. A messaging system works
more effectively if resident advisors in dormitories, all faculty, and all other staff from janitors
Appendix F has an example of the “active shooter” part of
the University of Virginia’s plan, and something similar
should be included in the Virginia Tech plan.
Virginia Tech did not have classroom door locks
operable from the inside of the room. Whether to
add such locks is controversial. They can block
entry of an intruder and compartmentalize an
attack. Locks can be simple manually operated
devices or part of more sophisticated systems
that use electromechanical locks operated from
a central security point in a building or even
university-wide. The locks must be easily
opened from the inside to allow escape from a
fire or other emergency when that is the safer
course of action. While adding locks to classrooms may seem an obvious safety feature, some
voiced concern that locks could facilitate rapes
or assaults in classrooms and increase university liability. (An attacker could drag someone
inside a room at night and lock the door, blocking assistance.) On the other hand, a locked
room can be a place of refuge when one is pursued. On balance, the panel generally thought
having locks on classroom doors was a good
to the president have instruction and training
for coping with emergencies of all types.
It would have been extremely difficult to “lock
down” Virginia Tech. The size of the police force
and absence of a guard force, the lack of electronic controls on doors of most buildings other
than residence halls, and the many unguarded
roadways pose special problems for a large rural
or suburban university. The police and security
officials consulted in this review did not think
the concept of a lockdown, as envisioned for
elementary or high schools, was feasible for an
institution such as Virginia Tech.
It is critical to alert the entire campus population when there is an imminent danger. There
are information technologies available to rapidly
send messages to a variety of personal communication devices. Many colleges and universities,
including Virginia Tech, are installing such
campus-wide alerting systems. Any purchased
system must be thoroughly tested to ensure it
operates as specified in the purchase contract.
Some universities already have had problems
with systems purchased since April 16.
Shootings at universities are rare events, an
average of about 16 a year across 4,000 institutions. Bombings are rarer but still possible.
Arson is more common and drunk driving incidents more frequent yet. There are both simple
and sophisticated improvements to consider for
improving security (besides upgrading the alerting system). A risk analysis needs to be performed and decisions made as to what risks to
protect against.
An adjunct to a sophisticated communications
alert system is a siren or other audible warning
device. It can give a quick warning that something is afoot. One can hear such alarms regardless of whether electronics are carried, whether
the electronics are turned off, or whether electric power (other than for the siren, which can
be self-powered) is available. Upon sounding,
every individual is to immediately turn on some
communication device or call to receive further
instructions. Virginia Tech has installed a system of six audible alerting devices of which four
were in place on April 16. Many other colleges
and universities have done something similar.
There have been several excellent reviews of
campus security by states and individual campuses (for example, the states of Florida and
Louisiana, the University of California, and the
University of Maryland). The Commonwealth of
Virginia held a conference on campus security
on August 13, 2007.
No security cameras were in the dorms or anywhere else on campus on April 16. The outcome
might have been different had the perpetrator of
the initial homicides been rapidly identified.
Cameras may be placed just at entrances to
buildings or also in hallways. However, the
more cameras, the more intrusion on university
The VTPD and BPD were well-trained and had
conducted practical exercises together. They had
undergone active shooter training to prepare for
the possibility of a multiple victim shooter.
The entire police patrol force must be trained in
the active shooter protocol, because any officer
may be called upon to respond.
systems that will be used. An annual
reminder provided as part of registration should
be considered.
It was the strong opinion of groups of Virginia
college and university presidents with whom the
panel met that the state should not impose
required levels of security on all institutions,
but rather let the institutions choose what they
think is appropriate. Parents and students can
and do consider security a factor in making a
choice of where to go to school.
II-5 Universities and colleges must comply
with the Clery Act, which requires timely
public warnings of imminent danger.
“Timely” should be defined clearly in the federal
Finally, the panel found that the VTPD statement of purpose in the Emergency Response
Plan does not reflect that law enforcement is the
primary purpose of the police department.
II-6 Campus emergency communications
systems must have multiple means of sharing information.
II-7 In an emergency, immediate messages
must be sent to the campus community that
provide clear information on the nature of
the emergency and actions to be taken The
nitial messages should be followed by update
messages as more information becomes known.
II-1 Universities should do a risk analysis
(threat assessment) and then choose a level
of security appropriate for their campus.
How far to go in safeguarding campuses, and
from which threats, needs to be considered by
each institution. Security requirements vary
across universities, and each must do its own
threat assessment to determine what security
measures are appropriate.
II-8 Campus police as well as administration officials should have the authority and
capability to send an emergency message.
Schools without a police department or senior
security official must designate someone able to
make a quick decision without convening a
II-2 Virginia Tech should update and
enhance its Emergency Response Plan and
bring it into compliance with federal and
state guidelines.
II-9 The head of campus police should be a
member of a threat assessment team as well
as the emergency response team for the
university. In some cases where there is a
security department but not a police department, the security head may be appropriate.
II-3 Virginia Tech and other institutions of
higher learning should have a threat
assessment team that includes representatives from law enforcement, human
resources, student and academic affairs,
legal counsel, and mental health functions.
The team should be empowered to take actions
such as additional investigation, gathering
background information, identification of additional dangerous warning signs, establishing a
threat potential risk level (1 to 10) for a case,
preparing a case for hearings (for instance,
commitment hearings), and disseminating
warning information.
II-10 Campus police must report directly to
the senior operations officer responsible for
emergency decision making. They should be
part of the policy team deciding on emergency
II-11 Campus police must train for active
shooters (as did the Virginia Tech Police
Department). Experience has shown that waiting for a SWAT team often takes too long. The
II-4 Students, faculty, and staff should be
trained annually about responding to various emergencies and about the notification
mindset, with the police yielding to academic
considerations when it comes time to make decisions on, say, whether to send out an alert to the
students that may disrupt classes. On the other
hand, it is useful to identify the police as being
involved in the education role in order for them
to gain access to records under educational privacy act provisions.
best chance to save lives is often an immediate
assault by first responders.
II-12 The mission statement of campus
police should give primacy to their law
enforcement and crime prevention role.
They also must to be designated as having a
function in education so as to be able to review
records of students brought to the attention of
the university as potential threats. The lack of
emphasis on safety as the first responsibility of
the police department may create the wrong
Specific findings and recommendations on police
actions taken on April 16 are addressed in the
later chapters.
Chapter III
family. He has serious health problems from
9 months to 3 years old, is frail, and after
unpleasant medical procedures does not
want to be touched.
he following timeline provides an overview of
the events leading up to the tragedy on April
16, and then the actions taken on April 16. The
time scale switches from years to months to days
and even to minutes as appropriate. This information is a reference source to use as one reads
the chapters.
The information here was drawn from numerous
interviews and written sources. The Cho family
and Seung Hui Cho’s school administrators,
counselors, teachers, and medical and school
records are the prime sources for his history
prior to attending Virginia Tech.
Cho’s family emigrates to Maryland when he is 8 years old.
The Cho family moves to Fairfax
County, Virginia, when he is 9 years old.
They work long hours in a dry-cleaning
Seung Hui in the 6th grade continues to be very withdrawn. Teachers meet
with his parents about this behavior. In the
summer before he enters 7th grade, he
begins receiving counseling at the Center for
Multi-cultural Human Services to address
his shy, introverted
nature, which is diagnosed as “selective
mutism.” Parents try to socialize him more
by encouraging extracurricular activities
and friends, but he stays withdrawn.
During the 8th grade, suicidal
and homicidal ideations are identified by
Cho’s middle school teachers in his writing.
It is connected to the Columbine shootings
this year. (He references Columbine in
school writings.) The school requests that
his parents ask a counselor to intervene,
which leads to a psychiatric evaluation at
the Multicultural Center for Human Services. He is prescribed antidepressant medication. He responds well and is taken off the
medication approximately one year later.
Information obtained on his university years
before the shootings came from interviews with
faculty, counselors, administrators, police,
courts, psychological evaluators, suitemates, and
others. The panel also had access to many university, medical, and court records and to e-mails
and other written materials involving Cho.
The timeline for the events of April 16 relied primarily on state and campus police reports and
interviews, supplemented by interviews with
survivors, university officials, emergency medical
responders, hospitals and others.
The information on the aftermath drew on medical examiner records, interviews with families,
and other sources.
Each aspect of the timeline is discussed further
in the following chapters, with an evaluation as
well as narration of events.
2000–2003 (High School)
Cho starts Westfield High School
in Fairfax County as a sophomore, after attending another high school at Centreville
for a year. After review by the “local screening committee,” he is enrolled in an
Fall 2000
Seung Hui Cho is born to a
family living in a small two-room apartment
in Seoul, South Korea. He is an inordinately
shy, quiet child, but no problem to his
Individual Educational Program (IEP) to
deal with his shyness and lack of responsiveness in a classroom setting. Therapy
continues with the Multicultural Center for
Human Services through his junior year. He
has no behavior problems, keeps his appointments, and makes no threats. He gets
good grades and adjusts reasonably to the
school environment. Both the guidance
office in school and the therapist feel he was
2005 (Virginia Tech)
Cho requests a change of major to
English. The idea for a book sent to a New
York publishing house is rejected. This
seems to depress him, according to his family. He still sees no counselor at school or
home, and exhibits no behavioral problems
other than his quietness.
Spring 2005
Cho starts junior year and moves
back into the dorms. Serious problems begin
to surface. His sister notes that he is writing
less at home, is less enthusiastic, and wonders if the publisher’s rejection letter curbed
his enthusiasm for writing and reversed his
improving attitude. At school, Cho is taken
to some parties by his suitemates at the
start of the fall semester. He stabs at the
carpet in a girl’s room with a knife in the
presence of his suitemates.
Fall 2005
Cho graduates from Westfield
High School with a 3.5 GPA in the Honors
Program. He decides to attend Virginia Tech
against the advice of his parents and counselors, who think that it is too large a school
for him and that he will not receive adequate individual attention. He is given the
name of a contact at the high school if he
needs help in college, but never avails himself of it.
June 2003
Professor Nikki Giovanni, Cho’s poetry professor, is concerned about violence in his
writing. She also asks him to stop taking
pictures of classmates from a camera held
under the desk. She offers to get him into
another class and writes a letter to English
Department Chair Lucinda Roy to create a
record that could lead to removing Cho from
her class.
2003–2004 (Virginia Tech)
Cho enters Virginia Tech as a
business information systems major. Little
attention is drawn to him during his freshman year. He has a difficult time with his
roommate over neatness issues and changes
rooms. His parents make weekly trips to
visit him. His grades are good. He does not
see a counselor at school or home. He is
excited about college.
August 2003
Dr. Roy removes Cho from Professor
Giovanni’s class and tutors him one-on-one
with assistance from Professor Frederick
D’Aguiar. When Cho refuses to go to counseling, Dr. Roy notifies the Division of
Student Affairs, the Cook Counseling
Center, the Schiffert Health Center, the
Virginia Tech police, and the College of
Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Cho’s
problems are discussed with the university’s
Care Team that reviews students with
Cho begins his sophomore year.
Cho moves off campus to room with a senior
who is rarely at home. Cho complains of
mites in the apartment, but doctors tell him
it is acne and prescribe minocycline. He
becomes interested in writing and decides to
switch his major to English beginning his
junior year. He submits the paperwork late
that sophomore year. His sister notes a
growing passion for writing over the summer break, though he is secretive about its
content. Cho submits a book idea to a publishing house.
Fall 2004
A female resident of WAJ files a
report with the Virginia Tech Police
Department (VTPD) indicating that Cho
had made “annoying” contact with her on
the Internet, by phone, and in person. The
November 27
VTPD interviews Cho, but the female student declines to press charges. The investigating officer refers Cho to the school’s disciplinary system, the Office of Judicial
Before 11 a.m.
A staff psychiatrist at Carilion
evaluates Cho, concludes he is not a danger
to himself or others, and recommends outpatient counseling. He gathers no collateral information.
Cho calls Cook Counseling Center and is triaged (i.e., given a preliminary
screening) by phone at following his interaction with VTPD police.
11-11:30 a.m.
Special Justice Paul M. Barnett
conducts Cho’s commitment hearing and
rules in accordance with the independent
evaluator, but orders follow-up treatment as
an outpatient. Cho then makes and keeps
an appointment with the campus Cook
Counseling Center.
November 30
E-mails among resident advisors
(RAs) reflect complaints by a female resident in Cochrane residence hall regarding
instant messages (IMs) from Cho sent under
various strange aliases. E-mails also report
that he went in disguise to a female student’s room (the event of November 27).
December 6
The staff psychiatrist dictates in
his evaluation summary that “there is no
indication of psychosis, delusions, suicidal or
homicidal ideation.” The psychiatrist finds
that “his insight and judgment are normal.…Followup and aftercare to be
arranged with the counseling center at
Virginia Tech; medications, none.” Cho is
A female student from Campbell
Hall files a report with the VTPD complaining of “disturbing” IMs from Cho. She
requests that Cho have no further contact
with her.
December 12
Cho is triaged in person at the
Cook Counseling Center for the third time
in 15 days.
3:00 p.m.
Cho does not keep a 2:00 p.m. appointment
at Cook Counseling Center but is triaged by
them again by phone that afternoon.
VTPD notifies Cho that he is to
have no further contact with the second
female student who complained. After campus police leave, Cho’s suitemate receives an
IM from Cho stating, “I might as well kill
myself now.” The suitemate alerts VTPD.
The police take Cho to the VTPD where a
prescreener from the New River Valley
Community Services Board evaluates him
as “an imminent danger to self or others.” A
magistrate issues a temporary detaining
order, and Cho is transported to Carilion St.
Albans Psychiatric Hospital for an overnight
stay and mental evaluation.
December 13
The Cook Counseling Center
receives a psychiatric summary from St.
Albans. No action is taken by Cook Counseling Center or the Care Team to follow up on
Cho’s technical writing professor,
Carl Bean, suggests that Cho drop his class
after repeated efforts to address shortcomings in class and inappropriate choice of
writing assignments. Cho follows the professor to his office, raises his voice angrily, and
is asked to leave. Bean does not report this
incident to university officials.
April 17
December 14
Cho writes a paper for Professor
Hicok’s creative writing class concerning a
young man who hates the students at his
school and plans to kill them and himself.
The writing contains a number of parallels
The person assigned as an independent evaluator, psychologist Roy Crouse,
evaluates Cho and concludes that he does
not present an imminent danger to himself.
7 a.m.
to the events of April 16, 2007 and the recorded messages later sent to NBC.
Cho purchases three additional
10-round magazines from another eBay
March 23
September 6–12 Professor Lisa Norris, another of
Cho’s writing professors, alerts the Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Human
Sciences, Mary Ann Lewis, about him, but
the dean finds “no mention of mental health
issues or police reports” on Cho. Professor
Norris encourages Cho to go to counseling
with her, but he declines.
March 31
Professor Falco, another of Cho’s
writing instructors, confers with Professors
Roy and Norris, who tell him that Dr. Roy in
Fall 2005 and Professor Norris in 2006
alerted the Associate Dean of Students,
Mary Ann Lewis, about Cho.
April 8
Cho purchases additional ammunition magazines, ammunition, and a hunting knife from Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods. He buys chains from Home
April 7
Cho purchases more ammunition.
Cho spends the night at the
Hampton Inn in Christiansburg, Virginia,
videotaping segments for his manifesto-like
diatribe. He also buys more ammunition.
Bomb threats are made to
Torgersen, Durham, and Whittemore halls,
in the form of an anonymous note. The
threats are assessed by the VTPD; and the
buildings evacuated. There is no lockdown
or cancellation of classes elsewhere on campus. In retrospect, no evidence is found linking these threats to Cho’s later bomb threat
in Norris Hall, based in part on handwriting
April 13
Cho orders a .22 caliber Walther
P22 handgun online from TGSCOM, Inc.
February 2
Cho picks up the handgun from
J-N-D Pawnbrokers in Blacksburg, across
the street from the university.
February 9
An Asian male wearing a hooded
garment is seen by a faculty member in
Norris Hall. She later (after April 16) tells
police that one of her students had told her
the doors were chained. This may have been
Cho practicing. Cho buys yet more ammunition.
April 14
Cho rents a van from Enterprise
Rent-A-Car at the Roanoke Regional Airport, which he keeps for almost a month.
(Cho videotapes some of his subsequently
released diatribe in the van.)
March 12
Cho purchases a 9mm Glock 19
handgun and a box of 50 9mm full metal
jacket practice rounds at Roanoke Firearms.
He has waited the 30 days between gun purchases as required in Virginia. The store initiates the required background check by
police, who find no record of mental health
March 13
Cho places his weekly Sunday
night call to his family in Fairfax County.
They report the conversation as normal and
that Cho said nothing that caused them concern.
April 15
Cho goes to PSS Range and
Training, an indoor pistol range, and spends
an hour practicing.
March 22
April 16, 2007
In Cho’s suite in Harper Hall
(2121), one of Cho’s suitemates notices Cho
is awake and at his computer.
5:00 a.m.
Cho purchases two 10-round
magazines for the Walther P22 on eBay.
March 22
About 5:30 a.m. One of Cho’s other suitemates
VT Rescue Squad 3 arrives onscene outside WAJ.
7:26 a.m.
notices Cho clad in boxer shorts and a shirt
brushing his teeth and applying acne cream.
Cho returns from the bathroom, gets
dressed, and leaves.
VT Rescue Squad 3 arrives at
room 4040.
7:29 a.m.
Additional VTPD officers begin
arriving at room 4040. They secure the
crime scene and start preliminary investigation. Interviews of residents find them
unable to provide a suspect description. No
one on Hilscher’s floor in WAJ saw anyone
leave room 4040 after the initial noise was
7:30 a.m.
Cho is spotted by a student waiting outside the West Ambler Johnston
(WAJ) residential hall entrance, where he
has his mailbox.
6:47 a.m.
7:02 a.m.
Emily Hilscher enters the dorm
after being dropped off by her boyfriend (the
time is based on her swipe card record).
About 7:15 a.m. Cho shoots Hilscher in her room
A friend of Hilscher’s arrives at
WAJ to join her for the walk to chemistry
class. She is questioned by detectives and
explains that on Monday mornings Hilscher’s boyfriend would drop her off and go
back to Radford University where he was a
student. She tells police that the boyfriend
is an avid gun user and practices using the
gun. This leads the police to seek him as a
“person of interest” and potential suspect.
7:30–8:00 a.m.
(4040) at WAJ. He also shoots Ryan Christopher Clark, an RA. Clark, it is thought,
most likely came to investigate noises in
Hilscher’s room, which is next door to his.
Both of the victims’ wounds prove to be
7:17 a.m.
Cho’s access card is swiped at
Harper Hall (his residence hall). He goes to
his room to change out of his bloody clothes.
VTPD Chief Flinchum is notified
by phone of the WAJ shootings.
7:40 a.m.
The VTPD receives a call on their
administrative telephone line advising that
a female student in room 4040 of WAJ had
possibly fallen from her loft bed. The caller
was given this information by another WAJ
resident near room 4040 who heard the
7:20 a.m.
Chief Flinchum contacts the
Blacksburg Police Department (BPD) and
requests a BPD evidence technician and
BPD detective to assist with the investigation.
7:51 a.m.
The VTPD dispatcher notifies the
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad that a female
student had possibly fallen from her loft bed
in WAJ. A VTPD officer is dispatched to
room 4040 at WAJ to accompany the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, which is also dispatched (per standard protocol).
Chief Flinchum notifies the
Virginia Tech Office of the Executive Vice
President of the shootings. This triggers a
meeting of the university’s Policy Group.
7:21 a.m.
7:57 a.m.
Classes begin. Chief Flinchum
arrives at WAJ and finds VTPD and BPD
detectives on the scene and the investigation
underway. A local special agent of the state
police has been contacted and is responding
to the scene.
8:00 a.m.
The VTPD officer arrives at WAJ
room 4040, finds two people shot inside the
room, and immediately requests additional
VTPD resources.
7:24 a.m.
8:10 –9:25 a.m. Chief Flinchum provides updated
information via phone to the Virginia Tech
Policy Group regarding progress made in
Cho accesses his university
e-mail account (based on computer records).
He erases his files and the account.
7:25 a.m.
the investigation. He informs them of a possible suspect, who is probably off campus.
8:11 a.m.
Cho mails a package from the
Blacksburg post office to NBC News in New
York that contains pictures of himself holding weapons, an 1,800-word rambling diatribe, and video clips in which he expresses
rage, resentment, and a desire to get even
with oppressors. He alludes to a coming
massacre. Cho prepared this material in the
previous weeks. The videos are a performance of the enclosed writings. Cho also mails
a letter to the English Department attacking Professor Carl Bean, with whom he previously argued.
9:01 a.m.
BPD Chief Kim Crannis arrives
on scene.
Chief Flinchum requests additional VTPD and BPD officers to assist with
securing WAJ entrances and with the investigation.
8:13 a.m.
Chief Flinchum requests the
VTPD Emergency Response Team (ERT) to
respond to the scene and then to stage in
Blacksburg in the event an arrest is needed
or a search warrant is to be executed.
8:15 a.m.
Classes begin for the second
period in Norris Hall.
9:05 a.m.
Officers search for Hilscher’s boyfriend. His vehicle is not found in campus
parking lots, and officers become more confident that he has left the campus. VTPD
and BPD officers are sent to his home; he is
not found. A BOLO (be on the lookout)
report is issued to BPD and the Montgomery
County Sheriff’s Office for his vehicle.
Meanwhile, officers continue canvassing
WAJ for possible witnesses. VTPD, BPD,
and the Virginia State Police (VSP) continue
processing the room 4040 crime scene and
gathering evidence. Investigators secure
identification of the victims.
8:16–9:24 a.m.
Both police ERTs are staged at
the BPD in anticipation of executing search
warrants or making an arrest.
9:15 a.m.
Cho is seen outside and then
inside Norris Hall, an engineering building.
He chains the doors shut on the three main
entrances from the inside. No one reports
seeing him do this.
9:15–9:30 a.m.
A Montgomery County, Virginia
deputy sheriff initiates a traffic stop of
Hilsher’s boyfriend off campus in his pickup
truck. Detectives are sent to assist with the
9:24 a.m.
Chief Crannis requests BPD ERT
to respond for the same reason as the VTPD
8:19 a.m.
A VTPD police captain joins the
Virginia Tech Policy Group as police liaison
and provides updates as information
becomes available.
9:25 a.m.
A person fitting Cho’s description
is seen near the Duck Pond on campus.
8:20 a.m.
Virginia Tech administration
sends e-mail to campus staff, faculty, and
students informing them of the dormitory
9:26 a.m.
The Virginia Tech Policy Group
meets to plan on how to notify students of
the homicides.
8:25 a.m.
Blacksburg public schools lock
their outer doors upon hearing of the incident at WAJ from their security chief, who
had heard of the incident on police radio.
8:52 a.m.
A VSP trooper arrives at the traffic stop of the boyfriend and helps question
him. A gunpowder residue field test is performed on him and the result is negative.
9:31–9:48 a.m.
The Policy Group is briefed on
the latest events in the ongoing dormitory
homicide investigation by the VTPD.
9:00 a.m.
begins shooting in room 206 in Norris Hall,
where a graduate engineering class in
Advanced Hydrology is underway. Cho kills
Professor G. V. Loganathan and other students in the class, killing 9 and wounding 3
of the 13 students.
dispatcher initially has difficulty understanding the location of the shooting. Once
identified as being on campus, the call is
transferred to VTPD.
About 9:40 a.m. until about 9:51 a.m.
The first 9-1-1 call reporting
shots fired reaches the VTPD. A message is
sent to all county EMS units to staff and
9:42 a.m.
Cho goes across the hall from room 206 and
enters room 207, an Elementary German
class. He shoots teacher Christopher James
Bishop, then students near the front of the
classroom and starts down the aisle shooting others. Cho leaves the classroom to go
back into the hall.
The first police officers arrive at
Norris Hall, a three-minute response time
from their receipt of the call. Hearing shots,
they pause briefly to check whether they are
being fired upon, then rush to one entrance,
then another, and then a third but find all
three chained shut. Attempts to shoot open
the locks fail.
9:45 a.m.
Students in room 205, attending Haiyan
Cheng’s class on Issues in Scientific Computing, hear Cho’s gunshots. (Cheng was a
graduate assistant substituting for the professor that day.) The students barricade the
door and prevent Cho’s entry despite his firing at them through the door.
The police inform the administration that there has been another shooting. University President Steger hears
sounds like gunshots, and sees police running toward Norris Hall.
About 9:45 a.m.
Meanwhile, in room 211 Madame Jocelyne
Couture-Nowak is teaching French. She and
her class hear the shots, and she asks student Colin Goddard to call 9-1-1. A student
tells the teacher to put the desk in front of
the door, which is done but it is nudged open
by Cho. Cho walks down the rows of desks
shooting people. Goddard is shot in the leg.
Student Emily Haas picks up the cell phone
Goddard dropped. She begs the police to
hurry. Cho hears Haas and shoots her, grazing her twice in the head. She falls and
plays dead, though keeping the phone cradled under her head and the line open. Cho
says nothing on entering the room or during
the shooting. (Three students who pretend
to be dead survive.)
Back in room 207, the German class, two
uninjured students and two injured students go to the door and hold it shut with
their feet and hands, keeping their bodies
away. Within 2 minutes, Cho returns. He
beats on the door and opens it an inch and
fires shots around the door handle, then
gives up trying to get in.
Cho returns to room 211, the French class,
and goes up one aisle and down another,
shooting people again. Cho shoots Goddard
again twice more.
A janitor sees Cho in the hall on the second
floor loading his gun; he flees downstairs.
Cho tries to enter room 204 where engineering professor Liviu Librescu is teaching
Mechanics. Librescu braces his body against
the door yelling for students to head for the
window. He is shot through the door. Students push out screens and jump or drop to
grass or bushes below the window. Ten
students escape this way. The next two
students trying to escape are shot. Cho
A BPD dispatcher receives a call
regarding the shooting in Norris Hall. The
9:41 a.m.
1The panel estimates that the shooting began at this time
based on the time it took for the students and faculty in the
room next door to recognize that the sounds being heard were
gunshots, and then make the call to 9-1-1.
returns again to room 206 and shoots more
Using a shotgun, police shoot
open the ordinary key lock of a fourth
entrance to Norris Hall that goes to a
machine shop and that could not be chained.
The police hear gunshots as they enter the
building. They immediately follow the
sounds to the second floor.
At Norris Hall, the first team of officers
9:50 a.m.
Triage and rescue of victims begin.
A second e-mail is sent by the administration to all Virginia Tech e-mail addresses
announcing that “A gunman is loose on
campus. Stay in buildings until further
notice. Stay away from all windows.” Four
loudspeakers out of doors on poles broadcast
a similar message.
Securing the second floor.
Triaging the 48 gunshot victims and
aiding survivors in multiple classrooms.
Coordinating rescue efforts to remove
survivors from Norris Hall.
Gathering preliminary suspect or gunman descriptions.
Determining if additional gunmen
The police clear the second floor
of Norris Hall. Two tactical medics attached
to the ERTs, one medic from Virginia Tech
Rescue and one from Blacksburg Rescue, are
allowed to enter to start their initial triage.
9:52 a.m.
Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police ERTs
arrive at Norris Hall, including one paramedic with each team.
The 9:42 a.m. request for all EMS
units is repeated.
Cho shoots himself in the head
just as police reach the second floor. Investigators believe that the police shotgun blast
alerted Cho to the arrival of the police. Cho’s
shooting spree in Norris Hall lasted about
11 minutes. He fired 174 rounds, and killed
30 people in Norris Hall plus himself, and
wounded 17.
9:53 a.m.
9:51 a.m.
A deceased male student is discovered by police team and suspected to be
the gunman:
10:08 a.m.
While the shootings at Norris Hall were
occurring, police were taking the following
actions in connection with the shootings at
Police officials assign the additional
responding law enforcement personnel.
Officers canvass WAJ for possible
No identification is found on the body.
He appears to have a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
He is found among his victims in classroom 211, the French class.
Two weapons are found near the body.
A third e-mail from Virginia Tech
administration cancels classes and advises
people to stay where they are.
10:17 a.m.
VTPD, BPD, and VSP process the room
4040 crime scene and gather evidence.
Officers search interior and exterior
waste containers and surrounding
areas near WAJ for evidence.
10:51 a.m.
Officers canvass rescue squad
personnel for additional evidence or
10:52 a.m.
All patients from Norris Hall
have been transported to a hospital or
moved to a minor treatment unit.
A fourth e-mail from Virginia
Tech administration warns of “a multiple
shooting with multiple victims in Norris
George W. Bush, Virginia Governor Tim
Kaine (who had returned from Japan),
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger,
Virginia Tech Vice President for Student
Affairs Zenobia L. Hikes, local religious
leaders (representing the Muslim, Buddhist,
Jewish, and Christian communities), Provost Dr. Mark G. McNamee, Dean of Students Tom Brown, Counselor Dr. Christopher Flynn, and poet and Professor Nikki
Hall,” saying the shooter has been arrested
and that police are hunting for a possible
second shooter.
A report of shots fired at the tennis courts near Cassell Coliseum proves
10:57 a.m.
University President Charles
Steger announces that police are releasing
people from buildings and that counseling
centers are being established.
12:42 p.m.
A candlelight vigil is held on the
Virginia Tech drill field.
A report of a possible gunshot
near Duck Pond proves to be another false
8:00 p.m.
1:35 p.m.
11:30 p.m.
President George W. Bush speaks
to the Nation from the White House regarding the shooting.
The first autopsy is completed.
4:01 p.m.
April 18, 2007
A SWAT team enters Burruss
Hall, a campus building next to Norris Hall,
responding to a “suspicious event”; this
proved to be a false alarm.
8:25 a.m.
5:00 p.m.
The first deceased victim is
transported to the medical examiner’s office.
The last deceased victim is
transported to the medical examiner’s office.
8:45 p.m.
Local police announce that NBC
News in New York received by mail this day
a package containing images of Cho holding
weapons, his writings, and his video
recordings. NBC immediately submitted
this information to the FBI. A fragment of
the video and pictures are widely broadcast.
4:37 p.m.
A search warrant is served for
the residence of the first victim’s boyfriend.
Investigators continue investigating
whether he is linked to the first crime; the
two crimes are not yet connected for certain.
April 19, 2007
April 17, 2007
VT announces that all students who were
killed will be granted posthumous degrees
in the fields in which they were studying.
(The degrees are subsequently awarded to
the families at the regular commencement
VTPD releases the name of the
shooter as Cho Seung Hui and confirms 33
fatalities between the two incidents.
9:15 a.m.
VT announces classes will be
cancelled “for the remainder of the week to
allow students the time they need to grieve
and seek assistance as needed.”
9:30 a.m.
Virginia Governor Kaine selects an independent Virginia Tech Review Panel to
detail the April 16 shootings.
A family assistance center is
established at The Inn at Virginia Tech.
11:00 a.m.
Autopsies on all victims are completed by
the medical examiner. The autopsy of Cho
found no gross brain function abnormalities
A convocation ceremony is held
for the university community at the Cassell
Coliseum. Speakers include President
2:00 p.m.
and no toxic substances, drugs, or alcohol
that could explain the rampage.
April 20, 2007
Governor Kaine declares a statewide day of
Chapter IV
This chapter is divided into two parts: Part A, the mental health history
of Cho, and Part B, a discussion of Virginia’s mental health laws.
Part A – Mental Health History of Seung Hui Cho
Virginia Tech, and various medical offices and
mental health treatment centers.
ne of the major charges Governor Kaine
gave to the panel was to develop a profile
of Cho and his mental health history. In this
chapter, developmental periods of Cho’s life
are discussed, followed by an assessment and
recommendations to address policy gaps or
system flaws. The chapter details his involuntary commitment for mental health treatment
while at Virginia Tech. It also examines the
particular warning signs during Cho’s junior
year at Virginia Tech and the university’s
ability to identify and respond appropriately
to students who may present a danger to
themselves and others.
Information was gleaned from many sources.
One of the most significant was a 3-hour
interview with Cho’s parents and sister. The
family stated that they were willing to help in
any way with the panel’s work, and felt incapable of redressing the loss for other families.
They expressed heartfelt remorse, and they
apologized to the families whose spouse, son,
or daughter was murdered or injured. The
Cho’s have said that they will mourn, until
the day they die, the deaths and injuries of
those who suffered at the hands of their son.
Interviews with high school staff and administrators where Cho attended school, faculty
and staff at Virginia Tech, and several of
Cho’s suitemates, roommates, and resident
advisors in the dormitories.
Interviews with staff at the Center for Multicultural Human Services, the Cook Counseling Center, the Carilion Health System, special justices, and Virginia Tech police.
The tape and written records of Cho’s hearing
before special justice Barnett.
The report of the Inspector General for Mental
Health, Mental Retardation and Substance
Abuse Services, Investigation of April 16, 2007
Critical Incident at Virginia Tech.
ho was born in Korea on January 18, 1984,
the second child of Sung-Tae Cho and Hyang
Im Cho. Both parents were raised in two-parent
families that included the paternal grandmother;
there was extended family support. The families
did not encounter the level of deprivation that
many did in post-war Korea. The Chos recall that
a paternal uncle in Korea committed suicide.
Their first child, daughter Sun Kyung, was born 3
years before Seung Hui.
Cho’s sister, Sun, interpreted the answers to
every question posed to Mr. and Mrs. Cho. At
the end of the interview, they had portrayed
the person they knew as a son and brother,
someone who was startlingly different from
the one who carried out premeditated murder.
When he was 9 months old, Cho developed
whooping cough, then pneumonia, and was
hospitalized. Doctors told the Chos that their son
had a hole in his heart (some records say “heart
murmur”). Two years later, doctors conducted
cardiac tests to better examine the inside of his
heart that included a procedure (probably an
Other sources of information included:
Hundreds of pages of transcripts and
records from Westfield High School,
Sun and her parents recall that Cho seemed to be
doing better. He was enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do
program for awhile, watched TV, and played video
games like Sonic the Hedgehog. None of the video
games were war games or had violent themes. He
liked basketball and had a collection of figurines
and remote controlled cars. Years later when he
was in high school, Cho was asked to write about
his hobbies and interests. He wrote:
echocardiograph or a cardiac catherization).
This caused the 3-year-old emotional trauma.
From that point on, Cho did not like to be
touched. He generally was perceived as
medically frail. According to his mother, he
cried a lot and was constantly sick.
In Korea, Cho had a few friends that he would
play with and who would come over to the
house. He was extremely quiet but had a
sweet nature. In Korea, quietness and calmness are desired attributes—characteristics
equated with scholarliness; even so, his introverted personality was so extreme that his
family was very concerned.
I like to listen to talk shows and alternative
stations, and I like action movies…My favorite movie is X-Men, favorite actor is Nicolas
Cage, favorite book is Night Over Water, favorite band is U2, favorite sport is basketball,
favorite team is Portland Trailblazers, favorite food is pizza, and favorite color is green.
In 1992, the family moved to the United
States to pursue educational opportunities for
their children. They were encouraged by Mr.
Cho’s sister who had immigrated before them.
Mrs. Cho began working outside the home for
the first time in order to make ends meet. The
transition was difficult: none of the family
spoke English. Both children felt isolated. The
parents began a long period of hard labor and
extended work hours at dry cleaning businesses. English was not required to do their
work, so both there and at home they spoke
Transportation to and from extracurricular activities was a problem because both parents worked
long hours trying to save money to buy a townhouse, which they accomplished a few years later.
The parents recalled that Cho had to wait for
transport back and forth all the time.
The parents reported no disciplinary problems
with their son. He was quiet and gentle and did
not exhibit tantrums or angry outbursts. The family never owned weapons or had any in the house.
At one point after Cho was in college, his mother
found a pocket knife in one of his drawers, and
she expressed her disapproval. He had few duties
or responsibilities at home, except to clean his
room. He never had a job during summers or over
school breaks, either in high school or in college.
Sun stated that her brother seemed more
withdrawn and isolated in the United States
than he had been in Korea. She recalled that
at times they were “made fun of,” but she took
it in stride because she thought “this was just
a given.” In about 2 years, the children began
to understand, read, and write English at
school. Korean was spoken at home, but Cho
did not write or read Korean.
The biggest issue between Cho and his family was
his poor communication, which was frustrating
and worrisome to them. Over the years, Cho spoke
very little to his parents and avoided eye contact.
According to one record the panel reviewed, Mrs.
Cho would get so frustrated she would shake him
sometimes. He would talk to his sister a little, but
avoided discussing his feelings and reactions to
things or sharing everyday thoughts on life,
school, and events. If called upon to speak when a
visitor came to the home, he would develop sweaty
palms, become pale, freeze, and sometimes cry.
Frequently, he would only nod yes or no.
For the first 6 months in the United States,
the Chos lived with family members in Maryland. They moved to a townhouse for 1 year,
after which they relocated to Virginia, living
in an apartment for 3 years. The move to Virginia occurred in the middle of third grade for
Cho. He was 9 years old. Cho’s only known
friendship was with a boy next door with
whom he went swimming.
Mrs. Cho made a big effort to help Cho become
better adjusted, and she would talk to him,
urging him to open up, to “have more courage.” The parents urged him to get involved in
activities and sports. They worried that he
was isolating himself and was lonely. Other
family members asked why he would not talk.
He reportedly resented this pressure. Mr. Cho,
having a quiet nature himself, was slightly
more accepting of his son’s introspective and
withdrawn personality, but he was stern on
matters of respect. Cho and his father would
argue about this. According to one of the records reviewed, Cho’s father would not praise
his son. Where Cho’s later writings included a
father-son relationship, the character of the
father was always negative. Cho never talked
about school and never shared much. His
mother and sister would ask how he was doing
in school, trying to explore the possibility of
“bullying.” His sister knew that when he
walked down school hallways a few students
sometimes would yell taunts at him. He did
not talk about feelings or school at all. He
would respond “okay” to all questions about
his well being.
Even as a young boy, Cho preferred not to
speak, a situation that worried and frustrated his parents.
He was ostracized by some peers, though
he did not discuss this with his family.
Medical records did not indicate a diagnosis of
mental illness prior to coming to the United
ho was enrolled in the English as a Second
Language (ESL) program in Virginia as soon
as he arrived in the middle of third grade. The
family at this time was living in a small apartment. School teachers indicated that Cho would
not “interact socially, communicate verbally, or
participate in group activities.” One teacher
reported that he did play with one student during
Cho was referred to the school’s educational
screening committee because teachers believed his
communication problems stemmed more from
emotional issues than from language barriers.
When Cho was in sixth grade, his parents bought
a townhouse next to the school so he could easily
commute to his classes. The school requested a
parent–teacher conference because Cho was not
answering any questions in class. Mrs. Cho took
an interpreter with her to the parent-teacher conference. She resolved to “find” friends for him and
encouraged both their children to go to the church
she attended. Because the congregation was
small, however, there were few children, so both
Cho and his sister lost interest and stopped going
to church.
One of Mrs. Cho’s friends urged her to look into
another church that reportedly had a minister
who “could help people with problems like Cho’s.”
She occasionally attended that church over a 6month period, but decided against reaching out to
that pastor to work with her son. Several newspaper articles that appeared after the shooting
reported that the pastor from that church had
worked directly with Cho. According to Mrs. Cho,
those reports are untrue. Mrs. Cho did register
her son for a 1-week summer basketball camp
Key Findings of Early Years
Cho’s early development was characterized by physical illness and inordinate
His parents worked very long hours and had
financial difficulties. They worried about the
effect of this on their children because they
had less than optimum time to devote to parenting.
Cho, as a special needs child, generated a high
level of stress within the family. Adaptation to
cope with this stress can produce both positive
and negative results. The family dynamic
which evolved in the Chos’ to cope with this
stress was that of “rescue” behavior and more
coddling of Cho who seemed unreachable emotionally. There was some friction between Cho
and his sister, however, nothing that appeared
as other than normal sibling rivalry. In fact,
Sun was the one to whom Cho spoke the most.
addressing the emotional pain and psychological
problems of clients. Typically, this form of therapy
is used with younger children who do not have
sufficient language or cognitive skills to utilize
traditional “talk” therapy. Because Cho would not
converse and uttered only a couple words in
response to questions, art therapy was one way to
reach him. The specialist offered clay modeling,
painting, drawing, and a sand table at each session. Cho would choose one of the options. As he
worked, the therapist could ascertain how he was
feeling and what his creations might represent
about his inner world. Then she talked to him
about what his work indicated and hoped to help
him progress in being more socially functional. He
modeled houses out of clay, houses that had no
windows or doors.
sponsored by that church, but she never
sought its help on personal matters.
Mrs. Cho tried to be extra nurturing to Cho.
He did not reject her attempts at socialization
per se, but he disliked talking. Finally, Cho’s
parents decided to “let him be the way he is”
and not force him to interact and talk with
others. He never spoke of imaginary friends.
He did not seem to be involved in a fantasy
world or to be preoccupied by themes in his
play or work that caused concern. He never
talked of a “twin brother.” The parents’ characterization of him was a “very gentle, very
tender,” and “good person.”
he summer before Cho started seventh
grade, his parents followed up on a recommendation from the elementary school that
they seek therapy for Cho. In July 1997, the
Cho’s took their son to the Center for Multicultural Human Services (CMHS), a mental
health services facility that offers mental
health treatment and psychological evaluations and testing to low-income, Englishlimited immigrant and refugee individuals.
They told the specialists of their concern about
Cho’s social isolation and unwillingness to discuss his thoughts or feelings.
Cho’s therapist noted that while explaining the
meaning of Cho’s artwork to him, his eyes sometimes filled with tears. She never saw anything
that he wrote. Eventually, Cho began to make eye
contact. She saw this as a start toward becoming
Cho also had a psychiatrist who participated in
the first meeting with Cho and his family and
periodically over the next few years. He was diagnosed as having [severe] “social anxiety disorder.”
“It was painful to see,” recalled one of the psychiatrists involved with Cho’s case. The parents were
told that many of Cho’s problems were rooted in
acculturation challenges—not fitting in and difficulty with friends. Personnel at the center also
noted in his chart that he had experienced medical problems and that medical tests as an infant
and as a preschooler had caused emotional
trauma. Records sent to Cho’s school at the time
(following a release signed by his parents) and the
tests administered by mental health professionals
evaluated Cho to be a much younger person than
his actual age, which indicated social immaturity,
lack of verbal skills, but not retardation. His
tested IQ was above average.
Mr. and Mrs. Cho overcame several obstacles
to get their son the help he needed. In order
for Cho to make his weekly appointments at
the center, they had to take turns leaving
work early to drive him there. There were cultural barriers as well. In the family’s native
country, mental or emotional problems were
signs of shame and guilt. The stigmatization
of mental health problems remains a serious
roadblock in seeking treatment in the United
States too, but in Korea the issue is even more
relevant. Getting help for such concerns is
only reluctantly acknowledged as necessary.
Cho continued to isolate himself in middle school.
He had no reported behavioral problems and did
not get into any fights. Then, in March 1999,
when Cho was in the spring semester of eighth
After starting with a Korean counselor with
whom there was a poor fit, Cho began working
with another specialist who had special training in art therapy as a way of diagnosing and
was in the process of doing that at GWU Hospital
when he first met Cho.
grade, his art therapist observed a change in
his behavior. He began depicting tunnels and
caves in his art. In and of themselves, those
symbols were not cause for alarm, but Cho
also suddenly became more withdrawn and
showed symptoms of depression. In that context, the therapist felt that the tunnels and
caves were red flags. She was concerned and
asked him whether he had any suicidal or
homicidal thoughts. He denied having them,
but she drew up a contract with him anyway,
spelling out that he would do no harm to himself or to others, and she told him to communicate with his parents or someone at school if
he did experience any ideas about violence.
That is just what he did, in the form of a
paper he wrote in class.
Mr. and Mrs. Cho explained to the psychiatrist
that they were facing a family crisis since their
daughter would be leaving home in the fall to
attend college and she was the family member
with whom Cho communicated, as limited as that
communication was. They feared that once their
daughter was no longer home, he would not communicate at all. The psychiatrist also was
informed of the disturbing paper Cho had written.
The doctor diagnosed Cho with “selective mutism”
and “major depression: single episode.” He prescribed the antidepressant Paroxetine 20 mg,
which Cho took from June 1999 to July 2000. Cho
did quite well on this regimen; he seemed to be in
a good mood, looked brighter, and smiled more.
The doctor stopped the medication because Cho
improved and no longer needed the antidepressant.
The following month, April 1999, the murders
at Columbine High School occurred. Shortly
thereafter, Cho wrote a disturbing paper in
English class that drew quick reaction from
his teacher. Cho’s written words expressed
generalized thoughts of suicide and homicide,
indicating that “he wanted to repeat Columbine,” according to someone familiar with the
situation. No one in particular was named or
targeted in the words he wrote. The school
contacted Cho’s sister since she spoke English
and explained what had happened. The family
was urged to have Cho evaluated by a psychiatrist. The sister relayed this information
to her parents who asked her to accompany
Cho to his next therapy appointment and
report the incident, which she did. The therapist then contacted the psychiatrist for an
Selective mutism is a type of an anxiety disorder
that is characterized by a consistent failure to
speak in specific social situations where there is
an expectation of speaking. The unwillingness to
speak is not secondary to speech/communication
problems, but, rather, is based on painful shyness.
Children with selective mutism are usually inhibited, withdrawn, and anxious with an obsessive
fear of hearing their own voice. Sometimes they
show passive-aggressive, stubborn and controlling
traits. The association between this disorder and
autism is unclear.
Major depression refers to a predominant mood of
sadness or irritability that lasts for a significant
period of time accompanied by sleep and appetite
disturbances, concentration problems, suicidal
ideations and pervasive lack of pleasure and
energy. Major depression typically interferes with
social, occupational and educational functioning.
Effective treatments for depression and selective
mutism include psychotherapy and anti depressants/anti-anxiety agents such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s).
Cho was evaluated in June 1999 by a psychiatrist at the Center for Multicultural Human
Services. There, psychiatric interns from The
George Washington University Hospital provide treatment one day a week supervised by
other doctors at GWU. Cho was fortunate
because the intern who was his psychiatrist
was actually an experienced child psychiatrist
and family counselor who had practiced in
South America prior to coming to the United
States. He had to recertify in this country and
It should be noted that when the subject of Cho’s
eighth grade paper and subsequent evaluation
was discussed with Mr. and Mrs. Cho and Cho’s
mainstreamed in classrooms. Provisions are made
for special services or accommodations after a core
evaluation involving a battery of tests is given to
diagnose the problems and to guide the school in
preparing an Individualized Education Plan
(IEP). The high school conducted a special assessment to rule out autism as an underlying factor. Cho also was evaluated in the following
sister during the interview, they appeared
shocked to learn that he had written about
violence toward others. They said they knew
he had hinted at ideas about suicide, but not
about homicide.
School records indicate that an interpreter
was provided (sometimes this was Cho’s sister) during meetings that involved the parents, as is the policy and required by law.
Hearing Screening
n fall of 1999, Cho began high school at
Centreville High School. The following year
a new school, Westfield High School, opened to
accommodate the population growth in that
part of Fairfax County. Cho was assigned
there for his remaining 3 years. About 1
month after classes began at Westfield, one of
Cho’s teachers reported to the guidance office
that Cho’s speech was barely audible and he
did not respond in complete sentences. The
teacher wrote that he was not verbally interactive at all and was shy and shut down.
There was practically no communication with
teachers or peers. Those failings aside, teachers also praised Cho for his qualities as a student. He achieved high grades, was always on
time for class, and was diligent in submitting
well-done homework assignments. Other than
failing to speak, he did not exhibit any other
unusual behaviors and did not cause problems. When the teacher asked Cho if he would
like help with communicating, he nodded yes.
As part of the assessment process, school personnel met with Cho’s parents to find out more about
his history and to explain the assessment process.
Mrs. Cho expressed concern about how her son
would fare later in college given the transition
required and his poor social skills. She noted that
her son was receiving counseling and gave permission for the school to contact her son’s therapist. The therapist, in turn, was encouraged by
the fact that the school would be tracking Cho’s
progress. The committee determined that Cho was
eligible for the Special Education Program for
Emotional Disabilities and Speech and Language.
Mr. and Mrs. Cho were receptive to receiving help
for him and so was his older sister who was in college and with whom he had a good relationship.
The parents and sister continued to be in contact
with the school; Sun usually served as interpreter.
The guidance counselors asked Cho whether
he had ever received mental health or special
education assistance in middle school or in his
freshman year (at the previous high school),
and he reportedly indicated (untruthfully)
that he had not.
Special accommodations were made to help Cho
succeed in class without frustration or intimidation. The school developed an IEP, as required by
law, that was effective in January 2001. The IEP
listed two curriculum and classroom accommodations and modifications: modification for oral
presentations, as needed, and modified grading
scale for oral or group participation. In-school language therapy was recommended as well, but Cho
only received that service once a month for 50
minutes. His art therapist, who reached out to a
few teachers and others at the school with
Cho’s situation was brought before Westfield’s
Screening Committee on October 25, 2000, for
evaluation to determine if he required special
education accommodations. Federal law
requires that schools receiving federal funding
enable children with disabilities to learn in
the least restrictive environment and to be
school counselor could not say whether bullying
might have occurred before or after school, as
suggested by other unconfirmed sources.
questions or concerns, said she asked why the
language therapy was so limited. The school
responded that it was reluctant to pull him
out of class for this special service because
this would interrupt his academic work or
negatively impact his grades. Besides, the
primary diagnosis was selective mutism, not
problems with the mechanics of speaking or
an inability to function in English.
It would be reasonable, however, to assume that
Cho was a victim of some bullying, though to what
extent and how much above the norm is not
known. His sister said that both of them were subjected to a certain level of harassment when they
first came to the United States and throughout
their school years, but she indicated that it was
neither particularly threatening nor ongoing.
Cho was encouraged to join a club and to stay
after school for help from teachers. He was
permitted to eat lunch alone and to provide
verbal responses in private sessions with
teachers rather than in front of the whole
class where his manner of speaking and
accent sometimes drew derision from peers.
In the eleventh grade, Cho’s weekly sessions at
the mental health center came to an end because
there was a gradual, if slight, improvement over
the years and he resisted continuing, according to
his parents and therapist “There is nothing wrong
with me. Why do I have to go?” he complained to
his parents. Mr. and Mrs. Cho were not happy
that their son chose to discontinue treatment, but
he was turning 18 the following month and legally
he could make that decision.
With this arrangement, Cho’s grades were
excellent. He had advanced placement and
honors classes. However, his voice was literally inaudible in class, and he would only
whisper if pushed (an observation consistent
with his behavior later in college). In written
responses, at times, his thinking appeared
confused and his sentence structure was not
fluent. Indeed, his guidance counselor raised
the question to the panel: “Why did he change
his major to English at Tech?” Why did this
student, whose forte appeared to be science
and math, switch to humanities?
Cho took upper level science and math courses
and spent 3 to 4 hours a day on homework. He
earned high marks and finished high school with
a grade point average of 3.52 in an honors program. That GPA, along with his SAT scores (540
for verbal and 620 for math registered in the 2002
testing year) were the basis for his acceptance at
Virginia Tech. What the admission’s staff at Virginia Tech did not see were the special accommodations that propped up Cho and his grades.
Those scores reflected Cho’s knowledge and intelligence, but they did not reflect another component of grades: class participation. Since that
aspect of grading was substantially modified for
Cho due to the legally mandated accommodations
for his emotional disability, his grades appeared
higher than they otherwise would have been.
After the Virginia Tech murders, some newspapers reported that Cho was the subject of
bullying. The panel could not confirm whether
or not he was bullied or threatened. His family said that he never mentioned being the
target of threats or intimidating messages,
but then neither did he routinely discuss any
details about school or the events of his day.
His guidance counselor had no records of bullying or harassment complaints.
When his guidance counselor talked to Cho and
his family about college, she strongly recommended they send him to a small school close to
home where he could more easily make the transition to college life. She cautioned that Virginia
Tech was too large. However, Cho appeared very
self-directed and independent in his decision. He
Nearly all students experience some level of
bullying in schools today. Much of this behavior occurs behind the scenes or off school
grounds—and often electronically, through
instant messaging, communications on
MySpace and, to a lesser extent, on Facebook,
a website used by older teenagers. Cho’s high
lems. Then, there is a subheading labeled “Special
Services Files” where six additional boxes are presented: Contract Services, ESL, 504 Plan, Gifted
and Talented, Homebound, and Special Education. Only the ESL box is checked, even though
Cho had special education services. The special
education services box was not checked.
chose Virginia Tech, which had been his goal
for some time. He applied and was accepted.
Virginia Tech does not require an essay or letters of recommendation in the freshman
application package and does not conduct personal interviews. Acceptance decisions at Virginia Tech are based primarily on grades and
SAT scores, though demographics, interests,
and some intangibles are also considered. An
essay about oneself is optional. Cho included a
short writing about rock climbing in his application, which was written in the first person
and spoke about human potential that often
cannot be achieved because of self-doubt.
As the panel reviewed Cho’s mental health
records and conducted interviews with persons
who had provided psychiatric and counseling services to Cho throughout his public school career, it
became evident that critical records from one public institution are not necessarily transferred to
the next as a person matures and enters into new
stages of development. What are the rules regarding the release of special education records
between, for example, high schools and colleges?
Before Cho left high school, the guidance
counselor made sure that Cho had the name
and contact information of a school district
resource who Cho could call if he encountered
problems at college. As is now known, Cho
never sought that help while at Virginia Tech.
It is common practice to require students entering
a new school, college, or university to present
records of immunization. Why not records of serious emotional or mental problem too? For that
matter, why not records of all communicable diseases?
As Cho looked to the fall of 2003, he was preparing to leave home for the first time and
enter an environment where he knew no one.
He was not on any medication for anxiety or
depression, had stopped counseling, and no
longer had special accommodations for his
selective mutism. Neither Cho nor his high
school revealed that he had been receiving
special education services as an emotionally
disabled student, so no one at the university
ever became aware of these pre-existing conditions.
The answer is obvious: personal privacy. And
while the panel respects this answer, it is important to examine the extent to which such information is altogether banned or could be released at
the institution’s discretion. No one wants to stigmatize a person or deny her or him opportunities
because of mental or physical disability. Still,
there are issues of public safety. That is why
immunization records must be submitted to each
new institution. But there are other significant
threats facing students beyond measles, mumps,
or polio.
There is a standard cover page that accompanied Cho’s transcripts to Virginia Tech called
“Pupil Permanent Record, Category 1”. The
page lists all the types of student records,
whether they include information from elementary, middle, or high school, and how long
they are to be retained. The lower right corner
of the page has a section marked “The Student
Scholastic Record” under which are boxes to
be checked as they apply. The first six boxes
are Clinic, Cumulative, Discipline, Due Process, Law Enforcement, and Legal. Only the
first two were checked, indicating Cho had no
records pertaining to discipline or legal prob-
The panel asked its legal counsel to review the
laws pertaining to special education records and
the release of that information, specifically as
addressed in FERPA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although FERPA generally
allows secondary schools to disclose educational
records (including special education records) to a
university, federal disability law prohibits universities from making what is known as a ‘preadmission inquiry” about an applicant’s disability
status. After admission, however, universities
well remain relevant. Maybe there really should
be some form of "permanent record."
may make inquiries on a confidential basis as
to disabilities that may require accommodation.
Key Findings of Cho’s School Years
It should be noted that the Department of
Education’s March 2007 “Transition of Students with Disabilities to Post Secondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators”
clarifies that a high school student has no
obligation to inform an institution of post secondary education that he or she has a disability; however, if the student wants an academic
adjustment, the student must identify himself
or herself as having a disability. Cho did not
seek any accommodations from Virginia Tech.
The disclosure of a disability is always voluntary.
It is a more subtle question whether Fairfax
County Public Schools would have had to
remove any indication of special education
status or accommodation from Cho’s transcript or grade reports as part of his college
Because this issue is of such great importance
and because much more study is needed, the
panel does not make a recommendation here.
But the panel hopes that this issue begins to
be debated fully in the public realm. Perhaps
students should be required to submit records
of emotional or mental disturbance and any
communicable diseases after they have been
admitted but before they enroll at a college or
university, with assurance that the records
will not be accessed unless the institution’s
threat assessment team (by whatever name it
is known) judges a student to pose a potential
threat to self or others.
Or perhaps an institution whose threat
assessment team determines that a student is
a danger to self or others should promptly contact the student’s family or high school, inform
them of the assessment, and inquire as to a
previous history of emotional or mental
This much is clear: information critical to public safety should not stay behind as a person
moves from school to school. Students may
start fresh in college, but their history may
Both the family and the schools recognized
that Cho’s problem was not merely introversion and that Cho needed therapy to help with
extreme social anxiety, as well as acculturation and communication.
A depressive phase in the second half of
eighth grade led to full blown depression and
thoughts of suicide and homicide precipitated
by the Columbine shooting. Cho received
timely psychiatric assessment and intervention (prescription of Paroxetine and continued
therapy). This episode abated within a year,
and medications were discontinued.
Transportation problems interfered with Cho’s
involvement with sports and extracurricular
activities, which may have increased his isolation.
Intervention for a child suffering from mental
illness reduces the burden of illness as well as
the risk for severe outcomes such as violence
and suicide, as it did for Cho during his precollege years.
During his high school years, Cho was identified as having special educational needs. His
identification as a special education student
within the first 9 weeks of enrollment in a
new high school and the accommodations accorded him as part of his Individualized Educational Plan led to a high degree of academic
success. Indeed, his high school guidance
counselor felt that his high school career was
a success. With regard to his social skills,
however, his progress was minimal at best.
Clearly, Cho appeared to be at high risk, as
withdrawn and inhibited behavior confers
risk. This risk seemed mitigated by the interventions and accommodations put in place by
the school. This risk also was reduced by involved and concerned parents who were particular in following through with weekly therapy. This risk was further mitigated by effective therapy that allowed expression (through
thing, including money. Mr. and Mrs. Cho said
that he never asked for extra money and would
not accept any. He was very mindful of the family’s financial situation and lived frugally. He
would not buy things even though his parents
encouraged him occasionally to purchase new
clothes or other items. They reported that he did
not appear envious or angry about anything.
art therapy) of underlying feelings of
inadequacy. These factors as well as an
above-average performance in school (buttressed by accommodations) lessened his
frustration and anger.
The school that Cho attended played an
important part in reducing the possibility
of severe regression in his functioning.
The school worked closely with Cho’s parents and sister. There was coordination
between the school and the therapist and
the psychiatrist who were treating Cho.
These positive influences ended when Cho
graduated from high school. His multifaceted support system then disappeared
leaving a huge void.
During his freshman year, Cho took courses in
biology, math, communications, political science,
business information systems, and introduction to
poetry. His grades overall were good, and he
ended the year with a GPA of 3.00.
Cho’s sophomore year (2004–2005) brought some
changes. Cho made arrangements to share the
rent on a condominium with a senior at Virginia
Tech who worked long hours and was rarely
home. His courses that fall leaned more heavily
toward science and math. His grades slipped that
term. At the same time, he became enthusiastic
about writing and decided he would switch his
major to English beginning the fall semester of
2005. It is unclear why he made this choice as he
disliked using words in school or at home. Moreover, English had not been one of his strongest
subjects in high school.
n August of 2003, Cho began classes at
Virginia Tech as a Business Information
Technology major. Mr. and Mrs. Cho were
concerned about his move away from home
and the stress of the new environment, especially when they learned he was unhappy with
his roommate. His parents visited him every
weekend on Sundays during that first semester, which was a major time commitment since
they both worked the other 6 days of the week.
They noted that the dorm room trash can was
full of beer cans (allegedly, from the interview
with Cho’s parents, the roommate was drinking) and the room was quite dirty. Cho, in contrast, had kept his room neat at home and had
good hygiene. He requested a room change—a
move that his parents and sister saw as a
positive sign that he was being proactive and
taking care of his own affairs. It seemed as
though college was working out for him
because he seemed excited about it.
The answer may be found in an exchange of
e-mails that Cho had with then-Chair of the English Department, Dr. Lucinda Roy. Cho had taken
one of her poetry classes, a large group, entrylevel course the previous semester. On Saturday,
November 6, 2004, he wrote “I was in your poetry
class last semester, and I remember you talking
about the books you published. I’m looking for a
publisher to submit my novel…I was just wondering if you know of a lot of publishers or agents or
if you have a good connection with them.” He went
on, “My novel is relative[ly] short…sort of like
Tom Sawyer except that it’s really silly and
pathetic depending on how you look at it.…” Dr.
Roy’s first e-mail back said: “Could you send me
your name? You forgot to sign your note.” “Seung
Cho,” he wrote. Dr. Roy then recommended two
resource books and gave him tips on finding literary agents. She also advised, “If you haven’t yet
Cho settled in, got his room changed by the
beginning of the second semester, and seemed
to be adjusting. Parental visits became less
frequent. According to a routine they established, every Sunday night he spoke with his
parents by telephone who always asked how
he was doing and whether he needed any-
from a New York publishing house on Cho’s desk
at home. He had submitted a topic for a book
describing the book’s outline. She encouraged him
to continue to write and learn saying that all
writers have to work at their craft for a long time
before they are published and that he was just at
the beginning and not to lose heart.
taken a creative writing (fiction) course…you
should consider doing so.”
University personnel explained to the panel
that Virginia Tech’s process for changing
majors relies on “advisors” who serve to help
ensure that students are taking the right
number of credits and courses to meet the
requirements of their major and to graduate.
They do not generally offer counsel on
whether a student is making a wise move or
examine the reasons behind their class
choices. In any given year at Virginia Tech,
many students change majors. Over 40 percent of the student body changes their major
after the first year or two. Thus this change is
not abnormal and not a red flag.
While living in the off-campus condominium, Cho
became convinced that he had mite bites (based
on searches he did on the Internet). He went to a
local doctor who diagnosed it as severe acne and
put him on medication. Other than followup
appointments for his acne at home and at the
Shiffert Medical Center at Virginia Tech (he continued to believe mites were the problem), he did
not have regular appointments with general practitioners, specialists, psychiatrists, or counselors
in his hometown during his entire college tenure.
His family reported that he came home for all his
breaks and would spend the time writing, reading,
playing basketball, and riding his bike—alone.
Cho seemed to enjoy the idea of writing, especially poetry. His sister noticed that he would
bring home stacks of books on literature and
poetry and books on how to become a writer.
Writing seemed to have become a passion, and
his family was thrilled that he found something he could be truly excited about. He
would spend hours at his computer writing,
but when his sister asked to see his work, he
would refuse. On one rare occasion, she did
get to read a story he wrote about a boy and
his imaginary friend, which she thought was
somewhat strange, but nothing too odd.
Storm Clouds Gathering, Fall 2005 – The fall
semester of Cho’s junior year (2005) was a pivotal
time. From that point forward, Cho would become
known to a growing number of students and faculty not only for his extremely withdrawn personality and complete lack of interest in responding
to others in and out of the classroom, but for hostile, even violent writings along with threatening
Cho’s parents never read his compositions,
both because he did not offer to show them
and because they did not read English, at
least not well.
Cho took three English courses in the spring
of 2005, plus an economics course, and an
introductory psychology course. He did not do
particularly well, especially in the literature
courses. One of his English professors gave
him a D-, another, a C+. He earned a B+ in
Introduction to Critical Reading, but also
withdrew from the economics class, thus earning only 12 credits and registering a 2.32 for
the semester.
He registered for French and four English
courses, one of which was Creative Writing:
Poetry, taught by Nikki Giovanni. It would seem
he selected this course on the basis of Dr. Roy’s
advice to him the previous fall. His sister began
noticing some subtle changes: he was not writing
as much in his junior year and he seemed more
withdrawn. The family wondered whether he was
getting anxious about the future and what he
would do after graduation. His father wanted him
to go to graduate school, but Cho indicated he did
not want to continue with academics after he
graduated. His parents then offered to help him
find a job after graduation, but he refused.
Late that sophomore year, in his presence,
Cho’s sister chanced upon a rejection letter
Cho had moved back to the dormitories that
semester. He had a roommate and two suitemates
bottle on his desk. He and the others in the suite
looked it up online and found that it was a
medication for “skin fungus.”
who lived in another room connected by a
bathroom—a typical layout in the residence
halls. The panel interviewed his roommate
and one suitemate who related some events
from that year. They described Cho in the
same way as he is described throughout this
report: very quiet, short responses to questions, and rarely initiating any communication. At the beginning of the school year, the
roommate and the other suitemates took Cho
to several parties. He would always end up
sitting in the corner by himself. One time they
all went back to a female student’s room. Cho
took out a knife (“lock blade, not real large”)
and started stabbing the carpet. They stopped
taking him out with them after that incident.
Cho’s actions in the poetry class taught by Nikki
Giovanni that semester are widely known and
documented. For the first 6 weeks of class, the
professor put up with Cho’s lack of cooperation
and disruptive behavior. He wore reflector glasses
and a hat pulled down to obscure his face.
Dr. Giovanni reported to the panel that she would
have to take time away from teaching at the
beginning of each class to ask him to please take
off his hat and please take off his glasses. She
would have to stand beside his desk until he
complied. Then he started wearing a scarf
wrapped around his head, “Bedouin-style”
according to Professor Giovanni. She felt that he
was trying to bully her.
The three suitemates would invite Cho to eat
with them at the beginning of the year, but he
would never talk so they stopped asking. They
observed him eating alone in the dining hall
or lounge. The roommate asked Cho who he
hung out with and Cho said “nobody.” He
would see him sometimes at the gym playing
basketball by himself or working out.
Cho also was uncooperative in presenting and
changing the pieces that he wrote. He would read
from his desk in a voice that could not be heard.
When Dr. Giovanni would ask him to make
changes, he would present the same thing the following week. One of the papers he read aloud was
very dark, with violent emotions. The paper was
titled “So-Called Advanced Creative Writing –
Poetry.” He was angry because the class had spent
time talking about eating animals instead of
about poetry, so his composition, which he would
later characterize as a satire, spoke of an “animal
massacre butcher shop.”
Cho’s roommate never saw him play video
games. He would get movies from the library
and watch them on his laptop. The roommate
never saw what they were, but they always
seemed dark. Cho would listen to and download heavy metal music. Someone wrote heavy
metal lyrics on the walls of their suite in the
fall, and then in the halls in the spring. Several of the students believed Cho was responsible because the words were similar to the
lyrics Cho posted on Facebook.
In the paper, Cho accused the other students in
the class of eating animals, “I don’t know which
uncouth, low-life planet you come from but you
disgust me. In fact, you all disgust me.” He made
up gruesome quotes from the classmates, then
wrote, “You low-life barbarians make me sick to
the stomach that I wanna barf over my new shoes.
If you despicable human beings who are all disgraces to [the] human race keep this up, before
you know it you will turn into cannibals—eating
little babies, your friends,. I hope y’all burn in hell
for mass murdering and eating all those little
Several times when the suitemates came in
the room, it smelled as though Cho had been
burning something. One time they found
burnt pages under a sofa cushion. Cho would
go to different lounges and call one of the
suitemates on the phone. He would identify
himself as “question mark”—Cho’s twin
brother—and ask to speak with Seung. He
also posted messages to his roommate’s
Facebook page, identifying himself as Cho’s
twin. The roommate saw a prescription drug
Dr. Giovanni began noticing that fewer students
were attending class, which had never been a
Dean Brown also said, “I talked with a counselor…and shared the content of the ‘poem’… and
she did not pick up on a specific threat. She suggested a referral to Cook during your meeting. I
also spoke with Frances Keene, Judicial Affairs
director and she agrees with your plan.” He continued, “I would make it clear to him that any
similar behavior in the future will be referred.”
problem for her before. She asked a student
what was going on and he said, “It’s the
boy…everyone’s afraid of him.” That was
when she learned that Cho also had been
using his cell phone to take pictures of students without permission.
Dr. Giovanni talked to Cho, telling him, “I
don’t think I’m the teacher for you,” and
offered to get him into another class. He said
that he did not want to transfer, which surprised her. She contacted the head of the English Department, Dr. Roy, about Cho and
warned that if he were not removed from her
class, she would resign. He was not just a difficult student, she related, he was not working
at all. Dr. Giovanni was offered security, but
declined saying she did not want him back in
class, period. She saw him once on campus
after that and he just stared at the ground.
Frances Keene noted in her response to Dean
Brown and Dr. Roy that she was available if Cho
had any further questions about how using his
cell phone in class to take photographs could constitute disorderly conduct. She also wrote, “I agree
that the content is inappropriate and alarming
but doesn’t contain a threat to anyone’s immediate safety (thus, not actionable under the abusive
conduct – threats section of the UPSL).”
During an interview with the panel, Ms. Keene
related that she would have needed something in
writing to initiate an investigation into the disorderly conduct violation, and reported that she
never received anything. The formal request
would have come from the English Department.
Dr. Roy explained to the panel what her
actions were once Dr. Giovanni made her
aware of Cho’s upsetting behavior. She
remembered Cho from the previous semester
when he took that poetry class she taught (she
had given him a B- in the course). Dr. Roy
contacted the Dean of Student Affairs, Tom
Brown, the Cook Counseling Center, and the
College of Liberal Arts with regard to the
objectionable writing that Dr. Giovanni
showed Dr. Roy. She asked to have it evaluated from a psychological point of view and
inquired about whether the picture-taking
might have been against the code of student
Ms. Keene recalled that the concern about Cho
was brought before the university’s “Care Team,”
of which she is a member, at their regular meeting. The Care Team is comprised of the dean of
Student Affairs, the director of Residence Life, the
head of Judicial Affairs, Student Health, and legal
counsel. Other agencies from the university are
occasionally asked to participate; including the
Women’s Center, fraternities and sororities, the
Disability Center, and campus police, though
these agencies are not standing members of the
Dean Brown sent an e-mail message to Dr.
Roy and advised “there is no specific policy
related to cell phones in class. But, in Section
2 of the University Policy for Student Life,
item #6 speaks to disruption. This is the ‘disorderly conduct’ section which reads: ‘Behavior that disrupts or interferes with the orderly
function of the university, disturbs the peace,
or interferes with the performance of the
duties of university personnel.’ Clearly, the
disruption he caused falls under this policy if
At the Care Team meeting, members were advised
of the situation with Cho and that Dr. Roy and Dr.
Giovanni wanted to proceed with a class change to
address the matter. The perception was that the
situation was taken care of and Cho was not discussed again by the Care Team. The team made
no referrals of Cho to the Cook Counseling Center.
The Care Team did nothing. There were no referrals to the Care Team later that fall semester
when Resident Life, and later, VTPD became
he was “just joking” about the writing in
Giovanni’s class, but agreed that it might have
been perceived differently. Dr. Roy asked him if
he was offended by the class discussion on eating
animals and he said, “I wasn’t offended. I was just
making fun of it…thought it was funny, thought
I’d make fun of it.” He was asked if he was a vegetarian or had religious beliefs about eating meat
or animals; he answered no to both questions.
aware of Cho’s unwanted communications to
female students and threatening behavior.
Frances Keene said that she received no communications from the female students who
had registered complaints about Cho and that
she learned of those incidents only through
campus police incident reports. However, the
assistant director of Judicial Affairs, Rohsaan
Settle, received an e-mail communication on
December 6 advising her of Cho’s “odd behavior” and “stalking.” Ms. Keene indicated that
it is her office’s policy to contact students who
have been threatened and advise them of their
rights, but one of the students stated that she
was never contacted by Judicial Affairs, and
there is no documentation that the others
were contacted. Ms. Keene indicated that she
would have discussed these incidents with the
Care Team at the time the incidents occurred
had she known about them.
Ms. Ruggiero’s transcript mentions that Dr. Roy
“proposes alternative of working independently
with herself and Fred D’Aguiar.” The transcript
also notes that Cho “doesn’t want to lose credits…if not ‘kicked out’ will stay” [I (Ruggiero)
noted some emotion on the words ‘kicked out,’ a
small spark of anger or resentment]. The transcript goes on to document that “Lucinda asked if
he would remove his sunglasses.” Cho takes a long
time to respond, but he does remove them. “It is a
very distressing sight, since his face seems very
naked and blank without them. It’s a great relief
to be able to read his face, though there isn’t much
there.” Dr. Roy asks if taking off the sunglasses
has been terrible for him…and says “he doesn’t
seem like himself, like the student she knew in
the Intro to Poetry class, and she asks if anything
terrible or bad has happened to him.” Eventually
Cho answers “No.”
Dr. Roy e-mailed Cho and asked him to contact her for a meeting. He responded with an
angry, two-page letter in which he harshly
criticized Dr. Giovanni and her teaching, saying she would cancel class and would not
really instruct, but just have students read
what they wrote and discuss the writings. He
agreed to meet with Dr. Roy and said “I know
it’s all my fault because of my personality…Being quiet, one would think, would repel
attention but I seem to get more attention
than I want (I can just tell by the way people
stare at me).” He said he imagined she was
going to “yell at me.”
Twice during the meeting with Cho, Dr. Roy
asked him if he would talk to a counselor. She told
him she had the name of someone, and asked
again if he would consider going. He did not
answer for a while, and then said vaguely, “sure.”
In her interview with the panel, Dr. Roy stated
that the university’s policy made the situation
difficult. She was obligated to offer Cho an alternative that was equivalent to the instruction he
would receive in Giovanni’s class. Thus, she
offered to tutor him privately. He later agreed.
She told Cho that he would have to meet four
more times and do some writing. As he left the
meeting, Dr. Roy gave him a copy of her book. He
took it and “appeared to be crying,” she related.
Dr. Roy asked a colleague, Cheryl Ruggiero, to
be present for the meeting with Cho. Ms.
Ruggiero took notes, the transcription of
which provided an exceptionally detailed
account of that session with Cho as did
e-mails from Dr. Roy to appropriate administration officials after the meeting.
Cho arrived wearing dark sunglasses. He
seemed depressed, lonely, and very troubled.
Dr. Roy assured him she was not going to yell
at him, but discussed the seriousness of what
he wrote and his other actions. He replied that
Throughout the deliberations about Cho’s writing
and behavior and the available options, Dr. Roy
communicated widely with all relevant university
officers and provided updates on meetings and
decisions. On October 19, 2005, Dr. Roy
e-mailed Zenobia Hikes, Tom Brown, George
Jackson, and Robert Miller with a report on
her meeting with Cho.
For the remainder of the semester, Dr. Roy
focused on William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson to help him develop empathy toward others
and redirect his writing away from violent
themes. They worked on a poem together where
she went over technical skills. She saw no overt
threats in the writings he did for her. He was stiff,
sad, and seemed deliberately inarticulate, but
gradually he opened up and wrote well. She
repeatedly offered to take him to counseling. She
eventually gave him an “A” for a grade.
Cheryl and I met with the student we
spoke about today. We spoke about 30
minutes. He was very quiet and it took
him long time to respond to question; but
I think he may be willing to work with
me and with Professor Fred D’Aguiar
rather than continuing in Nikki's
course…h e didn't seem to think that his
poem should have alarmed anyone…
[But] he also said he understood why
people assumed from the piece that he
was angry with them. I strongly recommended that he see a counselor, and he
didn't commit to that one way or the
other. …Both Cheryl and I are genuinely
concerned about him because he appeared to be very depressed—though of
course only a professional could verify
Cho did not go home for Thanksgiving, according
to his roommate and resident advisor, though he
thought that Cho may have gone home for a few
days at Christmas. When Cho’s parents were
asked about this they indicated that he came
home at every break, but that sometimes he
would have to wait a day or so until their day off
work so they could come pick him up at school.
According a VTPD incident report, on Sunday,
November 27, the police, following a complaint
from a female student who lived on the fourth
floor of West Ambler Johnston, came to Cho’s
room to talk to him. The roommate went to the
lounge and then returned after the police left. Cho
said “want to know why the police were here?” He
then related that “he had been text messaging a
female student and thought it was a game”. He
went to her room wearing sunglasses and a hat
pulled down and said “I’m question mark.” He
said that “the student freaked out,” and the resident advisor came out and called the police.
According to the police record, the officer warned
Cho not to bother the female student anymore,
and told him they would refer the case to Judicial
One month later, Dr. Roy wrote to Associate
Dean Mary Ann Lewis, Liberal Arts & Human
Sciences, who in turn shared it with the dean
of Student Affairs and Ellen Plummer,
Assistant Provost and Director of the Women’s
Center. She wrote
He is now meeting regularly with me and
with Fred D’Aguiar rather than with
Nikki. This has gone reasonably well,
though all of his submissions so far have
been about shooting or harming people
because he’s angered by their authority
or by their behavior. We’re hoping he’ll
be able to write inside a different kind of
narrative in the future, and we’re
encouraging him to do so…I have to admit that I’m still very worried about this
student. He still insists on wearing
highly reflective sunglasses and some
responses take several minutes to elicit.
(I’m learning patience!) But I am also
impressed by his writing skills, and by
what he knows about poetry when he
opens up a little. I know he is very angry,
however, and I am encouraging him to
see a counselor––something he’s resisted
so far. Please let me and Fred know if
you see a problem with this approach.
The resident advisor told the panel about Cho,
“He was strange and got stranger.” She said that
Cho’s roommate and one of the other suitemates
found a very large knife in Cho’s desk and discarded it.
On Wednesday, November 30, at 9:45 am, Cho
called Cook Counseling Center and spoke with
Maisha Smith, a licensed professional counselor.
This is the first record of Cho’s acting upon professors’ advice to seek counseling, and it followed
the interaction he had had with campus police
three days before. She conducted a telephone
triage to collect the necessary data to evaluate
the level of intervention required. Ms. Smith
has no independent recollection of Cho and
her notes from the triage are missing from
Cho’s file. A note attached to the electronic
appointment indicates that Cho specifically
requested an appointment with Cathye Betzel,
a licensed clinical psychologist, and indicated
that his professor had spoken with Dr. Betzel.
The appointment was scheduled for December
12 at 2:00 pm, but Cho failed to keep the
appointment. However, he did call Cook
Counseling after 4:00 pm that same afternoon
and was again scheduled for telephone triage.
(The law pertaining to these proceedings is discussed in
Part B of this chapter.)
n December 12, 2005, the Virginia Tech Police Department (VTPD) received a complaint
from a female sophomore residing in the East
Campbell residence hall regarding Cho. She knew
Cho through his roommate and suitemate. The
students had attended parties together at the
beginning of the semester and it was at this young
woman’s room that Cho had produced a knife and
stabbed the carpet. While the student no longer
saw Cho socially, she had received instant messages and postings to her Facebook page throughout the semester that she believed were from him.
The messages were not threatening, but, rather,
self-deprecating. She would write back in a positive tone and inquire if she were responding to
Cho. The reply would be “I do not know who I
am.” In early December, she found a quote from
Romeo and Juliet written on the white erase
board outside her dorm room. It read:
According to the Cook scheduling program
documents, Cho was again triaged by telephone at 4:45 on December 12. This triage
was conducted by Dr. Betzel who has no recollection of the specific content of the “brief triage appointment.” Written documentation
that would have typically been completed at
that time is missing. The “ticket” completed to
indicate the type of contact indicates that the
telephone appointment was kept, that no
diagnosis was made (consistent with Cook’s
procedure to not make a diagnosis until a
clinical intake interview is completed) and
that no referral was made for follow-up services either at Cook or elsewhere. Dr. Betzel
did recall at the time of her interview with the
panel that she had a conversation with Dr.
Roy concerning a student whose name she did
not recall, however the details were so similar
that she believes it was Cho. She recalls that
Dr. Roy was concerned about disturbing writings submitted by Cho in class, and that Dr.
Roy detailed her plans to meet with the student individually. The date of Dr. Betzel’s consultation with Dr. Roy is unknown and any
written documentation that would typically
have been associated with the consultation is
missing from Cho’s file.
By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am
My name, dear saint is hateful to myself
Because it is an enemy to thee
Had I it written, I would tear the word
The young woman shared with her father her concerns about the communications that she believed
were from Cho. The father spoke with his friend,
the chief of police for Christiansburg, who advised
that the campus police should be informed.
The following day, December 13, a campus police
officer met with Cho and instructed him to have
no further contact with the young woman. She did
not file criminal charges. No one spoke with her
regarding her right to file a complaint with Judicial Affairs. Records document that there were
multiple e-mail communications regarding the
incident among Virginia Tech residential staff, the
residence life administrator on call, and the president’s & upper quad area coordinator, the director
of Residence Life, and the assistant director of
Judicial Affairs. The matter was not, however,
inquired about this, and checking the box for firearm access may have been an error.) He was on no
medication at the time of admission, but Ativan
was prescribed for anxiety, as needed. One milligram of Ativan was administered at 11:40 p.m.
(The records do not show that he ever received
another dose.) Cho passed an uneventful night
according to the nursing notes.
brought before the Virginia Tech multidisciplinary Care Team.
Following the visit from the police, Cho sent
an instant message to one of his suitemates
stating “I might as well kill myself.” The
suitemate reported the communication to the
Police officers returned around 7:00 p.m. that
same day to interview Cho again in his dorm
room. The suitemate was not present, but they
spoke to Cho’s roommate out of his presence.
The officers took Cho to VTPD for assessment,
and a pre-screen evaluation was conducted
there at 8:15 p.m. by a licensed clinical social
worker for New River Valley Community
Services Board (CSB). The pre-screener interviewed Cho and the police officer, and then
spoke with both Cho’s roommate and a suitemate by phone. She recorded her findings on a
five-page Uniform Pre-Admission Screening
Form, checking the findings boxes indicating
that Cho was mentally ill, was an imminent
danger to self or others, and was not willing to
be treated voluntarily. She recommended
involuntary hospitalization and indicated that
the CSB could assist with treatment and discharge planning. She located a psychiatric
bed, as required by state law at St. Albans
Behavioral Health Center of the Carilion New
River Valley Medical Center (St. Albans) and
contacted the magistrate by phone to request
that a temporary detention order (TDO) be
On the morning of December 14, at approximately
6:30 a.m., the Clinical Support Representative for
St. Albans met with Cho to give him information
about the mental health hearing. Around 7:00
a.m., the representative escorted Cho to meet with
a licensed clinical psychologist, who conducted an
independent evaluation of Cho pursuant to
Virginia law.
The independent evaluator reported to the panel
that he reviewed the prescreening report, but that
due to the early hour, there were no hospital
records available for his review. He did not speak
with the designated attending psychiatrist who
had not yet seen Cho. The evaluator has no specific recollection, but believes that the independent evaluation took approximately 15 minutes.
The evaluator completed the evaluation form certifying his findings that Cho “is mentally ill; that
he does not present an imminent danger to
(himself/others), or is not substantially unable to
care for himself, as a result of mental illness; and
that he does not require involuntary hospitalization.” The independent evaluator did not attend
the commitment hearing; however, both counsel
for Cho and the special justice signed off on the
form certifying his findings.
The magistrate considered the pre-screen
findings and issued a TDO at 10:12 p.m.
Police officers transported Cho to St. Albans
where he was admitted at 11:00 p.m. Cho did
not speak at all with the officer during the trip
to the hospital. He was noted to be cooperative
with the admitting process. The diagnosis on
the admission orders was “Mood Disorder,
NOS” [non specific]. On the Carilion Health
Services screening form for the potential for
violence, it was marked that Cho denied any
prior history of violent behavior, but that he
did have access to a firearm. (The panel
Shortly before the commitment hearing, the attending psychiatrist at St. Albans evaluated Cho.
When he was interviewed by the panel, the psychiatrist did not recall anything remarkable about
Cho, other than that he was extremely quiet. The
psychiatrist did not discern dangerousness in Cho,
and, as noted, his assessment did not differ from
that of the independent evaluator—that Cho was
not a danger to himself or others. He suggested
that Cho be treated on an outpatient basis with
counseling. No medications were prescribed, and
no primary diagnosis was made.
after 11:00 a.m. on December 14. Neither Cho’s
suitemate nor his roommate nor the detaining
police officer nor the pre-screener nor the independent evaluator nor the attending psychiatrist
attended the hearing. The prescreening report
was read into the record by Cho’s attorney. The
special justice reviewed the independent evaluation form completed by the independent evaluator
and the treating psychiatrist’s recommendation.
He heard evidence from Cho. The special justice
ruled that Cho “presents an imminent danger to
himself as a result of mental illness” and ordered
“O-P” (outpatient treatment) “—to follow all recommended treatments.”
The psychiatrist’s conclusion was based in
part on Cho’s denying any drug or alcohol
problems or any previous mental health
treatment. The psychiatrist acknowledged
that he did not gather any collateral information or information to refute the data obtained
by the pre-screener on the basis of which the
commitment was obtained. He indicated that
this is standard practice and that privacy laws
impede the gathering of collateral information. (Chapter V discusses these information
privacy laws in detail.) The psychiatrist also
said that the time it takes to gather collateral
information is prohibitive in terms of existing
The clinical support representative (CSR) contacted Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech to
make an appointment for Cho. The Cook Counseling Center required that Cho be put on the phone
(a practice begun shortly before this hearing
according to the CSR) to make the appointment,
which he did. The appointment was scheduled for
3:00 p.m. that afternoon, December 14. The CSR
does not recall whether this phone call was made
prior to or following the hearing.
Freer access to clinical information among
agencies is imperative so that a rational plan
for treatment can be developed. As for the
relationship between the independent evaluator and the staff psychiatrist, they rarely see
each other and they function independently.
The role of the independent evaluator is to
provide information to the court and the job of
the attending psychiatrist is to provide clinical
care for the patient.
The clinical support representative recalls making
his customary phone call to New River Valley CSB
to advise them of the outcome of the morning’s
hearings. It was not the hospital’s practice at that
time to send copies of the orders from the commitment hearings.
As for counseling services at Virginia Tech
and the other area universities from which St.
Albans Hospital receives patients, according
to the psychiatrist they are all stretched for
mental health resources. The lack of outpatient providers who can develop a postdischarge treatment plan of substance is a
major flaw in the current system. The lack of
services is common in both the public and the
private outpatient sectors.
Due to the rapidly approaching outpatient
appointment for Cho, the CSR urged the treating
psychiatrist to expedite the dictation and transcription of his discharge summary. It was transcribed shortly before noon and the physical
evaluation findings and recommendation about an
hour later. The clinical support representative
recalls faxing the records to Cook Counseling Center, but he did not place a copy of the transmittal
confirmation in the hospital records. Cook Counseling Center, however, has no record of having
received any hospital records until January 2006.
The physical evaluation report indicated that Cho
was to be treated by the psychiatrist at St. Albans
“and hopefully have some intervention in therapy
for treatment of his mood disorder.” The discharge
The psychiatrist noted his recommendation
for outpatient counseling on the Initial Consent Form for TDO Admissions. The clinical
support representative then escorted Cho and
other TDO patients to meet with their attorney prior to their hearings. There were four
hearings that morning, and the attorney has
no specific recollection of Cho.
A special justice designated by the Circuit
Court of Montgomery County presided over
the commitment hearing for Cho held shortly
ers and eventually, campus police. They were
unaware that their son had been committed for a
time to St. Albans Hospital or that he had
appeared in court before a special justice. This is
corroborated by documents and interviews relating that Cho refused to notify his parents when
campus police responded to his threat of suicide.
The university did not inform the parents either.
summary, which was not part of the records
received by the panel from Cook Counseling
Center, indicated “followup and aftercare to be
arranged with counseling center at Virginia
Tech. Medications none.”
Cho was discharged from St. Albans at 2:00
p.m. on December 14. No one the panel interviewed could say how Cho got back to campus.
However, the electronic scheduling program at
the Cook Counseling Center indicates that
Cho kept his appointment that day at 3:00
p.m. He was triaged again, this time face-toface, but no diagnosis was given. The triage
report is missing (as well as those from his
two prior phone triages), and the counselor
who performed the triage has no independent
recollection of Cho. It is her standard practice
to complete appropriate forms and write a
note to document critical information, recommendations, and plans for followup.
According to Virginia Tech records, there was a
“home town” doctor or counselor who Cho could
see when he was home. The panel did not discover
what led to this assumption. However, it is known
that the university did not contact the family to
ascertain the veracity of home town followup for
counseling and medication management.
When Cho’s parents were asked what they would
have done if they had heard from the college about
the professors’, roommates, and female students’
complaints, their response was, “We would have
taken him home and made him miss a semester to
get this looked at …but we just did not know…
about anything being wrong.” From their history
during the high school years, we do know that
they were dedicated to getting him to therapy
consistently and also consented to psychopharmacology when the need arose.
It is unclear why Cho would have been triaged
for a third time rather than receiving a treatment session at his afternoon appointment
following release from St. Albans. The Collegiate Times had run an article at the beginning of the fall semester expressing “concern
about the diminished services provided by the
counseling center” and the temporary loss of
its only psychiatrist.
More Problems, Spring 2006 – The trend of disturbing themes continued to be apparent in many
of Cho’s writings, along with his selective mutism.
It was the policy of the Cook Counseling Center to allow patients to decide whether to
make a followup appointment. According to
the existing Cook Counseling Center records,
none was ever scheduled by Cho. Because
Cook Counseling Center had accepted Cho as
a voluntary patient, no notice was given to the
CSB, the court, St. Albans, or Virginia Tech
officials that Cho never returned to Cook
Counseling Center.
Robert Hicok had Cho in his Fiction Workshop
class that semester. Hicok described his class as a
mid-level fiction course with about 20 students.
He told the panel that there was no participation
from Cho and that Cho’s stories and work were
violent. He said Cho was a very cogent writer, but
his creativity was not that good. Cho was open to
suggestions and he made some edits, but he was
“not very unique” in his writing. The combination
of the content of Cho’s stories and his not talking
raised red flags for Hicok. He consulted with Dr.
Roy, but then decided to keep Cho in the class and
just deal with him. Hicok scheduled two meetings
with Cho, but he did not show up, and Hicok
never saw Cho again after the semester ended.
Cho received a D+ in this class.
ho’s family did not realize what was happening with him at Blacksburg that fall
2005 semester: his dark writings, stalking,
and other odd and unsettling behavior that
worried roommates, resident advisors, teach-
dents would allow him to get credit for group projects without having worked on them. Bean noted
that Cho derived satisfaction from learning “how
to play the game—do as little as he needed to do
to get by.” This profile of Cho stands in contrast to
the profile of a pitiable, emotionally disabled
young man, but it may in fact represent a true
picture of the other side of Cho—the one that
murdered 32 people.
Professor Hicok shared none of Cho’s writings
with the panel. However, based on a question
to a panel member by a reporter, further inquiry was made as this report was about to go
to press. Several writings by Cho in Hicok’s
class were produced, one of which is of particular significance. It tells the story of a
morning in the life of Bud “who gets out of bed
unusually early…puts on his black jeans, a
strappy black vest with many pockets, a black
hat, a large dark sunglasses [sic] and a flimsy
jacket….” At school he observes “students
strut inside smiling, laughing, embracing each
other….A few eyes glance at Bud but without
the glint of recognition. I hate this! I hate all
these frauds! I hate my life….This is it….This
is when you damn people die with me.…” He
enters the nearly empty halls “and goes to an
arbitrary classroom….” Inside “(e)veryone is
smiling and laughing as if they’re in heavenon-earth, something magical and enchanting
about all the people’s intrinsic nature that
Bud will never experience.” He breaks away
and runs to the bathroom “I can’t do this.…I
have no moral right.…” The story continues by
relating that he is approached by a “gothic
girl.” He tells her “I’m nothing. I’m a loser. I
can’t do anything. I was going to kill every god
damn person in this damn school, swear to
god I was, but I…couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
Damn it I hate myself!” He and the “gothic
girl” drive to her home in a stolen car. “If I get
stopped by a cop my life will be forever over. A
stolen car, two hand guns, and a sawed off
shotgun.” At her house, she
retrieves “a .8 caliber automatic rifle and a
M16 machine gun.” The story concludes with
the line “You and me. We can fight to claim
our deserving throne.”
Bean allowed that Cho was very intelligent. He
could write with technical proficiency and could
read well. However, his creative writing skills
were limited and his command of the English language was “very impoverished.” He had trouble
with verb tenses and use of articles. On two or
three occasions early in the semester, Bean had
spoken to Cho after class regarding the fact that
he was not participating orally nor working collaboratively on group assignments. By late March
or early April, the class was given a writing
assignment to do a technical essay about a subject
within their major. Cho suggested George Washington and the American Revolution, but Bean
advised him that this was not within his major.
Cho next suggested the April 1960 revolution in
Korea—again rejected because the topic was not
in his major. Cho then decided to write “an objective real-time” experience based on Macbeth and
corresponding to serial killings.
On April 17, 2006, one school year prior to the
shooting to the day (because it was also a Monday), Bean asked Cho to stay after class again.
The professor explained to Cho that his work was
not satisfactory and that his topic was not acceptable. He recommended that Cho drop the class
and that he would recommend that a late drop be
permitted. Cho never said a word, just stared at
him. Then, without invitation, Cho followed Bean
to his office. The professor offered for him to sit
down, but Cho refused and proceeded to argue
loudly that he did not want to drop the class. Bean
was surprised because he had never heard Cho
speak like that before nor engage in that type of
conduct. He asked Cho to leave his office and
return when he had better control of himself. Cho
left and subsequently sent an e-mail advising that
he had dropped the course.
Cho encountered problems in another English
class that semester, Technical Writing, taught
by Carl Bean. The professor told the panel
that Cho was always very quiet, always wore
his cap pulled down, and spoke extremely
softly. Bean opined that “this was his power.”
By speaking so softly, he manipulated people
into feeling sorry for him and his fellow stu-
is reasonable and cogent. The professor awarded
Cho a B for the course.
Bean did not discuss the matter with Dr. Roy
and he was not aware that Nikki Giovanni
had encountered problems with Cho the prior
semester. After the massacre of April 16, it
was discovered that Cho had mailed a letter to
the English Department on that same day.
Bean stated he knew Cho was antisocial,
manipulative, and intelligent. Cho, he said,
had obviously “researched” Bean after dropping Bean’s course, because in the April 16
letter Cho wrote numerous times that Bean
“went holocaust on me.” Bean has a great
interest in the Holocaust.
Cho’s senior year roommate explained to the
panel that he tried speaking to Cho at the beginning of the semester, but Cho barely responded. “I
hardly knew the guy; we just slept in the same
room.” Cho went to bed early and got up early, so
his roommate just left him alone and gave him his
space. The only activities Cho engaged in were
studying, sleeping, and downloading music. He
never saw him play a video game, which he
thought strange since he and most other students
play them. One of the suitemates mentioned that
he saw Cho working out at McCommis Hall and
saw him return to the room from time to time in
workout attire. Cho kept his side of the room very
neat. Nothing appeared to be abnormal—no
knives, guns, chains, etc. The only reading material the roommate saw on Cho’s side was a paperback copy of the New Testament, which he
thought may have been for a class. (Cho took a
course in the spring 2007 semester: The Bible as
Fall 2006 – Cho enrolled in Professor Ed
Falco’s playwriting workshop in the fall
semester. During the first class when each
student was asked to introduce him/herself to
the class, Cho got up and left before his turn.
When he returned for the second class, Professor Falco informed him that he would have to
participate; Cho did not respond. In his interview with the panel, Professor Falco described
Cho’s writing as juvenile with some pieces
venting anger.
Post April 16, 2007 students from this class
were quoted in the campus newspaper as saying that some classmembers had joked that
they were waiting for Cho to do something.
One student reportedly had told a friend that
Cho “was the kind of guy who might go on a
rampage killing”.
The resident advisor for the section of Harper Hall
where Cho resided had been forewarned by the
previous year’s RA that “there were issues” with
Cho. She knew about his unwanted advances toward female students and that he was suspected
of writing violent song lyrics on the dorm walls
that also were posted on his web site. However,
she did not encounter a single problem with him.
According to an article in the August 10, 2007
edition of The Roanoke Times, Professor Falco,
director of Virginia Tech’s creative writing
program, recently proposed and participated
in the drafting of written guidelines for dealing with students who submit disturbing and
violent work. The guidelines suggest that faculty concerned about a student’s writing pursue a series of actions including speaking to
the student, encouraging the student to seek
counseling, and involving university administrators.
That fall semester, Cho enrolled in Professor
Norris’ Advanced Fiction Workshop—a small class
of only about 10 students. Cho had taken one of
her classes the previous spring, on contemporary
fiction, so she knew how little he participated in
class. Norris realized that the workshop class
would be a problem for Cho because there would
be discussions and readings. Cho appeared in
class with a ball cap pulled low and making no eye
contact. Norris checked with the dean’s office to
see if it was safe—if Cho was okay—and she
asked to have someone intervene on his behalf.
Cho also took a class called “Contemporary
Horror” in the fall of 2006. His final exam
paper which appears to analyze a horror film
The English Department did not know about
Cho’s dealings with campus police and the
a night at St. Albans as a result of such detention
order. The Care Team did not know the details of
all these occurrences.
communications generated from Residence
Life about his stalking behavior.
Norris told Cho that he had to come see her if
he was going to able to make it through this
particular class. She ascertained that Cho had
trouble speaking in both English and Korean,
and she offered to connect him with the Disability Services Office.
Residence Life knew through their staff (two resident advisors and their supervisor) that there
were multiple reports and concerns expressed
over Cho’s behavior in the dorm, but this was not
brought before the Care Team. The academic
component of the university spoke up loudly about
a sullen, foreboding male student who refused to
talk, frightened classmate and faculty with macabre writings, and refused faculty exhortations to
get counseling. However, after Judicial Affairs
and the Cook Counseling Center opined that Cho’s
writings were not actionable threats, the Care
Team’s one review of Cho resulted in their being
satisfied that private tutoring would resolve the
problem. No one sought to revisit Cho’s progress
the following semester or inquire into whether he
had come to the attention of other stakeholders on
After meeting with Cho, she e-mailed him to
reiterate her offers to go with him for counseling or for other services. He did not pursue
those offers. His written work was on time
and he was on time for class, but he missed
the last 2 weeks of class. Cho earned a B+ in
Norris’s class that semester.
The following semester, spring 2007, Cho
began to buy guns and ammunition. His class
attendance began to fall off shortly before the
assaults. There were no outward signs of his
deteriorating mental state. In their last phone
call with him the night of April 15, 2007, Mr.
Cho and Mrs. Cho had no inkling that anything was the matter. Cho had called per their
usual Sunday night arrangement. He
appeared his “regular” self. He asked how his
parents were, and other standard responses:
“No I do not need any money.” His parents
said, “I love you.”
The Care Team was hampered by overly strict
interpretations of federal and state privacy laws
(acknowledged as being overly complex), a decentralized corporate university structure, and the
absence of someone on the team who was experienced in threat assessment and knew to investigate the situation more broadly, checking for collateral information that would help determine if
this individual truly posed a risk or not. (The
interpretation of FERPA and HIPAA rules is discussed in a later chapter.)
he Care Team at Virginia Tech was established as a means of identifying and working with students who have problems. That
resource, however, was ineffective in connecting the dots or heeding the red flags that were
so apparent with Cho. They failed for various
reasons, both as a team and in some cases in
the individual offices that make up the core of
the team.
There are particular behaviors and indicators of
dangerous mental instability that threat assessment professionals have documented among murderers. A list of red flags, warning signs and indicators has been compiled by a member of the
panel and is included as Appendix M.
Key agencies that should be regular members
of such a team are instead second tier, nonpermanent members. One of these, the VTPD,
knew that Cho had been cautioned against
stalking—twice, that he had threatened suicide, that a magistrate had issued a temporary detention order, and that Cho had spent
he lack of information sharing among academic, administrative, and public safety entities at Virginia Tech and the students who had
raised concerns about Cho contributed to the failure to see the big picture. In the English Depart-
undoubtedly clouded his ability to evaluate his
own situation, he, ultimately, is the primary person responsible for April 16, 2007; to imply otherwise would be wrong.
ment alone, many professors encountered
similar difficulties with Cho—non- participation in class, limited responses to efforts to
personally interact, dark writings, reflector
glasses, hat pulled low over face. Although to
any one professor these signs might not necessarily raise red flags, the totality of the
reports would have and should have raised
IV-1 Universities should recognize their
responsibility to a young, vulnerable
population and promote the sharing of
information internally, and with parents,
when significant circumstances pertaining to
health and safety arise.
Cho’s aberrant behavior of pathological shyness and isolation continued to manifest
throughout his college years. He shared very
little of his college life with his family, had no
friends, and engaged in no activities outside of
the home during breaks and summer vacations. While he was an adult, he was a member of the household and receiving parental
support, but he did not hold a job to help earn
money for college. Unusual by U.S. standards,
a high, sometimes exclusive focus on academics is common among parents from eastern
IV-2 Institutions of higher learning should
review and revise their current policies
related to—
a) recognizing and assisting students in distress
b) the student code of conduct, including enforcement
c) judiciary proceedings for students, including enforcement
d) university authority to appropriately intervene when it is believed a distressed student poses a danger to himself or others
Cho’s roommates and suitemates noted frequent signs of aberrant behavior. Three
female residents reported problems with
unwanted attention from Cho (instant messages, text messages, Facebook postings, and
erase board messages). One of Cho’s suitemates combined many of these instances of
concern into a report shared with the residence staff. The residence advisors reported
these matters to the hall director and the
residence life administrator on call. These
individuals in turn, communicated by e-mail
with the assistant director of Judicial Affairs.
IV-3 Universities must have a system that
links troubled students to appropriate medical and counseling services either on or off
campus, and to balance the individual’s
rights with the rights of all others for safety.
IV-4 Incidents of aberrant, dangerous, or
threatening behavior must be documented
and reported immediately to a college’s
threat assessment group, and must be acted
upon in a prompt and effective manner to
protect the safety of the campus community.
Notwithstanding the system failures and
errors in judgment that contributed to Cho’s
worsening depression, Cho himself was the
biggest impediment to stabilizing his mental
health. He denied having previously received
mental health services when he was evaluated
in the fall of 2005, so medical personnel
believed that their interaction with him on
that occasion was the first time he had
showed signs of mental illness. While Cho’s
emotional and psychological disabilities
IV-5 Culturally competent mental health services were provided to Cho at his school and
in his community. Adequate resources must
be allocated for systems of care in schools
and communities that provide culturally
competent services for children and adolescents to reduce mental-illness-related risk as
occurred within this community.
IV-6 Policies and procedures should be
implemented to require professors
ing center, and parents. All parties should be
educated about the public safety exceptions to the
privacy laws which permit such reporting.
encountering aberrant, dangerous, or
threatening behavior from a student to
report them to the dean. Guidelines should
be established to address when such reports
should be communicated by the dean to a
threat assessment group, and to the school’s
counseling center.
IV-11 The college counseling center should
report all students who are in treatment pursuant to a court order to the threat assessment team. A policy should be implemented to
address what information can be shared with family and roommates pursuant to the public safety
exceptions to the privacy laws.
IV-7 Reporting requirements for aberrant, dangerous, or threatening behavior
and incidents for resident hall staff must
be clearly established and reviewed during annual training.
IV-12 The state should study what level of
community outpatient service capacity will
be required to meet the needs of the commonwealth and the related costs in order to adequately and appropriately respond to both
involuntary court-ordered and voluntary referrals for those services. Once this information is available it is recommended that outpatient treatments services be expanded
IV-8 Repeated incidents of aberrant, dangerous, or threatening behavior must be
reported by Judicial Affairs to the threat
assessment group. The group must formulate a plan to address the behavior that will
both protect other students and provide the
needed support for the troubled student.
IV-9 Repeated incidents of aberrant, dangerous, or threatening behavior should be
reported to the counseling center and
reported to parents. The troubled student
should be required to participate in counseling
as a condition of continued residence in campus housing and enrollment in classes.
The panel’s report deals with facts. Sometimes,
however, police investigation requires educated
guesses and speculation—such as in instances
where a “profile” of an unknown killer is generated by FBI profilers, who are specially trained in
this area. Set forth in Appendix N is such a work,
written by panel member Dr. Roger Depue, who
is, among many other qualifications, a former FBI
profiler. While no member of the panel can definitively ascertain what was in Cho’s mind, this profile offers one theory.
IV-10 The law enforcement agency at colleges should report all incidents of an issuance of temporary detention orders for
students (and staff) to Judicial Affairs,
the threat assessment team, the counsel-
Part B – Virginia Mental Health Law Issues
serve the needs of people with mental illness,
while respecting the interests of their families
and communities.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia Commission on
Mental Health Law Reform was appointed in
October 2006, by Virginia Chief Justice Leroy R.
Hassell, Sr. The 26-member commission,
chaired by Professor Richard J. Bonnie, Director
of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public
Policy at the University of Virginia, is charged
to “conduct a comprehensive examination of
Virginia’s mental health laws and services” and
to “study ways to use the law more effectively to
The commission has held four meetings with
another scheduled for November 2007 and is
working through five task forces with more than
200 participants. The Task Force on Civil Commitment is addressing criteria for inpatient and
outpatient commitment, transportation, and the
emergency evaluation process, procedures for
cause. The concerns raised included that it is
often difficult to promptly secure qualified personnel to perform the prescreening evaluation
given staff resources and required travel time,
particularly in rural jurisdictions. It is often
even more difficult to locate the available bed
required for a temporary detention order (TDO)
to issue. Four hours do not allow sufficient time
to gather meaningful collateral information
from family, friends, or other health care providers nor to secure proper evaluations for
medical clearance. Some noted, however, that
an extension of the 4-hour period may require
police departments to spend more time with a
person in emergency custody in those locales
where hospital security are unable to assume
hearings, training, and compensation for participants in the process, and oversight.
The Task Force on Civil Commitment will submit its final report to the commission in November 2007. The commission intends to prepare a
preliminary report during the winter and to
submit a final report by the fall of 2008 for consideration by the 2009 General Assembly.
The discussion that follows constitutes an
abridged effort, due to constraints of time and
manpower, to address some of the issues that
will be dealt with by the commission in a far
more comprehensive manner. Many of the
panel’s recommendations are framed in general
terms with the expectation that the commission
will formulate specific proposals.
The American College of Emergency Physicians
(ACEP) has recommended that emergency
physicians trained in psychiatric evaluation be
given more authority in the involuntary hold
process. Since emergency departments are 24hour facilities, resources are already in place.
Because the CSB serves an independent
“gatekeeper” role under the Virginia TDO
process, emergency physicians and CSB staff
are generally expected to work collaboratively in
determining whether a TDO is needed for those
patients screened in emergency departments.
However, where CSB pre-screeners are not
immediately available, properly trained
emergency physicians can effectively screen
patients under an emergency custody order and
communicate with the magistrate to obtain the
TDO when needed. If such a gate keeping
responsibility were to be conferred on
emergency physicians, further questions would
have to be addressed regarding the respective
roles of the emergency physicians and the CSB
staff in exploring alternatives to hospitalization
and in participating in the commitment hearing.
Throughout the panel’s work, there was close
collaboration with Professor Bonnie and James
Stewart, the Inspector General for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation
and Substance Abuse Services. The inspector
general released a report in June 2007 detailing
his findings concerning Cho’s interaction with
mental health services in Virginia.
Va. Code 37.2-808 establishes the procedures for
involuntary temporary detention of persons who
are mentally ill, present an imminent danger to
self or others, and are in need of hospitalization
but unwilling or unable to volunteer for treatment. Subsection H provides that no person
shall remain in custody for longer than 4 hours
without a temporary detention order issued by a
magistrate. In Cho’s case, the New River Valley
CSB was able to provide a pre-screener in a
timely manner, and she was able to conduct the
screening and locate an available bed in order to
present the matter to the magistrate within the
required 4-hour period.
Under current Virginia law, the duration of
temporary detention may not exceed 48 hours
prior to a hearing (or the next day that is not a
Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday). The mental
health service providers in Cho’s case were able
to comply with the 48-hour requirement;
however, the information available to the
However, mental health service providers and
special justices interviewed for this report set
forth numerous arguments as to why this period
should be lengthened to either 6 hours or to
permit one renewal of the 4-hour period for good
involuntary admission. At the commitment
hearing, the special justice did find Cho to be an
imminent danger to himself; however, he agreed
with the independent examiner and treating
psychiatrist that a less restrictive alternative to
involuntary admission, outpatient treatment,
was suitable. Perhaps Cho presented himself
differently at various stages of the commitment
process or perhaps the professionals had differing evaluations of someone who did not speak
much or perhaps they had differing interpretations of the standard set forth in the Virginia
special justice was extremely limited. There was
no history regarding prior treatment; there were
no lab or toxicology reports, nor the report
regarding access to a firearm. At the hearing,
there were no witnesses present such as family,
roommate/suitemates, the CSB pre-screener,
the independent evaluator, or the treating
Mental health professionals interviewed
reported that 48 hours is one of the shortest
detention periods in the nation and recommended that it be lengthened. Reasons cited for
expanding this period included the need to contact family or friends and to explore the person’s
prior history. Also cited was the need for a more
comprehensive independent evaluation and the
difficulty in securing a complete report of the
treating psychiatrist in time for the hearing. It
was suggested that a psychiatric “workup” as
well as a toxicology screen be available to the
independent examiner. A further concern was
that often psychiatric inpatient bed space is not
available within the 48 hours. As a financial
consideration, it was argued that a longer period
would allow patients an opportunity to stabilize
or recognize the need for voluntary treatment,
thereby reducing the number of commitment
hearings and the costs associated with special
justices and appointed counsel.
Mental health professionals advised the panel
that the standard “imminent danger to self or
others” is not clearly understood and is subject
to differing interpretations. They recommend
that the criteria for commitment be revised to
achieve a more consistent application. Service
providers and special justices suggest that the
“imminent danger” criterion should be replaced
by language requiring “a substantial likelihood”
or “significant risk” that the person will cause
serious injury to himself or others “in the near
future.” A few disagreed on the basis that personal rights of liberty should be paramount, and
that changing the standard would lower the
threshold for admission. Proponents for modifying the criteria respond that Virginia’s commitment standard is one of the most restrictive of
all the states. They contend that the threshold
finding prevents intervention in cases of severe
illness accompanied by substantial impairment
of cognition, emotional stability, or self-control.
The judge or special justice ordering commitment must find by clear and convincing evidence that the person presents (1) an imminent
danger to himself or others or is substantially
unable to care for himself, and (2) less restrictive alternatives to involuntary inpatient treatment have been investigated and are deemed
unsuitable. Cho was found to be an imminent
danger to himself by the pre-screener who also
found that he was “unable to come up with a
safety plan to adequately ensure safety.” He was
unwilling to contact his parents to pick him up.
However, Cho was found not to be an imminent
danger to self or others by both the independent
examiner and the treating psychiatrist at St.
Albans, and accordingly neither recommended
Many of those interviewed expressed serious
concerns regarding the paucity of psychiatric
information available to the independent
evaluator and judge/special justice. As noted
above, the independent evaluator for Cho had
only the report from the CSB pre-screener and
no collateral information or medical records.
The independent evaluator plays a key role in
the commitment process in many jurisdictions.
In Cho’s case, notwithstanding the finding from
the independent evaluator that Cho did not pose
an imminent threat, the special justice,
vacy (VaHRP) often make it difficult to acquire
background medical/psychiatric information on
a patient previously treated elsewhere. Legal
experts from a research advisory group for the
Commission on Mental Health Law Reform participated in the development of a questionnaire
for judges and special justices to complete following civil commitment hearings in the month
of May 2007. More than 1400 questionnaires
were returned. They reflected that approximately 60 percent of the May hearings lasted no
more than 15 minutes and only 4 percent
required more than 30 minutes.
nevertheless convened the hearing and actually
made a finding that differed from that of the
independent evaluator. He did, however, agree
with the independent evaluator that inpatient
treatment was not required. The panel was
advised that in many jurisdictions, absent a
finding by the independent evaluator that an
individual poses an imminent danger or is
substantially unable to care for himself, many
special justices will decline to hold a hearing.
It is unclear under existing law whether the independent evaluator is intended to serve as a
gate keeper. If the opinion of the independent
evaluator is to be given great weight, then it is
critical that sufficient psychiatric information be
available upon which an informed judgment
may be made. Background information including records from the current hospitalization
must be assembled for review. The Cho case
calls attention to the need to assure that the
independent evaluator has both sufficient time
and information to conduct an adequate evaluation.
Cho was the only person to testify at his commitment hearing, and he was not very communicative. The pre-screener was not present nor
was any representative from the CSB. The
independent evaluator was not present. The
officer who detained Cho was not present. Cho’s
roommate, suitemates, and Cho’s family were
all absent. This apparently is not an unusual
scenario for commitment hearings in Virginia.
Often the pre-screener is off duty by the time of
the hearing. CSBs with limited staff frequently
do not send a substitute. (The commission’s survey reflected that the CSB representatives
attended only half of the hearings held in May,
2007). Independent evaluators, paid $75 per
commitment evaluation, often feel compelled to
return to their private practice rather than
waiting for hearings that may be held hours
after the evaluation is complete. (The responses
to the questionnaires indicated that the independent evaluators were present at approximately two-thirds of Mays hearings.) Due to
time constraints and concerns regarding HIPAA
and VaHRP restrictions, friends and family are
often not notified.
At Cho’s hearing, the only documents available
to the special justice were the Uniform PreAdmission Screening Form, a partially completed Proceedings for Certification form
recording the findings of the independent
evaluator and a physician’s examination form
containing the findings of the treating psychiatrist. No prior patient history was presented; no
toxicology, lab results, or physical evaluation
from the treating psychiatrist were available.
The admitting form indicating that Cho had
access to a firearm was not presented.
Panel members have been advised by mental
health providers and special justices from other
locales in Virginia that it is not unusual for the
evidence presented at commitment hearings to
be minimal. Due to the time constraints and
limitations of resource personnel, the information available to the judge/special justice is often
very limited. Witnesses cannot be located
quickly and hospital records have often not been
transcribed. Additionally, conflicting interpretations of the constraints of the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and
Virginia Code 32.1-127.1:03 Health Records Pri-
HIPAA and VaHRP generally require that no
health care entity disclose an individual’s health
records or information. However, permitted
exceptions are information necessary for the
care of a patient and information concerning a
patient who may present a serious threat to
public health or safety. Therefore, a treating
physician at the facility where a patient is
detained should be granted access to all prior
psychiatric history. These exceptions, however
for involuntary outpatient treatment and to
monitor compliance. However, the Code does not
specify how or by whom the CSB will be notified
that outpatient treatment has been ordered if a
representative is not present at the hearing.
There exists a disagreement as to whether the
CSB was advised of the entry of the outpatient
order in Cho’s case. The clinical support
representative for St. Albans advised that he
always calls the CSB following commitment
hearings to report the results. The CSB reports
that they have no record of having been notified.
If the CSB is represented at the hearing, there
can be no reason for confusion. However, if
Virginia Code is not amended to require the
presence in person or telephonically, it must be
amended to designate who has responsibility for
certifying a copy of the outpatient order to the
CSB. There should also be clear guidance
provided in the Virginia Code as to who has
responsibility for notification if a private mental
health practitioner is to provide the mandated
outpatient treatment.
do not clearly permit these records be shared
with the judge or special justice at the commitment hearing. Although a person may consent
to the release of information to any person or
entity, detained individuals are often unable or
disinclined to do so.
Because interpretation of HIPAA and FERPA
were key in stopping adequate exchange of information concerning Cho, the panel requested
that its legal council research the interpretation
and exceptions under these laws, which is presented in the next chapter.
In conducting the investigation, the panel
encountered many questions concerning involuntary outpatient orders. What specificity
should be required of outpatient orders? To
whom should notice of outpatient orders be
given? How should compliance with outpatient
orders be monitored? What procedures should
be available to address noncompliance and what
resources are needed?
No notice of the hearing or the order issued by
the special justice was given to Cho’s family, his
roommate/suitemates, the VTPD, or the Virginia Tech administration. The Code of Virginia
authorizes no such notice. The recordings of the
hearing must be kept confidential pursuant to
Va. Code 37.2-818(A). The records, reports and
court documents pertaining to the hearing are
kept confidential if so requested by the subject
of the hearing under 37.2-818(B) and are not
subject to the Virginia Freedom of Information
Act. HIPAA and VaHRP restrictions may further limit dissemination of certain information
as no person to whom health records are disclosed may redisclose beyond the purpose for
which disclosure was made. Concerns were
raised by many interviewees and speakers at
panel hearings that family members, those
residing with the subject of a commitment hearing, the police department and school officials
should all be notified of the hearing and its outcome in the interest of public safety.
The special justice ordered that Cho receive
outpatient treatment; however, the order provided no information regarding the nature of the
treatment other than to state “to follow all recommended treatments.” The order did not specify who was to provide the outpatient treatment
or who was to monitor the treatment.
There was considerable support among those
interviewed by panel members for greater guidance in the Virginia Code regarding outpatient
treatment orders. Some felt that the order
should track recommendations from the treating
physician as to the frequency and duration of
treatment and whether medication was
required. Others observed that often physician’s
evaluations and orders were not available and
the special justice/substitute judge did not have
the expertise to order specific treatment. However, all agreed that more specificity in outpatient treatment orders is essential.
New River Valley CSB did not have a
representative at Cho’s hearing due to financial
constraints. Va. Code 37.2-817(C) currently
requires the CSB to recommend a specific course
In Cho’s case, there are conflicting reports regarding the issue of notice to the treatment provider, Cook Counseling Center. An appointment
On June 22, 2007, the Commission on Mental
Health Law Reform released the final report of
its study of the current commitment process.
This study, undertaken for the commission by
Dr. Elizabeth McGarvey of the University of
Virginia School of Medicine, involved intensive
interviews with 64 professional participants in
the process, 60 family members of persons with
serious mental illness, and 86 people who have
had the experience of being committed. According to Dr. McGarvey’s report, professional participants and family stakeholders are uniformly
frustrated by almost every aspect of the civil
commitment process in Virginia. Among the
most common complaints were a shortage of
beds in willing detention facilities, insufficient
time for adequate evaluation, the high cost and
inefficiency of transporting people for evaluation, inadequate compensation for professional
participants in the process, inadequate reimbursement for hospitals, inconsistent interpretation of the statute by different judges, and
lack of central direction and oversight.
had been scheduled by Cho with the assistance
of the clinical support representative for St.
Albans. The representative reports that he
faxed a copy of the discharge summary to Cook.
Cook, however, contends that they did not
receive any written documentation until January, and even then it was the physical examination which indicated that Cho would be treated
by the St. Alban’s psychiatrist. Following Cho’s
in-person triage appointment on December 14,
the Cook Counseling Center left it to Cho’s discretion whether to return for follow up treatment. When he did not, it was not reported to
the special justice, St. Alban’s, or the CSB. The
Virginia Code imposes no legal obligation for
Cook Counseling Center to do so, and Cook
counselors question whether they have the right
to do so given the restrictions of HIPAA and
Furthermore, there exists the question of
whether Cho was noncompliant given the general language of the involuntary treatment
order; and if Cho were considered noncompliant,
how was that to be addressed. There is no contempt provision in the Virginia Code for those
noncompliant with involuntary outpatient
orders. There is no guidance as to the nature of
the hearing to be held for noncompliance; nor is
there a basis for compensating the special
justice/substitute judge or attorney for followup
proceedings. Many questions are raised. If a
form is created to report noncompliance, can a
treatment provider file the report without violating HIPAA and VaHRP? If the noncompliance report is filed, how does the special justice
secure the presence of the individual for a followup hearing? If the noncompliant individual
does not pose an imminent danger to himself or
others at the time of the followup hearing, an
emergency custody order cannot be issued; nor
can the special justice order involuntary inpatient treatment. Should there be a Code provision allowing for a short period of inpatient
treatment for those not compliant with the outpatient order yet not an “imminent danger” at
the time returned for noncompliance? Will
commitment for noncompliance pose yet another
burden on the already overcrowded inpatient
Va. Code 37.2-819 requires the clerk to certify,
on a form provided, any order for involuntary
admission to the Central Criminal Records
Exchange. The section does not specify who
bears responsibility for completion of the form.
The failure of Va. Code 37.2-819 to specify
responsibility for preparation of the order furnished by the Central Criminal Records
Exchange was noted to be a problem. It is
reported that in some jurisdictions, if the clerk
is not furnished the completed form, no form is
forwarded to the exchange. There is lack of consistency throughout the Commonwealth regarding who prepares the forms. In some jurisdictions, the forms are completed by the special
justice/substitute judge, in others by the clerk of
court, and reportedly in others, the forms are
often not completed at all.
Of further concern was the issue of under what
circumstances the forms are to be completed.
Mental health and legal professionals
order to the CSB resulted in an absence of oversight for Cho’s outpatient treatment.
interviewed by panel members felt that there
was no reasonable distinction to be drawn
persons ordered for involuntary inpatient
treatment and those ordered for involuntary
out-patient treatment when a finding has been
made that the individual poses an imminent
danger to self or others. If firearms restrictions
apply, they should be based upon the fact that
an individual poses a danger, not on the basis of
the type of treatment ordered; therefore, both
involuntary inpatient and involuntary outpatient treatment orders should be certified.
While the governor has addressed this matter
by executive order, it was felt that legislation
should be enacted embodying the certification
requirement. Mental health and legal experts
also raised the question of whether persons
electing voluntary admission upon being
advised of their right to do so during the
commitment hearing should also be reported.
(The commission’s survey indicated that 30
percent of the commitment hearings in May
resulted in voluntary admission.)
The lack of a requirement in the Virginia Code
to certify outpatient commitment orders to the
CCRE resulted in Cho’s name not being entered
in the database, which could have prevented his
purchase of firearms.
There was a lack of doctor-to-clinician contact
between St. Albans Hospital and the Cook
Counseling Center.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, much
of the discussion regarding mental health services has focused on the commitment process.
However, the mental health system has major
gaps in its entirety starting from the lack of
short-term crisis stabilization units to the outpatient services and the highly important case
management function, which strings together
the entire care for an individual to ensure success. These gaps prevent individuals from getting the psychiatric help when they are getting
ill, during the need for acute stabilization, and
when they need therapy and medication management during recovery.
It was also noted with concern by the mental
health and legal experts interviewed that the
reporting requirement does not apply to orders
for juveniles found to pose an imminent danger,
regardless of whether inpatient or outpatient
treatment was ordered. They further expressed
concern regarding the absence of any provision
in the Virginia Code requiring the clerk to certify orders pertaining to persons found not
guilty by reason of insanity.
IV-13 Va. Code 37.2-808 (H) and (I) and
37.2-814 (A) should be amended to extend
the time periods for temporary detention to
permit more thorough mental health
IV-14 Va. Code 37.2-809 should be amended
to authorize magistrates to issue temporary
detention orders based upon evaluations
conducted by emergency physicians trained
to perform emergency psychiatric evaluations.
Statutory time constraints for temporary detention and involuntary commitment hearings significantly impede the collection of vital psychiatric information required for risk assessment.
IV-15 The criteria for involuntary
commitment in Va. Code 37.2-817(B) should
be modified in order to promote more
consistent application of the standard and
allow involuntary treatment in a broader
range of cases involving severe mental
The Virginia standard for involuntary commitment is one of the most restrictive in the nation
and is not uniformly applied.
The fact that a CSB representative did not
attend the commitment hearing and the failure
to certify a copy of the outpatient commitment
IV-16 The number and capacity of secure
crisis stabilization units should be
expanded where needed in Virginia to
ensure that individuals who are subject to
a temporary detention order do not need to
wait for an available bed. An increase in
capacity also will address the use of inpatient
beds for moderately to severely ill patients that
need longer periods of stabilization.
IV-22 Virginia Health Records Privacy and
Va. Code 37.2-814 et seq. should be amended
to ensure that all entities involved with
treatment have full authority to share
records with each other and all persons involved in the involuntary commitment
process while providing the legal safeguards needed to prevent unwarranted
breaches of confidentiality.
IV-17 The role and responsibilities of the
independent evaluator in the commitment
process should be clarified and steps taken
to assure that the necessary reports and
collateral information are assembled before the independent evaluator conducts
the evaluation.
IV-23 Virginia Code 37.2-817(C) should be
amended to clarify—
IV-18 The following documents should be
presented at the commitment hearing:
The complete evaluation of the treating
physician, including collateral information.
Reports of any lab and toxicology tests
Reports of prior psychiatric history.
All admission forms and nurse’s notes.
IV-19 The Virginia Code should be
amended to require the presence of the prescreener or other CSB representative at all
commitment hearings and to provide
adequate resources to facilitate CSB
the need for specificity in involuntary
outpatient orders.
the appropriate recipients of certified
copies of orders.
the party responsible for certifying copies of orders.
the party responsible for reporting noncompliance with outpatient orders and
to whom noncompliance is reported.
the mechanism for returning the noncompliant person to court.
the sanction(s) to be imposed on the nocompliant person who does not pose an
imminent danger to himself or others.
the respective responsibilities of the
detaining facility, the CSB, and the
outpatient treatment provider in assuring effective implementation of involuntary outpatient treatment orders.
IV-24 The Virginia Health Records Privacy
statute should be clarified to expressly
authorize treatment providers to report
noncompliance with involuntary outpatient
IV-20 The independent evaluator, if not
present in person, and treating physician
should be available where possible if
needed for questioning during the hearing.
IV-21 The Virginia Health Records Privacy
statute should be amended to provide a safe
harbor provision which would protect
health entities and providers from liability
or loss of funding when they disclose information in connection with evaluations and
commitment hearings conducted under
Virginia Code 37.2-814 et seq.
IV-26 A comprehensive review of the
Virginia Code should be undertaken to
determine whether there exist additional
situations where court orders containing
mental health findings should be certified
to the Central Criminal Records Exchange.
IV-25 Virginia Code 37.2-819 should be
amended to clarify that the clerk shall
immediately upon completion of a commitment hearing complete and certify to the
Central Criminal Records Exchange, a copy
of any order for involuntary admission or
involuntary outpatient treatment.
Chapter V
privacy law. A narrow interpretation of the
law is the least risky course, notwithstanding
the harm that may be done to others if information is not shared.
hile Cho was a student at Virginia Tech, his
professors, fellow students, campus police,
the Office of Judicial Affairs, the Care Team, and
the Cook Counseling Center all had dealings with
him that raised questions about his mental stability. There is no evidence that Cho's parents were
ever told of these contacts, and they say they were
unaware of his problems at school. Most significantly, there is no evidence that Cho's parents, his
suitemates, and their parents were ever informed
that he had been temporarily detained, put
through a commitment hearing for involuntary
admission, and found to be a danger to himself.
Efforts to share this information was impeded by
laws about privacy of information, according to
several university officials and the campus police.
Indeed, the university’s attorney, during one of
the panel’s open hearings and in private meetings,
told the panel that the university could not share
this information due to privacy laws.
Much of the frustration about privacy laws
stems from lack of understanding. When seen
clearly, the privacy laws contain many provisions that allow for information sharing where
necessary. Also, FERPA and HIPAA are not
consistent (Cook Counseling Center records
come under FERPA, Carilion’s under HIPAA),
which causes difficulties, as explained below.
This chapter addresses federal and state law
concerning four key categories of information
that may be useful in evaluating and responding to a troubled student:
Law enforcement records
Court records
Medical information and records
Educational records.
The panel's review of information privacy laws
governing mental health, law enforcement, and
educational records and information revealed
widespread lack of understanding, conflicting
practice, and laws that were poorly designed to
accomplish their goals. Information privacy laws
are intended to strike a balance between protecting privacy and allowing information sharing that
is necessary or desirable. Because of this difficult
balance, the laws are often complex and hard to
The report also examines a Virginia law that
regulates the process of disclosing information. These laws are discussed in the context
of Cho's conduct leading to the shootings of
April 16.
Appendix G summarizes the privacy laws as
background for this chapter, for those unfamiliar with them.
The widespread perception is that information
privacy laws make it difficult to respond effectively to troubled students. This perception is only
partly correct. Privacy laws can block some
attempts to share information, but even more often may cause holders of such information to
default to the nondisclosure option—even when
laws permit the option to disclose. Sometimes this
is done out of ignorance of the law, and sometimes
intentionally because it serves the purposes of the
individual or organization to hide behind the
aw enforcement agencies must disclose
certain information to anyone who
requests it. They must disclose basic information about felony crimes: the date, location,
general description of the crime, and name of
the investigating officer. Law enforcement
agencies also have to release the name and
Va. Code § 2.2-3706
address of anyone arrested and charged with any
type of crime. All records about noncriminal incidents are available upon request. When they disclose noncriminal incident records, law enforcement agencies must withhold personallyidentifying information, such as names,
addresses, and social security numbers.
court proceedings do not fit the general rule:
juvenile hearings and commitment hearings
for involuntary admission.
A commitment hearing for involuntary admission is a hearing where a judicial officer
makes a determination as to whether an individual will be committed to a mental health
facility involuntarily. Records of these hearings, which consist of any medical records,
reports of evaluations, and all court documents, must be sealed when the subject of the
hearing requests it. Tape recordings are made
of the proceedings. The tapes are sealed and
held by court clerks. These records can only be
released by court order.
Universities with campus police departments
have additional responsibilities. They are required
to maintain a publicly available log that lists all
crimes. The log must give the time, date, and
location of each offense, as well as the disposition
of each case. Under Virginia law, campus police
departments must also ensure that basic informa4
tion about crimes is open to the public. This
includes the name and address of those arrested
for felony crimes against people or property and
misdemeanor crimes involving assault, battery, or
moral turpitude.
Although their records are confidential, the
hearings themselves must be open to the public and certain information about the hearing
is, at least in theory, publicly available. This
would include the name of the subject and the
time, date, and location of the hearing. Of
course, there is no central location where this
information is stored so, as a practical matter,
unless an interested party knew where the
hearing was being held or who was presiding
over it, that person would have a difficult
time uncovering such information. For example, Cho's commitment hearing occurred approximately 12 hours after he was detained.
Logistical difficulties also make it difficult to
visit psychiatric facilities, which are common
locations for commitment hearings. The key,
though, is that the information is public. In
Cho's case, the Virginia Tech Police Department (VTPD) was aware that he had been detained pending a commitment hearing. VTPD
could have shared this information with
Most of the detailed information about criminal
activity is contained in law enforcement investigative files. Under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, law enforcement agencies are allowed to
keep these records confidential. The law also gives
agencies the discretion to release the records.
However, law enforcement agencies across the
state typically have a policy against disclosing
such records.
s a general matter, court records are public
and can be widely disclosed. For the purposes
of responding to troubled students, two types of
Law enforcement records regarding juveniles (persons under
18) have special restrictions regarding disclosure. Normally,
they can only be released to other parts of the juvenile justice
system or to parents of an underaged suspect. However, Virginia law also authorizes, but does not require, law enforcement to share information with school principals about offenders who commit a serious felony, arson, or weapons offense.
Police can tell principals when they believe a juvenile is a suspect or when a juvenile is charged with an offense. After the
case is finished, law enforcement officials can tell principals
the outcome. Va. Code § 16.1-301
20 U.S.C. § 1092(f)(4)(A)
Va. Code § 23-232.2(B)
Va. Code § 23-232.2(B)
Va. Code § 2.2-3706
Va. Code § 17.1-208 (circuit court records open to the
public). Regarding juvenile court records: under Virginia
law, juvenile court records are even more tightly
restricted than juvenile law enforcement records. Court
records can only be used within the juvenile justice system unless a judge orders the records released. Va. Code §
Va. Code § 37.2-818. Cho was the subject of a commitment hearing for involuntary admission on December 14,
2005. The panel obtained the tape recording and records
of this hearing through court order.
Va. Code § 37.2-820
university administration or Cho's parents,
though they did not.
disclose information to a family member, the provider can do so in two
ways. The provider can gain permission from the patient. Or, in an emergency where the patient is unable to
make such a decision, the provider can
proceed without explicit permission.
oth state and federal law govern privacy of
medical information. The federal Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of
1996 and regulations by the Secretary of Health
and Human Services establish the federal standards. Together, the law and regulations are
commonly known as “HIPAA.” Virginia law on
medical information privacy is found in the
Virginia Health Records Privacy Act (VHRPA).
HIPAA and Virginia law have similar standards.
They both state that health information is private
and can only be disclosed for certain reasons.
When specific provisions conflict, HIPAA can preempt a state law, making the state law ineffective.
Generally, this occurs when a state law attempts
to be less protective of privacy than the federal
law or rules.
Disclosure of information is required by state
law in some situations and is permissible by
HIPAA. An example under Virginia state law
is that Virginia health care providers must
report evidence of child abuse or neglect.
Another type of required disclosure is when
freedom of information laws require public
agencies to disclose their records. If a freedom
of information law requires a public hospital
to disclose information, the disclosure is au15
thorized under HIPAA.
Both laws apply to all medical providers and billing entities. They define “provider” broadly to
include doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors,
social workers, and health organizations such as
HMOs and insurance companies, among others.
Three basic types of disclosures are permitted
under these medical information privacy laws:
Situations where privacy is outweighed by certain other interests. For
example, providers may sometimes
disclose information about a person
who presents an imminent threat to
the health and safety of individuals
and the public. Providers can also
disclose information to law enforcement in order to locate a fugitive or
suspect. Providers also are authorized to disclose information when state
law requires it.
Requests made or approved by the person
who is the subject of the records. These
exceptions are based on the idea that the
privacy laws are for the benefit of the person being treated. If the patient asks for
his or her records from a health care provider or provides written authorization,
the provider must release them.
rivacy of educational records is primarily
governed by federal law, The Family
Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974
and regulations issued by the Secretary of
Disclosure when information must be
shared in order to make medical treatment effective. Medical privacy laws allow
providers to share information with each
other when necessary for treatment pur10
poses. If a medical provider needs to
45 C.F.R. § 164.510(b)
45 C.F.R. § 164.512(j)
Va. Code § 32.1-127.1:03(D)(28)
45 C.F.R. § 164.512(a), (c)
If, however, a state law merely permits disclosure,
HIPAA usually will override state law and prevent disclosure. For example, Virginia's Freedom of Information
Act gives public agencies the discretion to release information, but does not require information to be released.
Because the decision is left to the discretion of the agency,
HIPAA would prohibit disclosure.
45 C.F.R. § 164.506(c)(2); Va. Code § 32.1-127.1:03(D)(7)
Education that interpret the law. This law and
the regulations are commonly known as “FERPA.”
Health Records Privacy Act. It is important to
note that FERPA was drafted to apply to educational records, not medical records. Though
it has a small number of provisions about
medical records, FERPA does not enumerate
the different types of disclosures authorized
FERPA applies to all educational institutions that
accept federal funding. As a practical matter, this
means almost all institutions of higher learning,
including Virginia Tech. It also includes public
elementary and secondary schools. Like HIPAA,
FERPA’s basic rule favors privacy. Information
from educational records cannot be shared unless
authorized by law or with consent of a parent, or if
the student is enrolled in college or is 18 or older,
with that student's consent.
FERPA also has a different scope than
HIPAA. Medical privacy laws such as HIPAA
apply to all information—written or oral—
gained in the course of treatment. FERPA applies only to information in student records.
Personal observations and conversations with
a student fall outside FERPA. Thus, for
example, teachers or administrators who witness students acting strangely are not
restricted by FERPA from telling anyone—
school officials, law enforcement, parents, or
any other person or organization. In this
case, several of Cho's professors and the Residence Life staff observed conduct by him that
raised their concern. They would have been
authorized to call Cho's parents to report the
behavior they witnessed.
FERPA has special interactions for medical and
law enforcement records. HIPAA also makes an
exception for all records covered by FERPA.
Therefore, records maintained by campus health
clinics are not covered by HIPAA. Instead,
FERPA and state law restrictions apply to these
records. FERPA provides the basic requirements
for disclosure of health care records at campus
health clinics, and state law cannot require dis19
closure that is not authorized by FERPA. However, if FERPA authorizes disclosure, a campus
health clinic would then have to look to state law
to determine whether it could disclose records,
including state laws on confidentiality of medical
Many records kept by university law enforcement agencies also fall outside of FERPA. For
example, it does not apply to records created
and maintained by campus law enforcement
for law enforcement purposes. If campus law
enforcement officers share a record with the
school, however, the copy that is shared
becomes subject to FERPA. For example, in
fall 2005, VTPD received complaints from
female students about Cho's behavior. Their
records of investigation were created for the
law enforcement purpose of investigating a
potential crime. Accordingly, the police could
have told Cho's parents of the incident. When
the university’s Office of Judicial Affairs
requested the records, FERPA rules applied to
the copies held in that office but not to any
record retained by the VTPD.
For example, Virginia Tech's Cook Counseling
Center holds records regarding Cho's mental
health treatment. On a request for those records,
the center must determine whether the disclosure
is authorized under both FERPA and the Virginia
45 C.F.R. § 160.103, definition of “protected health information.”
U.S. Department of Education, FERPA General Guidance
for Parents, available at
(attached as Appendix H) (“June 2007 ED Guidance”).
The nature of FERPA's application to treatment records has
not been uniformly interpreted (discussed in the “Recommendations” section). The analysis in this section is based in part
on an official letter sent to the University of New Mexico by
the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO). The FPCO is the
part of the Department of Education that officially interprets
FERPA. The letter is included in Appendix G.
Letter from LeRoy S. Rooker, Director, Family Compliance
Policy Office, U.S. Department of Education, to Melanie P.
Baise, Associate University Counsel, The University of New
Mexico, dated November 29, 2004 (enclosed as Appendix G).
June 2007 ED Guidance (Appendix H).
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4)(B)(ii)
Law enforcement performs various other functions that promote public order and safety. For
example, law enforcement officers are usually
responsible for transporting people who are under
temporary detention orders to mental health facilities. No privacy laws apply to this law
enforcement function. In the Cho case, the VTPD
was not prohibited from contacting the university
administration or Cho's parents to inform them
that Cho was under a temporary detention order
and had been transported to Carilion St. Albans
Behavioral Health.
potentially broad group of parties, the regulations specifically state that it is to be narrowly
construed. HIPAA, too, contains exceptions
that allow disclosure in emergency situa28
tions. For both laws, the exceptions have
been construed to be limited to circumstances
involving imminent, specific threats to health
or safety. Troubled students may present such
an emergency if their behavior indicates they
are a threat to themselves or others. The
Department of Education's Family Compliance Policy Office (FCPO) has advised that
when a student makes suicidal comments,
engages in unsafe conduct such as playing
with knives or lighters, or makes threats
against another student, the student’s conduct
can amount to an emergency (see letter in
Appendix G). However, the boundaries of the
emergency exceptions have not been defined
by privacy laws or cases, and these provisions
may discourage disclosure in all but the most
obvious cases.
FERPA authorizes release of information to parents of students in several situations. First, it
authorizes disclosure of any record to parents who
claim adult students as dependents for tax pur22
poses. FERPA also authorizes release to parents
when the student has violated alcohol or drug
laws and is under 21.
FERPA generally authorizes the release of information to school officials who have been determined to have a legitimate educational interest in
receiving the information. FERPA also authorizes unlimited disclosure of the final result of a
disciplinary proceeding that concludes a student
violated university rules for an incident involving
a crime of violence (as defined under federal law)
or a sex offense. Finally, some FERPA exceptions regarding juveniles are governed by state
ne other law on information disclosure
applies to most Virginia government
agencies. The Government Data Collection
and Dissemination Practices Act establishes
rules for collection, maintenance, and dissemination of individually-identifying data.
The act does not apply to police departments
or courts. Agencies that are bound by the act
can only disclose information when permitted
or required by law. The attorney general of
Virginia has interpreted “permitted by law” to
include any official request made by a government agency for a lawful function of the
agency. An agency must inform people who
FERPA also contains an emergency exception.
Disclosure of information in educational records is
authorized to any appropriate person in connection with an emergency “if the knowledge of such
information is necessary to protect the health or
safety of the student or other persons.” Although
this exception does authorize sharing to a
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(H); 34 C.F.R. § 99.31(a)(8)
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(i)
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 99.31(a)(1)
45 C.F.R. § 164.512(j); Va. Code § 32.1-127.1:03(D)(19);
§ 32.1-127.1:04; 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(I)
Letter from LeRoy S. Rooker, Director, Family Compliance Policy Office, U.S. Department of Education, to
Superintendent, New Bremen Local Schools, dated
September 24, 1994 (enclosed as Appendix G).
Va. Code § 2.2-3803(A)(1)
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(6)(B)
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(E); Va. Code § 22.1-287. Virginia
law authorizes disclosure to law enforcement officers seeking
information in the course of his or her duties, court services
units, mental health and medical health agencies, and state or
local children and family service agencies.
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(I)
give it personal information how it will ordinarily
use and share that information. An agency can
disclose personal information outside of these
ordinary uses. When it does, however, it must give
notice to the people who provided the informa31
tion. This act was initially used as a reason for
not providing information to the panel until its
authenticity was strengthened by the governor’s
executive order.
the application of information privacy
laws to the behavior of troubled students.
The lack of understanding of the laws is
probably the most significant problem about
information privacy. Accurate guidance from
the state attorney general’s office can alleviate
this problem. It may also help clarify which
differences in practices among schools are
based on a lack of understanding and which
are based on institutional policy. For example,
a representative of Virginia Tech told the
panel that FERPA prohibits the university’s
administrators from sharing disciplinary
records with the campus police department.
The panel also learned that the University of
Virginia has a policy of sharing such records
because it classifies its chief of police as an
official with an educational interest in such
rganizations and individuals must be able to
intervene in order to assist a troubled student
or protect the safety of other students. Information privacy laws that block information sharing
may make intervention ineffective.
At the same time, care must be taken not to
invade a student's privacy unless necessary. This
means there are two goals for information privacy
laws: they must allow enough information sharing
to support effective intervention, and they must
also maintain privacy whenever possible.
The development of accurate guidance that
signifies that law enforcement officials may
have an educational interest in disciplinary
records could help eliminate discrepancies in
the application of the law between two state
institutions. The guidance should clearly
explain what information can be shared by
concerned organizations and individuals about
troubled students. The guidance should be
prepared and widely distributed as quickly as
possible and written in plain English. Appendix G provides a copy of guidance issued by
the Department of Education in June 2007,
which can serve as a model or starting point
for the development of clear, accurate
Effective intervention often requires participation
of parents or other relatives, school officials,
medical and mental health professionals, court
systems, and law enforcement. The problems presented by a seriously troubled student often
require a group effort. The current state of information privacy law and practice is inadequate to
accomplish this task. The first major problem is
the lack of understanding about the law. The next
problem is inconsistent use of discretion under the
laws. Information privacy laws cannot help students if the law allows sharing but agency policy
or practice forbids necessary sharing. The privacy
laws need amendment and clarification. The panel
proposes the following recommendations to
address immediate problems and chart a course
for an effective information privacy system.
V-2 Privacy laws should be revised to
include “safe harbor” provisions. The provisions should insulate a person or organization from liability (or loss of funding) for making a disclosure with a good faith belief that
the disclosure was necessary to protect the
health, safety, or welfare of the person involved or members of the general public. Laws
protecting good-faith disclosure for health,
safety, and welfare can help combat any bias
toward nondisclosure.
V-1 Accurate guidance should be developed
by the attorney general of Virginia regarding
Va. Code § 2.2-3806(A)(2)
V-3 The following amendments to FERPA
should be considered:
necessary to protect the health or safety of
either the student or other people. At first,
this appears to be an exception well-suited to
sharing information about seriously troubled
students. However, FERPA regulations also
state that this exception is to be strictly construed. The “strict construction” requirement
is unnecessary and unhelpful. The existing
limitations require that an emergency exists
and that disclosure is necessary for health or
safety. Further narrowing of the definition
does not help clarify when an emergency
exists. It merely feeds the perception that
nondisclosure is always a safer choice.
FERPA should explicitly explain how it
applies to medical records held for treatment purposes. Although the Department of
Education interprets FERPA as applying to all
such records, that interpretation has not been
universally accepted. Also, FERPA does not
address the differences between medical records
and ordinary educational records such as grade
transcripts. It is not clear whether FERPA preempts state law regarding medical records and
confidentiality of medical information or merely
adds another requirement on top of these records.
V-5 Schools should ensure that law
enforcement and medical staff (and others as necessary) are designated as school
officials with an educational interest in
school records. This FERPA-related change
does not require amendment to law or regulation. Education requires effective intervention
in the lives of troubled students. Intervention
ensures that schools remain safe and students
healthy. University policy should recognize
that law enforcement, medical providers, and
others who assist troubled students have an
educational interest in sharing records. When
confirmed by policy, FERPA should not present a barrier to these entities sharing information with each other.
FERPA should make explicit an exception
regarding treatment records. Disclosure of
treatment records from university clinics should
be available to any health care provider without
the student’s consent when the records are needed
for medical treatment, as they would be if covered
under HIPAA. As currently drafted, it is not clear
whether off-campus providers may access the
records or whether students must consent. Without clarification, medical providers treating the
same student may not have access to health
information. For example, Cho had been triaged
twice by Cook Counseling Center before being
seen by a provider at Carilion St. Albans in connection with his commitment hearing. Later that
day, he was again triaged by Cook. Carilion St.
Albans’s records were governed by HIPAA. Under
HIPAA's treatment exception, Carilion St. Albans
was authorized to share records with Cook. Cook’s
records were governed by FERPA. Because
FERPA’s rules regarding sharing records for
treatment are unclear about outside entities or
whether consent is necessary, Carilion St. Albans
could not be assured that Cook would share its
records. This situation makes little sense.
V-6 The Commonwealth of Virginia Commission on Mental Health Reform should
study whether the result of a commitment
hearing (whether the subject was voluntarily committed, involuntarily committed, committed to outpatient therapy, or
released) should also be publicly available despite an individual’s request for
confidentiality. Although this information
would be helpful in tracking people going
though the system, it may infringe too much
on their privacy.
V-4 The Department of Education should
allow more flexibility in FERPA’a “emergency” exception. As currently drafted, FERPA
contains an exception that allows for release of
records in an emergency, when disclosure is
As discussed in Chapter IV, and its recommendations to revise Virginia law regarding
the commitment process, the law governing
hearings should explicitly state that basic
June 2007 ED Guidance (Appendix H).
The history of Seung Hui Cho shows the potential danger of such an approach. During his
formative years, Cho's parents worked with
Fairfax County school officials, counselors,
and outside mental health professionals to
respond to episodes of unusual behavior. Cho’s
parents told the panel that had they been
aware of his behavioral problems and the concerns of Virginia Tech police and educators
about these problems, they would again have
become involved in seeking treatment. The
people treating and evaluating Cho would
likely have learned something (but not all) of
his prior mental health history and would
have obtained a great deal of information
germane to their evaluation and treatment of
him. There is no evidence that officials at Virginia Tech consciously decided not to inform
Cho's parents of his behavior; regardless of
intent, however, they did not do so. The example demonstrates why it may be unwise for
an institution to adopt a policy barring release
of information to parents.
information regarding a commitment hearing (the
time, date, and location of the hearing and the
name of the subject) is publicly available even
when a person requests that records remain confidential. This information is necessary to protect
the public’s ability to attend commitment hearings.
V-7 The national higher education associations should develop best practice protocols
and associated training for information
sharing. Among the associations that should
provide guidance to the member institutions are:
American Council on Education (ACE)
American Association of State Colleges
and Universities (AASCU)
American Association of Community Colleges (AACE)
National Association of State and Land
Grant Universities and Colleges
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)
Association of American Universities
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
The shootings of April 16, 2007, have forced
all concerned organizations and individuals to
reevaluate the best approach for handling
troubled students. Some educational institutions in Virginia have taken the opportunity
to examine the difficult choices involved in
attempts to share necessary information while
still protecting privacy. Effort should be made
to identify the best practices used by these
schools and to ensure that these best practices
are widely taught. All organizations and individuals should be urged to employ their discretion in appropriate ways, consistent with
the best practices. Armed with accurate guidance, amended laws, and a new sense of direction, it is an ideal time to establish best practices for intervening in the life of troubled
If the changes recommended above are implemented, it is possible that no further changes to
privacy laws would be necessary, but guidance on
their interpretation will be needed. The unknown
variable is how entities will choose to exercise
their discretion when the law gives them a choice
on whether to share or withhold information. How
an institution uses its discretion can be critically
important to whether it is effectively able to
intervene in the life of a troubled student. For
example, FERPA currently allows schools to
release information in their records to parents
who claim students as dependents. Schools are
not, however, required to release that information.
Yet, if a university adopts a policy against release
to parents, it cuts off a vital source of information.
Chapter VI
On March 22, 2007, shortly after purchasing the
Glock, Cho went to PSS Range and Training, an
indoor pistol range in Roanoke. Cho practiced
shooting for about an hour.
n investigating the role firearms played in the
events of April 16, 2007, the panel encountered strong feelings and heated debate from the
public. The panel's investigation focused on two
areas: Cho's purchase of firearms and ammunition, and campus policies toward firearms. The
panel recognizes the deep divisions in American
society regarding the ready availability of rapid
fire weapons and high capacity magazines, but
this issue was beyond the scope of this review.
Cho was not legally authorized to purchase his
firearms, but was easily able to do so. Gun purchasers in Virginia must qualify to buy a firearm
under both federal and state law. Federal law
disqualified Cho from purchasing or possessing a
firearm. The federal Gun Control Act, originally
passed in 1968, prohibits gun purchases by anyone who has “has been adjudicated as a mental
defective or who has been committed to a mental
institution.” Federal regulations interpreting
the act define “adjudicated as a mental defective”
as “[a] determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a
result of …mental illness …[i]s a danger to him3
self or to others.” Cho was found to be a danger
to himself by a special justice of the Montgomery
County General District Court on December 14,
2005. Therefore, under federal law, Cho could
not purchase any firearm.
very person killed at Cho's hands on April
16 was shot with one of two firearms, a
Glock 19 9mm pistol or a Walther P22 .22 caliber
pistol. Both weapons are semiautomatic, which
meant that once loaded, they fire a round with
each pull of the trigger, rather than being able to
fire continuously by holding the trigger down.
Cho purchased the Walther P22 first—by placing
an online order with the TGSCOM, Inc., a company that sells firearms over the Internet. Cho
then picked up the pistol on February 9, 2007, at
J-N-D Pawn-brokers in Blacksburg, which is
located just across Main Street from the Virginia
Tech campus.
The legal status of Cho's gun purchase under
Virginia law is less clear. Like federal law,
Virginia law also prohibits persons who have
been adjudged incompetent or committed to
mental institutions from purchasing firearms.
However, Virginia law defines the terms differently. It defines incompetency by referring to the
section of Virginia Code for declaring a person
incapable of caring for himself or herself. It does
not specify that a person who had been found to
be a danger to self or others is “incompetent.”
Because he had not been declared unable to care
for himself, it does not appear that Cho was disqualified under this provision of Virginia law.
Cho purchased the Glock a month later, on
March 13, from Roanoke Firearms in Roanoke.
Virginia law limits handgun purchases to one
every 30 days, which he may have known judg1
ing by this spacing. Cho made his purchases
using a credit card. Although his parents gave
him money to pay for his expenses, they said
they did not receive his credit card bills and did
not know what he purchased. They stated that
the only time they received an actual billing
statement was after his death, and at that point
the total bill was over $3,000.
Va. Code § 18.1-308.2:2(P)
18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4)
27 C.F.R. § 478.11
Va. Code §§ 18.2-308.1:2 and 3
Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:2, citing Va. Code 37.2-1000 et seq.
Virginia law also prohibits “any person who has
been involuntarily committed pursuant to Article
5 (§ 37.2-814 et seq.) of Chapter 8 of Title 37.2”
from purchasing or possessing a firearm. This
section authorizes a court to order either inpatient or outpatient treatment. When a person
is ordered into a hospital, the law is relatively
straightforward—the person has been “involuntarily committed.” What is not clear from the
statute, however, is whether a person such as
Cho, who was found to be a danger to self or
others and ordered to receive outpatient treatment, qualifies as being involuntarily committed.
Among the mental health community, “involuntary outpatient commitment” is a recognized
term for an order for outpatient treatment. In
practical terms, a person who is found to be an
imminent danger to self or others and ordered
into outpatient treatment is little different than
one ordered into inpatient treatment. However,
the statute does not make clear whether outpatient treatment is covered. Thus, Cho's right to
purchase firearms under Virginia law was not
This uncertainty in Virginia law carries over into
the system for conducting a firearms background
check. In general, nationally, before purchasing a
gun from a dealer a person must go through a
background check. A government agency runs
the name of the potential buyer through the
databases of people who are disqualified from
purchasing guns. If the potential purchaser is in
the database, the transaction is stopped. If not,
the dealer is instructed to proceed with the sale.
The agency performing the check varies by state.
Some states rely on the federal government to
conduct the checks. In others, the state and the
federal government both do checks. In yet other
states, such as Virginia, the state conducts the
check of both federal and state databases. In
Virginia the task is given to the state police.
Because purchasers have to be eligible under
both state and federal law, potential buyers in
Virginia have to fill out two forms: the federal
“Firearms Transaction Record” (ATF 4473) and
the Virginia Firearms Transaction Record (SP
65.) (Copies of the forms are provided in Appendix I.) The forms collect basic information about
the potential buyer, such as name, age, and
social security number. Each form also asks
questions to determine whether a buyer is eligible to purchase a weapon. Form 4473 asks 11
questions, such as whether the buyer has been
convicted of a felony. SP 65 contains questions
and information regarding Virginia law, such as
whether restraining orders were issued that disqualify purchasers. Firearms dealers initiate the
background check by transmitting information
from the forms to the state police’s Firearms
Transaction Program.
Certain firearms transfers do not require background checks at all. Virginia law does not
require background checks for personal gifts or
sales by private collectors, including transactions
by collectors that occur at gun shows.
In Virginia, the Central Criminal Records
Exchange (CCRE), a division of the state police,
is tasked with gathering criminal records and
other court information that is used for the background checks. Information on mental health
commitment orders “for involuntary admission to
a facility” is supposed to be sent to the CCRE by
court clerks, who must send all copies of the orders along with a copy of form SP 237 that provides basic information about the person who is
the subject of the order. As currently drafted,
the law only requires a clerk to certify a form,
and does not specify who should complete the
form. Because of the lack of clarity, it was
reported to the panel that clerks in some jurisdictions do not send the information unless they
receive a completed form. Recommendations to
improve this aspect of the law were given in
Chapter IV.
The meaning of the term “admission to a facility”
is less clear than it might seem. The law appears
on an initial reading to only include orders
requiring a person to receive inpatient care. This
reading seems to have support from the Virginia
Va. Code § 18.2-308.1:3
Va. Code § 37.2-819
involuntary commitment statute. That law uses
“admission to a facility” when describing in8
patient treatment, not outpatient treatment.
But the law is actually more complex. Laws
about mental health commitment and sending
orders to CCRE all appear in Title 37.2 of the
Virginia Code. The definitions for that title state
that facility “means a state or licensed hospital,
training center, psychiatric hospital, or other
type of residential or outpatient mental health or
mental retardation facility.” So while the most
obvious reading of the law is that only inpatient
orders should be sent to CCRE, the actual
requirement is unclear.
The FBI indicated in a press release dated April
19, 2007, that just 22 states reported any mental
health information to the federal database.
Ironically, the FBI cited Virginia as the state
that provided the most information on people
disqualified due to mental deficiency.10
In the days following the killings at Virginia
Tech, Governor Kaine moved to clarify the law
regarding inclusion of outpatient treatment into
the database. Executive Order 50 now requires
executive branch employees, including the state
police, to collect information on outpatient orders
and to treat such orders as disqualifications to
owning a firearm. The state police revised SP
237 to ensure that they receive information
regarding out-patient orders. Copies of the older
and revised versions of SP 237 are presented in
Appendix J. As previously discussed in Chapter
IV, the panel recommends that the General
Assembly clarify the relevant laws in this regard
to permanently reflect the interpretation of
Executive Order 50.
At the time Cho purchased his weapons, the general understanding was that only inpatient
orders had to be sent to CCRE. Probably due to
this understanding, the special justice’s December 14, 2005, order finding Cho to be a danger to
himself was not reported to the firearms background check system. Although the law may
have been ambiguous, the checking process was
not. Either you are or are not in the database
when a gun purchase request form is submitted,
and Cho was not.
It is not clear whether Cho knew that he was
prohibited from purchasing firearms. ATF 4473
asks each potential purchaser “[h]ave you ever
been adjudicated mentally defective (which
includes having been adjudicated incompetent to
manage your own affairs) or have you ever been
committed to a mental institution?” The state
and federal forms that Cho filled out are currently held by the Virginia state police in their
case investigation file, but were destroyed in the
CCRE file, as required after 30 days. The state
police did not permit the panel to view copies of
the forms in their investigation file but indicated
that Cho answered “no” to this question on both
forms. It is impossible to know whether Cho
understood that the proper response was “yes”
and whether his answers were mistakes or deliberate falsifications. In any event, the fact
remains that Cho, a person disqualified from
purchasing firearms, was readily able to obtain
There does not seem to have been an appreciation in setting up this process that the federal
mental health standards were different than
those of the state or that the practice deprived
the federal database of information it needed in
order to make the system effective. Thus on February 9 and March 13, 2007, Cho, a person disqualified under federal law from purchasing a
firearm, walked into two licensed firearms dealers. He filled out the required forms. The dealers
entered his information into the background
check system. Both checks told the dealers to
proceed with the transaction. Minutes after both
checks, Cho left the stores in possession of semiautomatic pistols.
Va. Code § 37.2-817. Paragraph B describes inpatient
orders and uses the term “admitted to a facility”; paragraph
C authorizes outpatient commitment but does not use the
term “admitted to a facility.”
Va. Code. § 37.2-100
The panel notes that the federal law terminology referring
to mentally ill persons as “mentally defective” is outmoded
based on current medical and societal understanding of mental health.
ho purchased ammunition on several occasions in the weeks and months leading up to
the shootings. On March 13, 2007, he purchased
a $10 box of practice ammunition from Roanoke
Firearms at the same time he bought his Glock
9mm pistol. On March 22 and 23, he purchased a
total of five 10-round magazines for the Walther
on the Internet auction site eBay. In addition,
Cho purchased several 15-round magazines
along with ammunition and a hunting knife on
March 31 and April 1 at local Wal-Mart and
Dick's Sporting Goods stores. With these magazines loaded, Cho would be able to fire 15 rounds,
eject the magazine, and load a fresh one in a
matter a moments. By the time he walked into
Norris Hall, Cho had almost 400 bullets in magazines and loose ammunition.
Federal law prohibited Cho from purchasing
ammunition. Just as it prohibits anyone from
purchasing a gun who has been found to be a
danger to self or others, it prohibits the same
individuals from buying ammunition. However,
unlike firearms, there is no background check
associated with purchasing ammunition. Neither
does Virginia law place any restrictions on who
can purchase ammunition. It does prohibit the
use of some types of ammunition while committing a crime, but does not regulate the purchase
of such ammunition. Cho did not use any special types of ammunition that are restricted by
The panel also considered whether the previous
federal Assault Weapons Act of 1994 that banned
15-round magazines would have made a difference in the April 16 incidents. The law lapsed
after 10 years, in October 2004, and had banned
clips or magazines with over 10 rounds. The
panel concluded that 10-round magazines that
were legal would have not made much difference
in the incident. Even pistols with rapid loaders
could have been about as deadly in this situation.
18 U.S.C § 922(d)(4)
Va. Code § 18.2-308.3
irginia Tech has one of the tougher policy
constraints of possessing guns on campus
among schools in Virginia. However, there are no
searches of bags or use of magnetometers on
campus like there are in government offices or
airports. Cho carried his weapons in violation of
university rules, and probably knew that it was
extremely unlikely that anyone would stop him
to check his bag. He looked like many others.
Virginia universities and colleges do not seem to
be adequately versed in what they can do about
banning guns on campus under existing interpretations of state laws. The governing board of
colleges and universities can set policies on carrying guns. Some said their understanding is
that they must allow anyone with a permit to
carry a concealed weapon on campus. Others
said they thought guns can be banned from
buildings but not the grounds of the institution.
Several major universities reported difficulty
understanding the rules based on their lawyers’
interpretation. Most believe they can set rules
for students and staff but not the general public.
Virginia Tech, with approval of the state Attorney General’s Office, had banned guns from campus altogether.
This issue came to a head at one of the panel’s
public meetings held at George Mason University. It was known that many advocates of the
right to carry concealed weapons on campus were
planning to attend the meeting carrying weapons
to make a point. GMU did not know they could
have established a policy to stop the weapons
from being carried into their buildings.
The Virginia Tech total gun ban policy was instituted a few years ago when it was accidentally
discovered that a student playing the role of a
patient in a first aid drill was carrying a concealed weapon. That student, now a Virginia
Tech graduate with a master’s degree in engineering, stated to the panel that he started carrying a weapon after witnessing assaults and
hearing about other crimes on the Virginia Tech
campus. He and other students told the panel
Campus police chiefs in Virginia and many chieflevel officers in the New York City region who
were interviewed voiced concern that as the
number of weapons on campuses increase, sooner
or later there would be accidents or assaults
from people who are intoxicated or on drugs who
either have a gun or interact with someone who
does. They argued that having more guns on
campus poses a risk of leading to a greater number of accidental and intentional shootings than
it does in averting some of the relatively rare
homicides. (See Appendix K for an article about
the recent discharge of a gun by someone intoxicated in a fraternity house. Although a benign
incident, it illustrates the concern.)
that they felt it was safer for responsible people
to be armed so they could fight back in exactly
the type of situation that occurred on April 16.
They might have been able to shoot back and
protect themselves and others from being injured
or killed by Cho. The guns-on-campus advocates
cited statistics that overall there are fewer killings in environments where people can carry
weapons for self-defense. Of course if numerous
people had been rushing around with handguns
outside Norris Hall on the morning of April 16,
the possibility of accidental or mistaken shootings would have increased significantly. The
campus police said that the probability would
have been high that anyone emerging from a
classroom at Norris Hall holding a gun would
have been shot.
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
stress 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.
Data on the effect of carrying guns on campus
are incomplete and inconclusive. The panel is
unaware of any shootings on campus involving
people carrying concealed weapons with permits
to do so. Likewise, the panel knows of no case in
which a shooter in campus homicides has been
shot or scared off by a student or faculty member
with a weapon. Written articles about a campus
shooting rarely if ever comment on permits for
concealed weapons, so this has been difficult to
research. It may have happened, but the numbers of shootings on campuses are relatively
few—about 16 a year at approximately 4,000 colleges and universities, according to the U.S.
Department of Education Campus Crime Statistics for 2002–2004. It could be argued that if
more people carried weapons with permits, the
few cases of shootings on campus might be
reduced further.
ho was able to purchase guns and ammunition from two registered gun dealers with no
problem, despite his mental history.
Cho was able to kill 31 people including himself
at Norris Hall in about 10 minutes with the
semiautomatic handguns at his disposal. Having
the ammunition in large capacity magazines
facilitated his killing spree.
On the other hand, some students said in their
remarks to the panel that they would be uncomfortable going to class with armed students sitting near them or with the professor having a
gun. People may get angry even if they are sane,
law-abiding citizens; for example, a number of
police officers are arrested each year for assaults
with weapons they carry off duty, as attested to
by stories in daily newspapers and other media.
There is confusion on the part of universities as
to what their rights are for setting policy regarding guns on campus.
does not appear on their records, and they are
free to purchase guns. Some highly respected
people knowledgeable about the interaction of
mentally ill people with the mental health system are strongly opposed to requiring voluntary
treatment to be entered on the record and be
sent to a state database. Their concern is that it
might reduce the incentive to seek treatment
voluntarily, which has many advantages to the
individuals (e.g., less time in hospital, less
stigma, less cost) and to the legal and medical
personnel involved (e.g., less time, less paperwork, less cost). However, there still are powerful
incentives to take the voluntary path, such as a
shorter stay in a hospital and not having a record of mandatory treatment. It does not seem
logical to the panel to allow someone found to be
dangerous to be able to purchase a firearm.
VI-1 All states should report information
necessary to conduct federal background
checks on gun purchases. There should be
federal incentives to ensure compliance. This
should apply to states whose requirements are
different from federal law. States should become
fully compliant with federal law that disqualifies
persons from purchasing or possessing firearms
who have been found by a court or other lawful
authority to be a danger to themselves or others
as a result of mental illness. Reporting of such
information should include not just those who
are disqualified because they have been found to
be dangerous, but all other categories of disqualification as well. In a society divided on many gun
control issues, laws that specify who is prohibited from owning a firearm stand as examples of
broad agreement and should be enforced.
VI-4 The existing attorney general’s opinion
regarding the authority of universities and
colleges to ban guns on campus should be
clarified immediately. The universities in Virginia have received or developed various interpretations of the law. The Commonwealth’s attorney general has provided some guidance to
universities, but additional clarity is needed
from the attorney general or from state legislation regarding guns at universities and colleges.
VI-2 Virginia should require background
checks for all firearms sales, including
those at gun shows. In an age of widespread
information technology, it should not be too difficult for anyone, including private sellers, to contact the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program
for a background check that usually only takes
minutes before transferring a firearm. The program already processes transactions made by
registered dealers at gun shows. The practice
should be expanded to all sales. Virginia should
also provide an enhanced penalty for guns sold
without a background check and later used in a
VI-3 Anyone found to be a danger to themselves or others by a court-ordered review
should be entered in the Central Criminal
Records Exchange database regardless of
whether they voluntarily agreed to treatment. Some people examined for a mental illness
and found to be a potential threat to themselves
or others are given the choice of agreeing to mental treatment voluntarily to avoid being ordered
by the courts to be treated involuntarily. That
VI-5 The Virginia General Assembly should
adopt legislation in the 2008 session clearly
establishing the right of every institution of
higher education in the Commonwealth to
regulate the possession of firearms on campus if it so desires. The panel recommends that
guns be banned on campus grounds and in buildings unless mandated by law.
VI-6 Universities and colleges should make
clear in their literature what their policy is
regarding weapons on campus. Prospective
students and their parents, as well as university
staff, should know the policy related to concealed
weapons so they can decide whether they prefer
an armed or arms-free learning environment.
Chapter VII
his chapter discusses the double homicide at
West Ambler Johnston (WAJ) residence hall
and the police and university actions taken in
response. It covers the events up to the shootings
in Norris Hall, which are presented in the next
ho left his dormitory early in the morning of
April 16, 2007 and went to the WAJ, about a
2-minute walk. He was seen outside WAJ by a
student about 6:45 a.m. Figure 3 shows the exterior of WAJ and Figure 4, a typical hallway
inside WAJ.
Figure 4. Hallway Outside Dorm Rooms in
West Ambler Johnston
She had just returned with her boyfriend, a student at Radford University who lived in Blacksburg. He drove her back to her dorm, saw her
enter, and drove away. She entered at 7:02 a.m.,
based on swipe card records, which also showed
that she used a different entrance than Cho did.
Although it is known that Cho previously stalked
female students, including one in WAJ on her
floor, the police have found no connection
between Cho and Hilscher from any written
materials, dorm mates, other friends of his or
hers, or any other source.
Figure 3. Exterior of West Ambler Johnston
Because Cho’s student mailbox was located in
the lobby of WAJ, he had access to that dormitory with his pass card, but only after 7:30 a.m.
Cho somehow gained entrance to the dormitory,
possibly when a student coming out let him in or
by tailgating someone going in. (No one remembers having done so, or admits it.)
As of this writing, the police still had found no
motive for the slaying.
Cho went to the fourth floor by either stairway or
elevator to the room of student Emily Hilscher.
Figure 5. Typical Dorm Room in Ambler Johnston Hall
Not long after 7:15 a.m., noises emanating from
Hilscher’s room were loud enough and of such a
disturbing nature that resident advisor Ryan
Clark, who lived next door, checked to see what
was happening. The presumption is that he
came to investigate, saw Cho, and was killed to
stop any interference with the shooter and his
identification. Both Hilscher and Clark were
shot by Cho at close range. (Figure 5 shows a
typical dorm room in WAJ.)
she received care, and then transferred to
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital where she
died. Clark was treated en route to Montgomery
Regional Hospital, but could not be resuscitated
by the emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
and was pronounced dead shortly after arrival
at the hospital. Their wounds were considered
nonsurvivable at the time and in retrospect.
In the meantime, Cho somehow exited the building. No one reported seeing him leaving, according to police interviews of people in the dorm at
the time. His clothes and shoes were bloodied,
and he left bloody footprints in and coming out
of the room. His clothes were found later in his
room. Students were getting ready for 8:00 a.m.
classes, but no one reported seeing Cho. Figure
6 shows the door to Hilscher’s dorm room, with
a peephole typical of others on that floor.
The sounds of the shots or bodies falling were
misinterpreted by nearby students as possibly
someone falling out of a loft bed, which had
happened before. A student in a nearby room
called the Virginia Tech Police Department
(VTPD), which dispatched a police officer and an
emergency medical service (EMS) team—
standard protocol for this type of call. The police
received the call at 7:20 a.m. and arrived outside at 7:24 a.m. (an EMS response under 5
minutes for dispatch plus travel time is better
than average, even in a city). The EMS team
arrived on scene at 7:26 and at the dorm room
at 7:29. As soon as the police officer arrived and
saw the gunshot wounds, he called for additional police assistance. Hilscher was transported to Montgomery Regional Hospital where
When Chief Wendell Flinchum of the VTPD
learned of the incident at 7:40 a.m., he called for
additional resources from the Blacksburg Police
Department (BPD). A detective for investigation
and an evidence technician headed for the
scene. Chief Flinchum notified the office of the
executive vice president at 7:57 a.m., after obtaining more information on what was found.
Immediately after they arrived, police started
interviewing students in the rooms near
Hilscher’s room, and essentially locked down the
building, with police inside and outside. (The
This is based on data from 150 TriData studies of fire and
EMS departments over 25 years. The National Fire Protection Association standard calls for a fire or EMS response in
5 minutes (1 minute turnout time, 4 minutes travel time) in
90 percent of calls, but few agencies meet that objective.
truck and searched for it in the campus parking
lots but could not find it. This implied that the
only known person of interest had likely left the
campus. There were no other leads at that time.
The police had no evidence other than shell casings in the room, the footprints, and the victims.
The VTPD police chief said that this murder
might have taken a long time to solve, if ever,
for lack of evidence and witnesses. After the
second incident occurred, the gun was identified
by ATF as having been the same one used in the
first shooting, but that was hindsight. If Cho
had stopped after the first two shootings, he
might well have never been caught.
At this point, the police may have made an error
in reaching a premature conclusion that their
initial lead was a good one, or at least in conveying that impression to the Virginia Tech
administration. While continuing their investigation, they did not take sufficient action to deal
with what might happen if the initial lead
proved false. They conveyed to the university
Policy Group that they had a good lead and that
the person of interest was probably not on campus. (That is how the Policy Group understood
it, according to its chair and other members who
were interviewed by the panel and who presented information at one of its open hearings.)
After two people were shot dead, police needed
to consider the possibility of a murderer loose on
campus who did a double slaying for unknown
reasons, even though a domestic disturbance
was a likely possibility. The police did not urge
the Policy Group to take precautions, as best
can be understood from the panel’s interviews.
Figure 6. Emily Hilscher’s Door With Peephole
exterior dorm doors were still locked from the
usual nighttime routine.) A female friend of
Hilscher came to the dorm to accompany her to
class, as was their common practice, and she
was immediately questioned by the police. She
reported that Hilscher had been visiting her
boyfriend, knew of no problems between them,
and that Hilscher’s boyfriend owned a gun and
had been practicing on a target range with it.
She knew his name and the description of his
vehicle and that he usually drove her back to
the dorm. The boyfriend was immediately con2
sidered a “person of interest.” Because he had
been the last known person to see her before the
shooting, he was the natural starting point for
an investigation. No one had seen him drop her
off. (The fact that he had dropped her off was
established more than an hour later, after he
was questioned.) The police then sent out a
BOLO (be on the lookout) alert for his pickup
It was reasonable albeit wrong that the VTPD
thought this double murder was most likely the
result of a domestic argument , given the facts
they had initially, including the knowledge that
the last person known to have been with the
female victim was her boyfriend who owned a
gun and cared greatly for her, according to
police interviews, plus the fact that she was shot
“Person of interest” means someone who might be a suspect or might have relevant information about a crime.
an interview with President Steger, members of
the panel were told that the police reports to the
Policy Group first described a possible “murder–
suicide” and then a “domestic dispute,” and that
the police had identified a suspect. After the
area parking lots had been searched, the police
reported the suspect probably had left the campus.
with a young man in her room under the circumstances found.
There are very few murders each year on campuses—an average of about 16 across 4,000 universities and colleges, as previously noted. The
only college campus mass murder in the United
States in the past 40 years was the University
of Texas tower sniper attack, though there have
been occasional multiple murders. Based on
past history, the probability of more shootings
following a dormitory slaying was very low. The
panel researched reports of multiple shootings
on campuses for the past 40 years, and no scenario was found in which the first murder was
followed by a second elsewhere on campus. (See
Appendix L for a summary of the multiple
criminal shootings on campus.) The VTPD had
the probabilities correct, but needed to consider
the low-probability side as well as the most
likely situation.
The police did not tell the Policy Group that
there was a chance the gunman was loose on
campus or advise the university of any immediate action that should be taken such as canceling classes or closing the university. Also, the
police did not give any direction as to an emergency message to be sent to the students. The
police were very busy at WAJ investigating
what had happened, gathering evidence, and
managing the scene. They were conveying information by phone to the Policy Group at this
point. Not until 9:25 a.m. did the police have a
representative sitting with the Policy Group, a
police captain.
Both the VTPD and the BPD immediately put
their emergency response teams (ERTs) (i.e.,
SWAT teams) on alert and staged them at locations from which they could respond rapidly to
the campus or city. They also had police on
campus looking for the gunman while they pursued the boyfriend. The ERTs were staged
mainly in case they had to make an arrest of the
gunman or serve search warrants on the shooting suspect.
The VTPD has the authority under the Emergency Response Plan and its interpretation in
practice to request that an emergency message
be sent, but as related in Chapter II, the police
did not have the capability to send a message
themselves. That capability was in the hands of
the associate vice president for University
Affairs and one other official. As stated earlier,
the VTPD is not a member of the Policy Group
but is often invited to attend Policy Group meetings dealing with the handling of emergencies.
One of the factors prominent in the minds of the
Policy Group, according to the university president and others who were present that day, was
the experience gained the previous August when
a convict named William Morva escaped from a
nearby prison and killed a law enforcement officer and a guard at a local hospital. Police
reported he might be on the VT campus. The
campus administration issued an alert that a
murderer was on the loose in the vicinity of the
campus. Then a female employee of the bank in
the Squires Student Activities Center reportedly
called her mother on a cell phone, and the
he VTPD chief and BPD chief both
responded to the murder scene in minutes.
Chief Flinchum of the VTPD arrived at 8:00
a.m. and Chief Crannis of the BPD arrived at
8:13 a.m. As noted above, the VTPD chief had
notified the university administration of the
shootings at 7:57 a.m., just before he arrived at
the scene.
Once informed, the university president almost
immediately convened the emergency Policy
Group to decide how to respond, including how
and when to notify the university community. In
Hall Boardroom and Dr. Steger convened
the meeting. I learned subsequently that as
he awaited the arrival of other group members, President Steger had been in regular
communication with the police, had given
direction to have the governor's office notified of the shooting, and had called the
head of University Relations to his office to
begin planning to activate the emergency
communication systems.
mother incorrectly inferred that people were
being held hostage in the student center. The
mother called the police, who responded with a
SWAT team. News photos of the event show
students rushing out of the building with their
hands up while police with drawn automatic
weapons and bulletproof vests were charging
into the building, a potentially dangerous situation. It was a false alarm. Morva was captured
off campus, but this situation was fresh in the
minds of the Policy Group as it met to decide
what to do on the report of the double homicide
at WAJ. It is questionable whether there was
any panic among the students in the Morva
incident, as some reports had it, and how dangerous that situation really was, but the Policy
Group remembered it as a highly charged and
dangerous situation. In the eyes of the Policy
Group, including the university president, a
dangerous situation had been created by their
warning in that August 2006 event coupled with
the subsequent spread of rumors and misinformation. The Policy Group did not want to cause
a repeat of that situation if the police had a suspect and he was thought to be off campus.
When he convened the meeting, President
Steger informed the Policy Group that
Virginia Tech police had received a call at
approximately 7:20 a.m. on April 16, 2007,
to investigate an incident in a residence
hall room in West Ambler Johnston.
Within minutes of the call, Virginia Tech
police and Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
members responded to find two gunshot
victims, a male and a female, inside a room
in the residence hall. Information continued to be received through frequent telephone conversations with Virginia Tech
police on the scene. The Policy Group was
informed that the residence hall was being
secured by Virginia Tech police, and students within the hall were notified and
asked to remain in their rooms for their
safety. We were further informed that the
room containing the gunshot victims was
immediately secured for evidence collection, and Virginia Tech police began questioning hall residents and identifying
potential witnesses. In the preliminary
stages of the investigation, it appeared to
be an isolated incident, possibly domestic
in nature. The Policy Group learned that
Blacksburg police and Virginia state police
had been notified and were also on the
Even with the police conveying the impression
to campus authorities that the probable perpetrator of the dormitory killings had left campus
and with the recent past history of the “panic”
caused by the alert 9 months earlier, the university Policy Group still made a questionable
decision. They sent out a carefully worded alert
an hour and half after they heard that there
was a double homicide, which was now more
than 2 hours after the event.
The Policy Group was further informed by
the police that they were following up on
leads concerning a person of interest in
relation to the shooting. During this 30minute period of time between 8:30 and
9:00 a.m., the Policy Group processed the
factual information it had in the context of
many questions we asked ourselves. For
instance, what information do we release
without causing a panic? We learned from
the Morva incident last August that speculation and misinformation spread by individuals who do not have the facts cause
panic. Do we confine the information to
students in West Ambler Johnston since
Vice Provost of Student Affairs David Ford presented a statement to the panel on May 21,
2007. He was a member of the university Policy
Group that made the decisions on what to do
after hearing about the shootings.
Shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Monday, April
16, I was informed that there had been a
shooting in West Ambler Johnston hall and
that President Steger was assembling the
Policy Group immediately. By approximately 8:30 a.m., I and the other members
of the group had arrived at the Burruss
the information we had focused on a single
incident in that building? Beyond the two
gunshot victims found by police, was there
a possibility that another person might be
involved (i.e., a shooter), and if so, where is
that person, what does that person look
like, and is that person armed? At that
time of the morning, when thousands are
in transit, what is the most effective and
efficient way to convey the information to
all faculty, staff, and students? If we
decided to close the campus at that point,
what would be the most effective process
given the openness of a campus the size of
Virginia Tech? How much time do we have
until the next class change?
ulty saw the alert before the second event but
many, if not most, did not see it, nor did most in
Norris Hall classes. Those who had 9:05 a.m.
classes were already in them and would not
have seen the message unless checking their
computers, phone, or Blackberries in class. If
the message had gone out earlier, between 8:00
and 8:30 a.m., more people would have received
it before leaving for their 9:05 a.m. classes. If an
audible alert had been sounded, even more
might have tuned in to check for an emergency
Few anywhere on campus seemed to have acted
on the initial warning messages; no classes were
canceled, and there was no unusual absenteeism. When the Norris Hall shooting started, few
connected it to the first message.
And so with the information the Policy
Group had at approximately 9 a.m., we
drafted and edited a communication to be
released to the university community via
e-mail and to be placed on the university
web site. We made the best decision we
could based upon the information we had
at the time. Shortly before 9:30 a.m., the
Virginia Tech community—faculty, staff,
and students—were notified by e-mail as
The university body was not put on high alert
by the actions of the university administration
and was largely taken by surprise by the events
that followed. Warning the students, faculty,
and staff might have made a difference. Putting
more people on guard could have resulted in
quicker recognition of a problem or suspicious
activity, quicker reporting to police, and quicker
response of police. Nearly everyone at Virginia
Tech is adult and capable of making decisions
about potentially dangerous situations to safeguard themselves. So the earlier and clearer the
warning, the more chance an individual had of
"A shooting incident occurred at West
Ambler Johnston earlier this morning.
Police are on the scene and are investigating. The university community is urged to
be cautious and are asked to contact
Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything
suspicious or with information on the case.
Contact Virginia Tech Police at 231–6411.
Stay tuned to the We will post
as soon as we have more information”
The Virginia Tech Emergency/Weather
Line recordings were also transmitted and
a broadcast telephone message was made
to campus phones. The Policy Group
remained in session in order to receive
additional updates about the West Ambler
Johnston case and to consider further
actions if appropriate.
any people have raised the question of
whether the university should have been
locked down. One needs to analyze the feasibility of doing this for a campus of 35,000 people,
and what the results would have been even if
feasible. Most police chiefs consulted in this
review believe that a lockdown was not feasible.
No mention was made in the initial message
sent to the students and staff of a double murder, just a shooting, which might have implied
firing a gun and injuries, possibly accidental,
rather than two murdered. Students and faculty
were advised to be alert. The message went out
to e-mails and phones. Some students and fac-
When a murder takes place in a city of 35,000
population, the entire city is virtually never
shut down. At most, some in the vicinity of the
shooting might be alerted if it is thought that
A message could theoretically be sent to all
buildings on campus to lock their doors, but
there was no efficient way to do this at Virginia
Tech. It would have required calls or e-mails to
individuals who had the ability to lock the doors
for at least 131 buildings or sending people on
foot to each building. E-mails might have been
used, but one could not be sure they would be
read promptly. Even if people in the buildings
received a message by phone or e-mail, the university had no way of knowing who received the
message without follow up calls or requesting
returned responses to the calls and e-mails. The
process was complicated and would have taken
considerable time.
the shooter is in the neighborhood. People might
be advised by news broadcast or bullhorns to
stay inside. A few blocks might be cordoned off,
but not a city of 35,000. A university, however,
in some ways has more control than does the
mayor or police of a city, so the analogy to a city
is not entirely fitting. The university is also considered by many as playing a role in loco
parentis for at least some of its students, even
those who are legally adults, a view shared by
several victims’ families.
President Steger noted that closing the university in an emergency presents another problem,
traffic congestion. In the Morva incident, when
the school was closed, it took over an hour and a
half for the traffic to clear despite trying to
stage the evacuation. Numerous people also
stood waiting for buses. Those evacuating were
very vulnerable in their cars and at bus stops.
Some university campuses, mostly urban ones,
have guards at every entrance to their buildings. Virginia Tech does not. It would take approximately 450–500 guards to post one at all
entrances of all major buildings on the VT cam3
pus. The VTPD at full strength has 41 officers,
of which only 14 are on-duty at 8:00 a.m. on a
weekday, 5 on patrol and 9 in the office including the chief. It is unlikely all VT buildings
could be guarded or closed within 1–2 hours after the first shooting.
Some people suggested that the university
should have closed out of respect for the two
students who were killed. However, the general
practice at most large universities is not to close
when a student dies, regardless of the cause
(suicide, homicide, traffic accident, overdose,
etc.). Universities and colleges need to make
that decision based on individual criteria.
Closing all of the roads into the school would
also be a problem. The large campus includes 16
vehicle entrances separated in some cases by a
mile from each other. More police can be
brought in from Blacksburg and other areas.
Without a clear emergency, however, it is inconceivable that large numbers of police would rush
to the campus, leaving non-campus areas at risk
from the same gunman and all other crimes
when it was not expected to be more than an
isolated incident.
Feasibility – A building can be locked down in
the sense of locking the exterior doors, barring
anyone from coming or going. Elementary
schools practice that regularly, and so do some
intermediate and high schools. At least some
schools in Blacksburg were locked down for a
while after the first shootings. Usually, a lockdown also implies locking individual classrooms.
Virginia Tech does not have locks on the inside
of classroom doors, as is the case for most universities and many high schools.
There are no barriers to pedestrians walking
across lawns into the campus. It would have
taken hundreds of police, National Guard
troops, or others to truly close down the campus,
and they could not have arrived in time.
The analogy to elementary or high schools, however, is not very useful. The threat in elementary schools usually is not from students, the
classrooms have locks, they have voice communication systems to teachers and students, and
the people at risk are in one building, not 131
buildings. High schools usually have one building and some of the other characteristics too.
There are about 30 dorm-type buildings with an average of
about two entrances each, and 100 classroom/administration
buildings with an average of about four entrances each, for
an estimated total of about 460.
was sent to the university community, and able
to go anywhere that students were allowed to
go. He would have received an alert, too.
Messages might have been prioritized to reach
the buildings with the most people and to guard
them first, but it still was impractical and not
seriously considered. All police with whom the
panel consulted felt that a lockdown for a campus like Virginia Tech was not feasible on the
morning of April 16.
It might be argued that the total toll would have
been less if the university had canceled classes
and announced it was closed for business immediately after the first shooting; or if the earlier
alert message had been stronger and clearer.
Even with the messaging system that was in
place on April 16, many could have received
messages before they left for class by e-mail or
phone before 9 a.m., and the message probably
would have quickly spread mouth to mouth as
well. Even if it only partially reduced the university population on campus, it might have
done some good. It is the panel’s judgment that,
all things considered, the toll could have been
reduced had these actions been taken. But none
of these measures would likely have averted a
mass shooting altogether. There is a possibility
that the additional measures would have dissuaded Cho from acting further, but he had already killed two people and sent a tape to NBC
that would arrive the following morning with all
but a confession. From what we know of his
mental state and commitment to action that
day, it was likely that he would have acted out
his fantasy somewhere on campus or outside it
that same day.
More feasible would have been canceling classes
and asking everyone to stay home or stay
indoors until an all-clear was given, although
even getting that message to everyone quickly
was problematical with the new emergency
alerting system not totally in place. Students
could have been asked to return to their dormitories or to housing off campus. However, many
might have gone to other public buildings on
campus unless those buildings also were
ordered to close. Canceling classes and getting a
message out to students off campus would have
stopped some from coming onto the campus. But
students still could congregate vulnerably in
dorms or other places.
Furthermore, the police and university did not
know whether the gunman was inside or outside
WAJ or other buildings. People not in buildings,
typically numbering in the thousands outdoors
on the campus at a given time, may seek refuge
in buildings in the face of an emergency. Without knowing where the gunman is, one might be
sending people into a building with the gunman,
or sending them outside where a gunman is
waiting. The shooters at the Jonesboro Middle
School massacre in Arkansas in 1998 planned to
create an alarm inside their school building and
get students and faculty to go outside where the
shooters were set up.
This was a single-shooter scenario; Columbine
High School had two shooters, and that scenario
was quite different. Emergency planners have to
anticipate various high-risk scenarios and how
to prepare for them. They must be aware that
what happens will rarely be just like the scenario planned for. The right thing for one scenario might be just the wrong thing to do for
another, such as whether to tell people to stay
inside buildings or get outside.
Cho, too, could have shot people in the open on
campus, after an alert went out, waiting for
them outside. Although he was armed with only
handguns, no one knew that at the time. The
Texas tower shooter sniped at people with a rifle
o continue the story of April 16, there was
not an event, a pause for 2 hours, and then
a second event. The notion that there was a 2hour gap as mentioned in some news stories and
by many who sent questions to the panel is a
Impact of Lockdown or Closedown – In this
event, the shooter was a member of the campus
community, an insider with a pass card to get
into his dorm, able to receive whatever message
proceeded to send out more alerts of the changing situation, but by then it was too late.
misconception. There was continuous action and
deliberations from the first event until the second, and they made a material difference in the
results of the second event.
Even after they realized he was not a likely suspect and had been traumatized by the news of
his girlfriend’s death, the police agencies
involved in stopping and questioning Emily
Hilscher’s boyfriend did not treat him sympathetically; he deserved better care.
Police Actions – The VTPD and the other law
enforcement agencies involved did a professional job in pursuing the investigation of the
WAJ incident with the one large and unfortunate exception of having conveyed the impression to the university administration that they
probably had a solid suspect who probably had
left the campus. These agencies did not know
that with certainty. A stronger patrol of the
campus and random checking of bags being carried might have found Cho carrying guns. Cho,
however, was one of tens of thousands of students on campus, did not stand out in appearance, and carried his weapons in a backpack
like many other backpacks. The police had no
clues pointing to anyone other than the boyfriend, and it would not have been reasonable to
expect them to be able to check what each person on campus was carrying.
Cho’s Next Actions – After shooting the two
students in WAJ, Cho went back to his own
dormitory, arriving at 7:17 a.m. (based on the
record of his swipe card). He changed out of his
blood-stained clothing, which was later found in
his room. He accessed his university computer
account at 7:25 a.m. and proceeded to delete his
e-mails and wipe out his account. He then removed the hard drive of his computer and later
disposed of it and his cell phone. Cho apparently
also had planned to dispose of his weapons after
using them in a different scenario because he
had filed down the serial numbers on the guns.4
Mentally disturbed killers often make one plan
and then change it for some reason. The motivation may never be known for why he partially
obscured his identity and did not carry any
identification into Norris Hall, but then sent his
manifesto to a national news network with his
The VTPD and BPD mobilized their emergency
response teams after the first shooting. They did
not know what the followup would bring, but
they wanted to be ready for whatever occurred.
The VTPD had not investigated a homicide in
recent memory, and properly called on the
resources of the BPD, state police, and ultimately ATF and FBI to assist in the investigation.
Between 8:10 and 8:20 a.m., an Asian male
thought now to be Cho was seen at the Duck
Pond. (The pond has been searched unsuccessfully for the whereabouts of his phone and hard
drive, which are still missing.)
Boyfriend Questioning – At 9:30 a.m., the
boyfriend of Emily Hilscher was stopped in his
pickup truck on a road. He was cooperative and
shocked to hear that his girlfriend had just been
killed. He passed a field test for the presence of
gunpowder residue. While he remained a person
of interest, it appeared unlikely that he was the
shooter, with the implication that the real
shooter was probably still at large. The police
passed this information to the university leadership through the police captain who was interacting with the university staff.
Before 9:00 a.m., Cho went to the Blacksburg
post office off campus, where he was recognized
by a professor who thought he looked frightening. At 9:01 a.m., he mailed a package to NBC
News in New York and a letter to the university’s English Department.
Diatribe – The panel was allowed to view the
material Cho sent to NBC. The package was
signed “A. Ishmael,” similar to the “Ax Ishmael”
This negative finding on the boyfriend raised
the urgency of the situation, and the university
The ATF laboratory was able to raise the numbers and
identify the weapons collected after the shootings.
name he had written on his arm in ink at the
time he committed suicide and also the name he
used to sign some e-mails. The significance of
this name remains to be explained, but it may
tie to his self-view as a member of the
tally, he even provided two takes of reading one
portion of his written diatribe.
Inside the package was a CD with a group of
about 20 videos of himself presenting his
extreme complaints against the world, two rambling, single-spaced letters with much the same
information that were used as the scripts for the
videos, and pictures of himself with written captions. The pictures showed him wielding weapons, showing his preparations for a mass murder, and railing against society that had illtreated him. He seemed to be trying to look
powerful posing with weapons, the “avenger” for
the mistreated and downtrodden of the world,
and even its “savior”, in his words.
After the mailings, Cho’s exact path is unknown
until he gets to Norris Hall.
o one knows why Cho committed the first
killings in the dormitory. He ran a great
risk of being seen and having any of a number of
things go wrong that could have thwarted his
larger plan. One line of speculation is that he
might have been practicing for the later killings,
since he had never shot anyone before (some
serial killers have been known to do this). He
may have thought he would create a diversion to
draw police away from where his main action
would later be, though in fact it worked the
opposite way. Many more police were on campus
than would have been there without the first
shootings, which allowed the response to the
second incident to be much faster and in greater
force. There is also a possibility that he considered attacking a woman as part of his revenge—
he was known to have stalked at least three
women in the previous year and had complaints
registered against him, one from WAJ. Although
there is a small possibility he knew the victim,
no evidence of any connection has been found. In
fact, he did not really know any of his victims
that day, not faculty, roommates, or classmates.
None of the speculative theories as to motive
seem likely. The state and campus police have
not closed their cases yet, in part trying to
determine his motives.
The videos and pictures in the package appear
to have been taken at various times in a motel,
a rented van, and possibly his dorm room over
the previous weeks. It is likely that he alone
took the photos; he can be seen adjusting the
His words to the camera were more than most
people had ever heard from him. He wanted his
motivation to be known, though it comes across
as largely incoherent, and it is unclear as to exactly why he felt such strong animosity. His diatribe is filled with biblical and literary references and references to international figures,
but in a largely stream of consciousness manner. He mentions no one he knew in the videos.
Rather, he portrays a grandiose fantasy of
becoming a significant figure through the mass
killing, not unlike American assassins of presidents and public figures. The videos are a dramatic reading or “performance” of the writings
he enclosed. He read them several minutes at a
time, then reached up to turn off the camera,
changed the script he had mounted near the
camera, and continued again. They clearly were
not extemporaneous. Intentionally or acciden-
enerally the VTPD and BPD officers responded to and carried out their investigative duties in a professional manner in
is a balance between the public interest and the harm this
material can do to families of victims, the potential for giving incentive to future shooters, and the possibility of hidden
messages triggering actions of others. NBC spent much time
wrestling with what was the responsible thing to do journalistically. It was a difficult set of decisions. They did not
delay at all in getting the information package to the FBI
well before they released any of it.
NBC News in New York has the package Cho sent to them
and has released only a small amount of the material. There
to the double homicide that could have prevented a tragedy of considerable magnitude on
April 16. Cho had started on a mission of fulfilling a fantasy of revenge. He had mailed a package to NBC identifying himself and his rationale
and so was committed to act that same day. He
could not wait beyond the end of the day or the
first classes in the morning. There were many
areas to which he could have gone to cause
accordance with accepted police practices. However, the police conveyed the wrong impression
to the university Policy Group about the lead
they had and the likelihood that the suspect was
no longer on campus.
The police did not have the capability to use the
university alerting system to send a warning to
the students, staff, and faculty. That is, they
were not given the keyword to operate the alerting system themselves, but rather they had to
request a message be sent from the Policy
Group or at least the associate vice president for
University Relations, who did have the keyword. The police did have the authority to
request that a message be sent, but did not
request that be done. They gave the university
administration the information on the incident,
and left it to the Policy Group to handle the
VII-1 In the preliminary stages of an investigation, the police should resist focusing
on a single theory and communicating that
to decision makers.
VII-2 All key facts should be included in an
alerting message, and it should be disseminated as quickly as possible, with explicit
The university administration failed to notify
students and staff of a dangerous situation in a
timely manner. The first message sent by the
university to students could have been sent at
least an hour earlier and been more specific.
The university could have notified the Virginia
Tech community that two homicides of students
had occurred and that the shooter was unknown
and still at large. The administration could have
advised students and staff to safeguard themselves by staying in residences or other safe
places until further notice. They could have
advised those not en route to school to stay
home, though after 8 a.m. most employees
would have been en route to their campus jobs
and might not have received the messages in
VII-3 Recipients of emergency messages
should be urged to inform others.
VII-4 Universities should have multiple
communication systems, including some
not dependent on high technology. Do not
assume that 21st century communications may
survive an attack or natural disaster or power
VII-5 Plans for canceling classes or closing
the campus should be included in the university’s emergency operations plan. It is not
certain that canceling classes and stopping work
would have decreased the number of casualties
at Virginia Tech on April 16, but those actions
may have done so. Lockdowns or cancellation of
classes should be considered on campuses where
it is feasible to do so rapidly.
Despite the above findings, there does not seem
to be a plausible scenario of university response
Chapter VIII
any police were on campus in the 2 hours
following the first incident, most at West
Ambler Johnston residence hall but others at a
command center established for the first incident. Two emergency response teams (ERTs)
were positioned at the Blacksburg Police
Department (BPD) headquarters, and a police
captain was with the Virginia Tech Policy Group
acting as liaison.
Cho left the post office about 9:01 a.m. (the time
on his mailing receipt). He proceeded to Norris
Hall wearing a backpack with his killing tools.
He carried two handguns, almost 400 rounds of
ammunition most of which were in rapid loading
magazines, a knife, heavy chains, and a hammer.
He wore a light coat to cover his shooting vest.
He was not noticed as being a threat or peculiar
enough for anyone to report him before the
shooting started.
In Norris Hall, Cho chained shut the pair of
doors at each of the three main entrances used
by students. Figure 7 shows one such entrance.
The chaining had the dual effect of delaying anyone from interrupting his plan and keeping victims from escaping. After the Norris Hall incident, it was reported to police that an Asian male
wearing a hooded garment was seen in the vicinity of a chained door at Norris Hall 2 days before
the shootings, and it may well have been Cho
practicing. Cho may have been influenced by the
two Columbine High School killers, whom he
mentioned in his ranting document sent to NBC
News and previously in his middle school writings. He referred to them by their first names
and clearly was familiar with how they had carried out their scheme.
Figure 7. One of the Main Entrances to Norris Hall
School dean’s office on the third floor. This was
contrary to university instructions to immediately call the police when a bomb threat is found.
A person in the dean’s office was about to call the
police about the bomb threat when the shooting
started. A handwriting comparison revealed that
Cho wrote this note, but that he had not written
bomb threat notes found over the previous weeks
in three other buildings. Those threats, which led
to the evacuation of the three buildings, proved
to be false. That may have contributed to the Cho
note not being taken seriously, even though
found on a chained door.
On the morning of April 16, Cho put a note on
the inside of one set of chained doors warning
that a bomb would go off if anyone tried to
remove the chains. The note was seen by a faculty member, who carried it to the Engineering
The usual VTPD protocol for a bomb threat that
is potentially real is to send officers to the threatened building and evacuate it. Had the Cho bomb
threat note been promptly reported prior to the
nothing. Even during this extreme situation at
the end of his life, he did not speak to anyone. Of
13 students present in the classroom, 9 were
killed and 2 injured by shooting, and only 2 survived unharmed. No one in room 206 was able to
call the police.
start of the shooting, the police might have
arrived at the building sooner than they did.
A female student trying to get into Norris Hall
shortly before the shooting started found the
entrance chained. She climbed through a window
to get where she was going on the first floor. She
did not report the chains, assuming they had
something to do with ongoing construction.
Other students leaving early from an accounting
exam on the third floor also saw the doors
chained before the shooting started, but no one
called the police or reported it to the university.
Occupants of neighboring classrooms heard the
gunshots but did not immediately recognize
them as gunfire. One student went into the hallway to investigate, saw what was happening,
and returned to alert the class.
First Alarm to 9-1-1 – Cho started shooting at
about 9:40 a.m. It took about a minute for students and faculty in room 211, a French class, to
recognize that the sounds they heard in the
nearby room were gunshots. Then the instructor,
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, asked student Colin
Goddard to call 9-l-l.
Prior to starting the shootings, Cho walked
around in the hallway on the second floor poking
his head into a few classrooms, some more than
once, according to interviews by the police and
panel. This struck some who saw him as odd
because it was late in the semester for a student
to be lost. But no one raised an alarm. Figure 8
shows the hallway in Norris Hall.
Cell phone 9-1-1 calls are routed according to
which tower receives them. Goddard’s call was
routed to the Blacksburg police. Another call by
cell phone from room 211 was routed first to the
Montgomery County sheriff. The call-taker at the
BPD received the call at 9:41 a.m. and was not
familiar with campus building names. But it took
less than a minute to sort out that the call was
coming from Virginia Tech and it was then
transferred to the Virginia Tech Police Department (VTPD).
At 9:42 a.m., the first call reached the Virginia
Tech police that there was shooting in Norris
Hall. Other calls later came from other classrooms and offices in Norris Hall and from other
Figure 8. Hallway in Norris Hall
Students and faculty in other nearby rooms also
heard the first shots, but no one immediately
realized what they were. Some thought they
were construction noises. Others thought they
could be the popping sounds sometimes heard
from chemistry lab experiments on the first floor.
One professor told his class to continue with the
lesson after some raised questions about the
noise. When the noise did not stop, some people
went into the hallway to investigate. One student from an engineering class was shot when he
he occupants of the first classroom that Cho
attacked had little chance to call for help or
take cover. After peering into several classrooms,
Cho walked into the Advanced Hydrology engineering class of Professor G. V. Loganathan in
room 206, shot and killed the instructor, and
continued shooting, saying not a word. In fact, he
never uttered a sound during his entire shooting
spree—no invectives, no rationale, no comments,
Students in room 205 attending a class in scientific computing heard Cho’s gunshots and barricaded the door to prevent his entry, mainly with
their bodies kept low, holding the door with their
feet. Cho never did succeed in getting into this
room though he pushed and fired through the
door several times. No one was injured by gunshot in this room.
entered the hallway. At that point, terror set in
among the persons in the classrooms who realized that what they were hearing was gunfire.
Continued Shooting – This section portrays
the sense of the key action rather than trace the
exact path of Cho. It is based on police presentations to the panel, police news releases, and interviews conducted by the panel.
Back in room 207, the German class, two uninjured students and two injured students
rushed to the door to hold it shut with their feet
and hands before Cho returned, keeping their
bodies low and away from the center of the door.
Within 2 minutes, Cho returned and beat on the
door. He opened it an inch and fired about five
shots around the door handle, then gave up trying to reenter and left.
After killing Professor Loganathan and several
students in room 206, Cho went across the hall
to room 207, a German class taught by Christopher James Bishop. Cho shot Professor Bishop
and several students near the door. He then
started down the aisle shooting others. Four students and Bishop ultimately died in this room,
with another six wounded by gunshot. One student tried to wrench free the podium that was
fastened securely to the floor in order to build a
barricade at the door. She was unsuccessful and
injured herself in the process.
Cho returned to room 211, the French class, and
went around the room, up one aisle and down
another, shooting students again. Cho shot
Goddard two more times. Goddard lay still and
played dead. This classroom received the most
visits by Cho, who ultimately killed 11 students
and the instructor, and wounded another 6, the
entire class.
As Goddard called 9-1-1 from classroom 211,
Couture-Nowak’s class tried to use the instructor’s table to barricade the door, but Cho pushed
his way in, shot the professor, and walked down
the aisle shooting students. Cho did not say anything. Goddard was among the first to be shot.
Another student, Emily Haas, picked up
Goddard’s cell phone after he was shot. She
stayed on the line for the rest of the shooting
period. She was slightly wounded twice in the
head by bullets, spoke quietly as long as she
could to the dispatcher, heard that the police
were responding, closed her eyes, and played
dead. She said she did not open her eyes again
for over 10 minutes until the police arrived. During her ordeal, she was concerned that the
shooter would hear the 9-1-1 dispatch operator
over the cell phone. But by keeping the line open
she helped keep police apprised of the situation.
She kept the phone hidden by her head and hair
so she could appear dead but not disconnect.
Although the dispatcher at times asked her questions and at other times told her to keep quiet,
she spoke only when Cho was out of the room,
which she could tell by the proximity of the
A janitor saw Cho reloading his gun in the hall
on the second floor and fled downstairs.
Cho tried to enter the classroom of engineering
professor Liviu Librescu (room 204), who was
teaching solid mechanics. Librescu braced his
body against the door and yelled for students to
head for the window. Students pushed out the
screens and jumped or dropped onto bushes or
the grassy ground below the window. Ten of the
16 students escaped this way. The next two students trying to leave through the window were
shot. Librescu was fatally shot through the door
trying to hold it closed while his students
escaped. A total of four students were shot in
this class, one fatally.
Cho returned to most of the classrooms more
than once to continue shooting. He methodically
fired from inside the doorways of the classrooms,
and sometimes walked around inside them. It
was very close range. Students had little place to
The massacre continued for 9 minutes after the
first 9-1-1 call was received by the VTPD, and
about 10–12 minutes in total, including a minute
for processing and transferring the call to VTPD,
and the time to comprehend that shots were
being fired and to make the call. From the first
call, shots can be heard continuously on the dispatch tapes, until they stopped with the suicide
hide other than behind the desks. By taking a
few paces inside he could shoot almost anyone in
the classroom who was not behind a piece of
overturned furniture. The classrooms were all
roughly square, with no obstructions. Figure 9
shows the interior of a typical classroom, seen
from the corner furthest from the door.
Table 1 shows the dimensions of the rooms with
the shootings.
Within that period, Cho murdered 25 students
and 5 faculty of Virginia Tech at Norris Hall.
Another 17 were shot and survived, and 6 were
injured when they jumped from classroom windows to escape.
Cho expended at least 174 bullets from two
semiautomatic guns, his 9mm Glock and .22 caliber Walther, firing often at point-blank range.
The police found 17 empty magazines, each
capable of holding 10–15 bullets. Ammunition
recovered included 203 live cartridges,122 for the
Glock and 81 for the Walther. The unexpended
ammunition included two loaded 9mm magazines with 15 cartridges each and many loose
Figure 9: Interior of Typical Classroom
Table 1. Dimensions of the Classrooms Attacked
Room #
28’ x 25’
24’ x 25’
22’ x 25’
24’ x 25’
22’ x 25’
Cho committed suicide by shooting himself in the
head, probably because he saw and heard the
police closing in on him. With over 200 rounds
left, more than half his ammunition, he almost
surely would have continued to kill more of the
wounded as he had been doing, and possibly
others in the building had not the police arrived
so quickly. Terrible as it was, the toll could have
been even higher.
The rooms were furnished with lightweight
desk–chair combinations, single units combining
both functions. Each instructor had a table desk
and a podium, the latter bolted to the floor. The
doors were not lockable from the inside. Unlike
many lower grade schools and typical of most
colleges, the instructors had no universityfurnished messaging system for receiving or
sending an alarm. Emergency communications
from classrooms were limited to any phone or
electronic devices carried by students or instructors. The offices had standard telephones, but
they were on the third floor.
ccording to survivors, the first reaction of
the students and faculty was disbelief, followed rapidly by many sensible and often heroic
actions. One affirmative judgment in reflecting
on this event is that virtually no one acted irrationally. People chose what they thought was the
best option for their survival or to protect others,
and many tried to prevent the shooter from gaining access to their room. Unfortunately, a
shooter operating at point-blank range does not
offer many options.
Escaping – Professor Librescu’s class was the
only one where students escaped by jumping
from windows. This classroom's windows face a
grassy area. (Figure 10 is the view from outside
and Figure 11 shows the structure of the windows. The view from inside looking out is shown
in Figure 12.)
Figure 12. To Escape, They Had to
Climb Over the Low Window
The window sills are 19 feet high from the
ground, two stories up. In order to escape
through the window, the first jumper, a male
student, had to take down a screen, swing the
upper window outward, climb over the lower portion of the window that opened into the classroom, and then jump. He tried to land on the
bushes. Following his example, most of the rest
of the class formed groups behind three windows
and started jumping. All who jumped survived,
some with broken bones, some uninjured except
for scratches or bruises. Some survivors did the
optimum window escape, lowering themselves
from the window sill to drop to the ground, reducing the fall by their body length.
Figure 10. Norris Hall Classroom
Windows, Grassy Side
The other classes faced out onto concrete walks
or yards, and jumping either did not seem a good
idea or perhaps did not even enter their minds.
No one attempted to jump from any other classroom.
Figure 11. Typical Set of Windows in Norris Hall
Craig, and Brian Roe. More continued to arrive
throughout the incident.
Some attempts were made by a few students to
escape out of the classroom and down the hall in
the earliest stage of the incident. But after some
people were shot in the hall, no one else tried
that route.
By professional standards, this was an extraordinarily fast police response. The officers had
been near WAJ as part of the investigation and
security following the first incident, so they were
able to respond much faster than they otherwise
would have. The two police forces trusted each
other, had trained together, and did not have to
take time sorting out who would go from which
organization in which car. They just went
together as fast as they could.
Attempting to Barricade – In three of the four
classrooms that Cho invaded and one more that
resisted invasion, the instructor and students
attempted to barricade the door against Cho entering either on his first attempt or on a later
try. They tried to use the few things available—
the teacher’s table, the desk–chair combinations,
and their bodies. Some attempts to barricade
succeeded and others did not. Cho pushed his
way in or shot through some doors that were
being barricaded. In the German class, two
wounded students and two non-wounded students managed to hold the door closed against
the return entry by Cho. They succeeded in staying out of the line of fire through the door. Two
other rooms did the same. In one, Cho never did
get in. At least one effort was made to use the
podium, but it failed (it was bolted to the floor).
Cho was not a strong person—his autopsy noted
weak musculature—and these brave students
and faculty helped reduce the toll.
The five officers immediately proceeded to
implement their training for dealing with an
active shooter. The policy is to go to the gunfire
as fast as possible, not in a careless headlong
rush, but in a speedy but careful advance. The
first arriving officers had to pause several seconds after exiting their cars to see where the
gunfire was coming from, especially whether it
was being directed toward them. They quickly
figured out that the firing was inside the building, not coming from the windows to the outside.
Because Cho was using two different caliber
weapons whose sounds are different, the
assumption had to be made that there was more
than one shooter.
Playing Dead – Several students, some of
whom were injured and others not, successfully
played dead amid the carnage around them, and
survived. Generally, they fell to the ground as
shots were fired, and tried not to move, hoping
Cho would not notice them. Cho had systematically shot several of his victims a second time
when he saw them still alive on revisiting some
of the rooms, so the survivors tried to hold still
and keep quiet. This worked for at least some
The officers tried the nearest entrance to Norris
Hall, found it chained, quickly proceeded to a
second and then a third entrance, both also
chained. Attempts to shoot off the padlocks or
chains failed. They then moved rapidly to a
fourth entrance—a maintenance shop door that
was locked but not chained. They shot open the
conventional key lock with a shotgun. Five police
officers entered and rapidly moved up the stairs
toward the gunfire, not knowing who or how
many gunmen were shooting.
The first team of five officers to enter Norris Hall
after the door lock was shot were:
ithin 3 minutes of the Virginia Tech police
receiving the 9-1-1 call, two officers arrived
outside of Norris Hall by squad car. They were
Virginia Tech officer H. Dean Lucas and Blacksburg Sgt. Anthony Wilson. A few seconds later,
three more officers arrived by car: Blacksburg
Police Department officers John Glass, Scott
VT Officer H. Dean Lucas (patrol)
Blacksburg Officer Greg Evans (patrol)
Blacksburg Officer Scott Craig (SWAT)
Blacksburg Officer Brian Roe (SWAT)
Blacksburg Officer Johnny Self (patrol)
The auditorium connecting Norris Hall with Holden Hall and shared by both could have been
used as an entry path, but it would have taken
longer to get in by first running into Holden
Hall, going through it, and then up the stairs to
Norris Hall. The police ERT had the capability of
receiving plans of the buildings by radio from the
fire department, but that would have taken too
long and was not needed in the event.
They were followed seconds later by a second
team of seven officers:
VT Lt. Curtis Cook (SWAT)
VT Sgt Tom Gallemore (SWAT)
VT Sgt Sean Smith (SWAT)
VT Officer Larry Wooddell (SWAT)
VT Officer Keith Weaver (patrol)
VT Officer Daniel Hardy (SWAT)
Blacksburg Officer Jeff Robinson (SWAT)
During the shooting, a student took pictures
from his cell phone that were soon broadcast on
television. They showed many police outside of
Norris Hall behind trees and cars, some with
guns drawn, not moving toward the gunfire.
Most of them were part of a perimeter established around the building after the first officers
on the scene made entry. The police were following standard procedure to surround the building
in case the shooter or shooters emerged firing or
trying to escape. What was not apparent was
that the first officers on the scene already were
Both teams had members from more than one
police department. The first police team got to
the second floor hallway leading to the classrooms as the shooting stopped. The second police
team that entered went upstairs to the opposite
end of the shooting hallway on the second floor.
They saw the first team at the opposite end of
the hall and held in place to avoid a crossfire
should the shooter emerge from a room. They
then went to clear the third floor.
The first team of officers arriving on the second
floor found it eerily quiet. They approached cautiously in the direction from which the shots
were fired. They had to clear each classroom and
office as they passed it lest they walk past the
shooter or shooters and get fired upon from the
rear. They saw casualties in the hallway and a
scene of mass carnage in the classrooms, with
many still alive. Although the shooter was eventually identified, he was not immediately apparent, and they were not certain whether other
shooters lurked. This seemed a distinct possibility. As one police sergeant later reflected: “How
could one person do all this damage alone with
Once the shooting stopped, the first police on the
scene switched modes and became a rescue team.
Four officers carried out a victim using a diamond formation, two actually doing the carrying
and two escorting with guns drawn. At this
point, it still was not known whether there was a
second shooter. The police carried several victims
who were still alive to the lawn outside the building, where they were turned over to a policedriven SUV that took the first victims to emergency medical treatment. (The emergency medical response is discussed in Chapter IX.)
A formal incident commander and emergency
operations center was not set up until after the
shooting was over mainly because events
unfolded very rapidly. A more formal process was
used for the follow-up investigation.
Some people have questioned why the police
could not force entry into the building more
quickly. First, most police units do not carry bolt
cutters or other entry devices; such tools would
rarely be used by squad car officers. They usually
are carried only in the vans of special police
units. Second, the windows on the first floor are
very narrow, as on all floors of Norris Hall. A
thin student could climb through them; a heavily
armed officer wearing bulletproof vest could not.
Knocking down a door with a vehicle was not
possible given the design and site of the building.
hen university officials were apprised of
the Norris Hall shootings, they were horrified. Vice Provost Ford explained the events as
follows (continuing his statement presented to
the panel from the previous chapter):
At approximately 9:45 a.m., the Policy Group
received word from the Virginia Tech police
of a shooting in Norris Hall. Within five
minutes, a notification was issued by the
Policy Group and transmitted to the university community which read:
Group about what they had witnessed in the
aftermath of the shootings in Norris Hall.
Chief Flinchum reported that the scene was
bad; very bad. Virginia state police was handling the crime scene. Police had one shooter
in custody and there was no evidence at the
time to confirm or negate a second shooter,
nor was there evidence at the time to link the
shootings in West Ambler Johnston to those
in Norris Hall. The police informed the Policy
Group that these initial observations were
ongoing investigations.
“A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in
buildings until further notice. Stay away
from all windows.”
Also activated was the campus emergency
alert system. The voice message capability of
that system was used to convey an emergency message throughout the campus.
Given the factual information available to
the Policy Group, the reasonable action was
to ask people to stay in place. The Policy
Group did not have evidence to ensure that a
gunman was or was not on the loose, so every
precaution had to be taken. The Virginia
Tech campus contains 153 major buildings,1
19 miles of public roads, is located on 2,600
acres of land, and as many as 35,000 individuals might be found on its grounds at any
one time on a typical day. Virginia Tech is
very much like a small city. One does not entirely close down a small city or a university
Based upon this information and acting upon
the advice of the police, the Policy Group
immediately issued a fourth transmittal
which read:
“In addition to an earlier shooting today in
West Ambler Johnston, there has been a
multiple shooting with multiple victims in
Norris Hall. Police and EMS are on the
scene. Police have one shooter in custody and
as part of routine police procedure, they continue to search for a second shooter.
“All people in university buildings are
required to stay inside until further notice.
All entrances to campus are closed.”
Additionally, the Policy Group considered
that the university schedule has a class
change between 9:55 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. on
a MWF schedule. To ensure some sense of
safety in an open campus environment, the
Policy Group decided that keeping people
inside existing buildings if they were on campus and away from campus if they had not
yet arrived was the right decision. Again, we
made the best decision we could based on the
information available. So at approximately
10:15 a.m. another message was transmitted
which read:
Information about the Norris Hall shootings
continued to come to the Policy Group from
the scene. At approximately 11:30 [a.m.], the
Policy Group issued a planned faculty–staff
evacuation via the Virginia Tech web site
which read:
“Faculty and staff located on the Burruss
Hall side of the drill field are asked to leave
their office and go home immediately. Faculty and staff located on the War Memorial/
Eggleston Hall side of the drill field are
asked to leave their offices and go home at
12:30 p.m.”
“Virginia Tech has cancelled all classes.
Those on campus are asked to remain where
they are, lock their doors, and stay away
from windows. Persons off campus are asked
not to come to campus.”
At approximately 12:15 p.m., the Policy
Group released yet another communication
via the Virginia Tech web site which further
informed people as follows:
At approximately 10:50 a.m., Virginia Tech
Police Chief Flinchum and Blacksburg Police
Chief Crannis arrived to inform the Policy
“Virginia Tech has closed today Monday,
April 16, 2007. On Tuesday, April 17,
classes will be cancelled. The university will
remain open for administrative operations.
There will be an additional university
statement presented today at noon.
From another university source, we identified 131 major
buildings and several more under construction. In any event,
it is a large number of structures.
“All students, faculty and staff are required
to stay where they are until police execute a
planned evacuation. A phased closing will
be in effect today; further information will be
forthcoming as soon as police secure the
hile the shootings were taking place in
classrooms on the second floor of Norris
Hall, people on the other floors and in offices on
the second floor tried to flee or take refuge—with
one exception. Professor Kevin Granata from the
third floor guided his students to safety in a
small room, locked the room and went to investigate the gunfire on the second floor. He was shot
and killed. People who did take refuge in locked
rooms were badly frightened by gunfire and the
general commotion, but all of them survived.
“Tomorrow there will be a university convocation/ceremony at noon at Cassell Coliseum. The Inn at Virginia Tech has been
designated as the site for parents to gather
and obtain information.”
A press conference was held shortly after
noon on April 16, 2007, and President
Charles W. Steger issued a statement citing
“A tragedy of monumental proportions.”
Copies of that statement are available on
In the first minutes after they arrived, the police
could not be sure that all of the shooters were
dead. The police had to be careful in clearing all
rooms to ensure that there was not a second
shooter mixed in with the others. In fact, perpetrators can often blend with their victims,
Groups of police went through the building clearing each office, lab, classroom, and closet. When
they encountered a group of people hiding in a
bathroom or locked office, they had to be wary.
The result was that many people were badly
frightened a second time by the police clearing
actions. Some were sent downstairs accompanied
by officers and others were left to make their
own way out. Although quite a few officers were
in the building at this time, they still did not
have sufficient members to clear all areas and
simultaneously escort out every survivor. It also
appears that there was inadequate communication between the police who were clearing the
building and those outside guarding the exits.
The Policy Group continued to meet and
strategically plan for the events to follow. A
campus update on the shootings was issued
at another press conference at approximately 5:00 p.m.
It should be noted that the above messages were
sent after the full gravity of what happened at
Norris Hall had been made known to the Policy
Group. They were too late to be of much value for
security. The messages still were less than full
disclosure of the situation. There may well have
been a second shooter, and the university community should have been told to be on the lookout for one, not that the continued search was
just “routine police procedure.” When almost 50
people are shot, what follows is hardly “routine
police procedure.” The university appears to have
tempered its messages to avoid panic and reduce
the shock and fright to the campus family. But a
more straightforward description was needed.
The messages still did not get across the enormity of the event and the loss of life. By that
time, rumors were rife. The events were highly
disturbing and there was no way to sugarcoat
them. Straight facts were needed.
For example, one group of professors and staff
was hiding behind the locked doors of the Engineering Department offices on the third floor.
When they were cleared by police to evacuate,
they were directed down a staircase toward an
exit where they found a chained door with police
outside pointing guns at them. One of them
remembered that there was an exit through the
auditorium to Holden Hall and they left that
Based on university records, 148 students were
on the rolls of classes held at 9:05 a.m. in Norris
Hall on April 16. At least 31 and possibly a few
more missed classes or had classes cancelled that
day. So at least 100 students were in the building, possibly as many as 120, including a few not
enrolled in the classes. (The statistics are inexact
because not all Norris Hall students responded
to a university survey of their whereabouts that
day.) Of the students present, 25 were killed, 17
were shot and survived, 6 were injured jumping
from windows, and 4 were injured from other
The group of students from Professor Granata’s
third-floor class that hid in a small locked office
were frightened by officers approaching with
guns at the ready, but then were escorted safely
out of the building.
The police had their priorities straight. Although
many survivors were frightened, the police
understandably were focused on clearing the
building safely and quickly. Had there been a
second shooter not found quickly, the police
would have wasted manpower escorting people
out instead of searching for and neutralizing the
Room 211 suffered the most student casualties
(17). The other rooms with casualties were 207
(11), 206 (11), 204 (10), 205 (1), and 306 (1).
ccording to VTPD Chief Flinchum:
In addition to the classes, there were many other
people in the building at the time of the shootings, including staff of the dean’s office, other
faculty members with offices in the building,
other students, and janitorial staff. None of them
was injured.
When officers entered Norris Hall, two
stayed on the first floor to secure it. One
officer said one or two people came out of
rooms and were evacuated. Officers on the
second floor took survivors down to the first
floor on the Drillfield side of Norris, but
they had to shoot the lock on the chained
door to get out. When they did this, other
officers entered Norris and began initial
clearing of the first floor while the other
teams were clearing the third and second
floors. The first floor was cleared again by
SWAT after the actions on the second floor
were completed.
When the shooting stopped, about 75 students
and faculty were uninjured, some still in classroom settings and others in offices or hiding in
restrooms. With over 200 rounds left, the toll
could have been higher if the police had not
arrived when they did, as noted earlier.
This all was appropriate, thorough police
Table 2 and Table 3 at the end of this chapter
show the numbers of students and faculty who
were killed and injured, by room, based on the
university’s research.
n about 10 minutes, one shooter armed with
handguns shot 47 students and faculty, of
whom 30 died. The shooter’s self-inflicted wound
made the toll 48.
verall, the police from Virginia Tech and
Blacksburg did an outstanding job in
responding quickly and using appropriate activeshooter procedures to advance to the shooter’s
location and to clear Norris Hall.
Of the seven faculty conducting classes, five were
fatally shot. Three were standing in the front of
their classrooms when the gunman walked in.
One was shot barricading the door, and one shot
while investigating the sounds after getting his
class to safety on the third floor. They were brave
and vulnerable.
There are small inconsistencies in the tallies of injuries
among police, hospitals, and university because some students sought private treatment for minor injuries, and the
definition of “injury” used.
being frightened is preferable to being injured by
a second shooter. The police had their priorities
correct, but they might have handled the evacuation with more care.
The close relationship of the Virginia Tech Police
Department and Blacksburg Police Department
and their frequent joint training saved critical
minutes. They had trained together for an active
shooter incident in university buildings. There is
little question their actions saved lives. Other
campus police and security departments should
make sure they have a mutual aid arrangement
as good as that of the Virginia Tech Police
VIII-1 Campus police everywhere should
train with local police departments on
response to active shooters and other emergencies.
Police cannot wait for SWAT teams to arrive and
assemble, but must attack an active shooter at
once using the first officers arriving on the scene,
which was done. The officers entering the building proceeded to the second floor just as the
shooting stopped. The sound of the shotgun blast
and their arrival on the second floor probably
caused Cho to realize that attack by the police
was imminent and to take his own life.
VIII-2 Dispatchers should be cautious when
giving advice or instructions by phone to
people in a shooting or facing other threats
without knowing the situation. This is a
broad recommendation that stems from reviewing other U.S. shooting incidents as well, such as
the Columbine High School shootings. For
instance, telling someone to stay still when they
should flee or flee when they should stay still can
result in unnecessary deaths. When in doubt,
dispatchers should just be reassuring. They
should be careful when asking people to talk into
the phone when they may be overheard by a
gunman. Also, local law enforcement dispatchers
should become familiar with the major campus
buildings of colleges and universities in their
Police did a highly commendable job in starting
to assist the wounded, and worked closely with
the first EMTs on the scene to save lives.
Several faculty members died heroically while
trying to protect their students. Many brave students died or were wounded trying to keep the
shooter from entering their classrooms. Some
barricading doors kept their bodies low or to the
side and out of the direct line of fire, which
reduced casualties.
VIII-3 Police should escort survivors out of
buildings, where circumstances and manpower permit.
Several quick-acting students jumped from the
second floor windows to safety, and at least one
by dropping himself from the ledge, which
reduced the distance to fall. Other students survived by feigning death as the killer searched for
VIII-4 Schools should check the hardware
on exterior doors to ensure that they are not
subject to being chained shut.
VIII-5 Take bomb threats seriously. Students and staff should report them immediately, even if most do turn out to be false
People were evacuated safely from Norris Hall,
but the evacuation was not well organized and
was frightening to some survivors. However,
Table 2. Norris Hall Student Census for April 16, 2007 9:05 a.m. Classes
Total Students Accounted For:
Total Students
on Class Roll
Killed or
Used Windows
Not Physically Injured
Did Not
Injured** by
Injured* Injured*
* Included in "Total Students Accounted For"
** Class was cancelled that day
Table 3. Norris Hall Faculty Census
Total Faculty Accounted For
Room #
Killed or
Later Died
Not Physically Injured
Did Not Attend Class
* Class was cancelled that day
These tables were provided by the Virginia Tech administration.
Status Not
Chapter IX
and training for mass casualty events, dedication, and ability to perform at a high level in the
face of the disaster that struck so many people.
he tragic scenes that occurred at Virginia
Tech are the worst that most emergency
medical service (EMS) providers will ever see.
Images of so many students and faculty murdered or seriously injured in such a violent manner and the subsequent rescue efforts can only be
described by those who were there. This chapter
discusses the emergency medical response on
April 16 to victims including their pre-hospital
treatment, transport, and care in hospitals.
The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad and Blacksburg
Volunteer Rescue Squad were the primary agencies responsible for incident command, triage,
treatment, and transportation. Many other
regional agencies responded and functioned
under the Incident Command System (ICS). The
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad (BVRS) personnel and equipment response was timely and
strong. Virginia Tech Rescue Squad (VTRS), the
lead EMS agency in this incident, is located on
the Virginia Tech campus and is the oldest collegiate rescue squad of its kind nationwide. It is a
volunteer, student-run organization with 38
members. Their actions on April 16 were heroic
and demonstrated courage and fortitude.
Interviews were conducted with first responders,
emergency managers, and hospital personnel
(physicians, nurses, and administrators) to
The on-scene EMS response.
Implementation of hospital multicasualty plans and incident command
Pre-hospital and in-hospital initial
patient stabilization.
Compliance with the National Incident
Management System (NIMS).
Communications systems used.
Coordination of the emergency medical
care with police and EMS providers.
he first EMS response was to the West
Ambler Johnston (WAJ) residence hall incident. At 7:21 a.m., VTRS was dispatched to 4040
WAJ for the report of a patient who had fallen
from a loft. In 3 minutes, at 7:24 a.m., VT Rescue
3 was en route. While en route, dispatch advised
that a resident assistant reported a victim lying
against a dormitory room door and that bloody
footprints and a pool of blood were seen on the
floor. VT Rescue 3 arrived on scene at 7:26 a.m.,
5 minutes from the time of dispatch. This
response time falls within the nationally ac2
cepted range.
Evaluating patient care subsequent to the initial
pre-hospital and hospital interventions was
beyond the scope of this investigation. Fire
department personnel were not interviewed
because there were no reports of their involvement in patient care activities
Although there is always opportunity for
improvement, the overall EMS response was
excellent and the lives of many were saved. The
challenges of systematic response, scene and
provider safety, and on-scene and hospital
patient care were effectively met. Responders are
to be commended. The results in terms of patient
care are a testimony to their medical education
VTRS. (2007). April 16, 2007: EMS Response. Presentation
to the Virginia Tech Review Panel. May 21, 2007, The Inn at
Virginia Tech.
NFPA (2004). NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization
and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency
Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by
Career Fire Departments. National Fire Protection Association: Battery March Park, MA.
At 7:29 a.m., Rescue 3 accessed the dorm room to
find two victims with gunshot wounds, both
obviously in critical condition. At 7:31 a.m., it
requested a second advanced life support (ALS)
unit and ordered activation of the all-call tone
requesting all available Virginia Tech rescue personnel to respond to the scene. The “all-call”
request is a normal procedure for VTRS to
respond to an incident with multiple patients.
Personnel from BVRS responded to WAJ as well.
Following CPR that occurred en route she was
pronounced dead at CRMH.
At 7:48 a.m., VT Rescue 3 requested that
Carilion Life-Guard helicopter be dispatched and
was informed that its estimated time of arrival
was 40 minutes. It was decided to dispatch the
helicopter to Montgomery Regional Hospital
(MRH). Carilion Life-Guard then advised that
they were grounded due to weather and never
began the mission.
Based on the facts known, the triage, treatment,
and transportation of both WAJ victims
appeared appropriate. The availability of helicopter transport likely would not have affected
patient outcomes. Their injuries were incompatible with survival.
t 9:02 a.m., VT Rescue 3 returned to service
following the WAJ incident. VT Rescue 2
continued equipment cleanup at MRH when the
call for the Norris Hall shootings came in. At
approximately 9:42 a.m., VTRS personnel at
their station overheard a call on the police radio
advising of an active shooter at Norris Hall.
Many EMS providers were about to respond to
the worst mass shooting event on a United
States college campus.
One of the victims in 4040 WAJ was a 22-yearold male with a gunshot wound to the head. He
was in cardiopulmonary arrest. CPR was initiated, and he was immobilized using an extrication collar and a long spine board. VT Rescue 3
transported him to MRH. During communications with the MRH online physician, CPR was
ordered to be discontinued. He arrived at the
hospital DOA.
Upon hearing the police dispatch of a shooting at
Norris Hall, the VTRS officer serving as EMS
commander immediately activated the VTRS
Incident Action Plan and established an incident
command post at the VTRS building. VT Rescue
3, staffed with an ALS crew, stood by at their
station. At about 9:42 a.m., VTRS requested the
Montgomery County emergency services coordinator to place all county EMS units on standby
and for him to respond to the VTRS Command
Post. “Standby” means that all agency units
should be staffed and ready to respond. Each
agency officer in charge is supposed to notify the
appropriate dispatcher when the units are
The second victim was an 18-year-old female
with a gunshot wound to the head. She was
treated with high-flow oxygen via mask, two IVs
were established, and cardiac monitoring was
initiated. She was immobilized with an extrication collar and placed on a long spine board. At
7:44 a.m., she was transported by VT Rescue 2 to
MRH. During transport, her level of consciousness began to deteriorate and her radial pulse
was no longer palpable. Upon arrival at MRH,
endotracheal intubation was performed. At 8:30
a.m., she was transferred by ground ALS unit to
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH), a
Level I trauma center in Roanoke, Virginia.
The Montgomery County Communications Center immediately paged out an “all call” alert (9:42
a.m.) advising all units to respond to the scene at
Norris Hall.
The EMS responses to West Ambler Johnston
and Norris halls occurred in a timely manner.
However, for the shootings at Norris Hall, all
EMS units were dispatched to respond to the
EMS Patient Care Report Q0669603.
EMS Patient Care Report Q0669604.
Turner, K. N., and Davis, J. (2007). Public Safety Timeline
for April 16, 2007. Unpublished Report. Montgomery County
Department of Emergency Services, p. 4.
EMS Patient Care Report Q0019057.
scene at once contrary to the request. Subsequently, the Montgomery County emergency
services coordinator requested dispatch to correct
the message in time to allow for most of the incoming squads to proceed to the secondary staging area at the BVRS station.
Overall, the structure of the EMS ICS was effective. The ICS as implemented during the incident is compared in Figure 13 and Figure 14 to
NIMS ICS guidelines. Figure 13 shows the
Virginia Tech EMS ICS structure as imple9
mented in the incident. Although it did not
strictly follow NIMS guidelines, it included most
of the necessary organization. Figure 14 shows
the Model ICS structure based on the NIMS
At 9:46 a.m., VTRS was dispatched by police to
Norris Hall for multiple shootings—4 minutes
after VTRS monitored the incident (9:42 a.m.) on
the police radio. The VTRS EMS commander
advised VT dispatch that the VTRS units would
stand by at the primary staging site until police
secured the shooting area. At 9:48 a.m., the EMS
commander also requested the VT police dispatcher to notify all responding EMS units from
outside Virginia Tech to proceed to the secondary
staging area at BVRS instead of responding
directly to Norris Hall.
EMS Command – An EMS command post was
established at VTRS. The BVRS officer-in-charge
who arrived at Norris Hall reportedly was
unable to determine if an EMS ICS was in place.
Since each agency has its own radio frequency,
the potential for miscommunication of critical
information regarding incident command is possible. To enhance communications, EMS command reportedly switched from the VTRS to the
BVRS radio frequency. In addition, to shift routine communications from the main VT frequency, EMS command requested units to switch
to alternate frequency, VTAC 1. Some units were
confused by the term VTAC 1. Eventually, all
units switched to the Montgomery County
Mutual Aid frequency.
The VTPD and the Montgomery County Communications Center issued separate dispatches
for EMS units, which led to some confusion in
the EMS response.
t the national level, Homeland Security
Presidential Directives (HSPDs) 5 and 8
require all federal, state, regional, local, and
tribal governments, including EMS agencies, to
adopt the NIMS, including a uniform ICS. The
Incident Management System is defined by
Western Virginia EMS Council in their Mass
Casualty Incident (MCI) Plan as:
The fact that BVRS was initially unaware that
VTRS had already established an EMS command
post could have caused a duplication of efforts
and further organizational challenges. Participants interviewed stated that once a BVRS officer reported to the EMS command post, communications between EMS providers on the scene
improved. The Montgomery County emergency
management coordinator was on the scene and
served as a liaison between the police tactical
command post and the EMS incident command
post, which also helped with communications.
A written plan, adopted and utilized by all
participating emergency response agencies,
that helps control, direct and coordinate
emergency personnel, equipment and other
resources from the scene of an MCI or
evacuation, to the transportation of patients
to definitive care, to the conclusion of the
Because BVRS and VTRS are on separate primary radio frequencies, BVRS reportedly did not
know where to stage their units. In addition,
BVRS units reportedly did not know when the
police cleared the building for entry.
Bush, G. W. (2003). December 17, 2003 Homeland Security
Presidential Directive/HSPD–8.
WVEMS. (2006). Mass Casualty Incident Plan: EMS
Mutual Aid Response Guide: Western Virginia EMS Council,
Section 2.1.7, p. 2.
VTRS. (2007). April 16, 2007: EMS Response. Presentation
to the Virginia Tech Review Panel. May 21, 2007, The Inn at
Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech Rescue
Squad EMS
Montgomery County
Command Post
Virginia Tech Rescue
Squad EMS
Operations Chief
Triage Officer
Staging Officer
Primary Staging
Triage Teams
(on campus)
Treatment Officer
Tertiary Triage
(Station 1)
Figure 13. Virginia Tech EMS ICS as Implemented in the Incident
Another issue concerned the staging of units
and personnel. EMS command correctly advised
dispatch that assignments and staging would be
handled by EMS command.
ing them out of the building. As victims exited
the building, some walked and some were carried out and transported by police SUV’s and
other mobile units to the safer EMS treatment
Triage – The VTPD arrived at Norris Hall at
9:45 a.m. At 9:50 a.m., the VTPD and Blacksburg police emergency response teams (ERTs)
arrived at Norris Hall, each with a tactical
medic. At 9:50 a.m., two ERT medics entered
Norris Hall where they were held for about 2
minutes inside the stairwell before being allowed to proceed. At 9:52 a.m., the two medics,
one from VTRS and one from BVRS, began triage. Medics initially triaged those victims
brought to the stairwells while police were mov-
The triage by ERT medics inside the Norris Hall
classrooms had two specific goals: first, to identify the total number of victims who were alive
or dead; and second, to move ambulatory victims to a safe area where further triage and
treatment could begin. The tactical medics employed the START triage system (Simple Triage
and Rapid Treatment) to quickly assess a victim
and determine the overall incident status. The
START triage is a “method whereby patients in
an MCI are assessed and evaluated on the basis
Turner, K.N., & Davis, J. (2007). Public Safety Timeline
for April 16, 2007. Unpublished Report. Montgomery County
Department of Emergency Services, p. 6.
EMS Command
VT Rescue
VT Lieutenant
Liaison Officer
Norris Hall
Montgomery Co.
Safety Officer
Norris Hall
Blacksburg Lt.
Operations Chief
VT Rescue
VT Lieutenant
Staging Manager
VT Rescue
Triage Group
Norris Hall
VT Captain
Logistics Chief
VT Rescue
VT Lieutenant
Planning Chief
VT EMS Command
VT University Staff
Treatment Group
Norris Hall
VT Lieutenant
Morgue Unit
Norris Hall
Blacksburg Lt.
Major Treatment
Norris Hall
Initial Triage Unit
Norris Hall
Tactical Medics
Treatment Unit
Barger Street
VT Rescue
Minor Treatment
VT Rescue
Patient Dispatch
VT Rescue
Figure 14. Model ICS Based on the NIMS Guidelines
of the severity of injuries and assigned to treat11
ment priorities.” Patients are classified in one
of four categories (Figure 15). Colored tags are
affixed to patients corresponding to these categories.
In an incident of this nature, the triage team
must concentrate on the overall situation instead
Figure 15. START Triage Patient Classifications
WVEMS. (2006). Mass Casualty Incident Plan: EMS
Mutual Aid Response Guide: Western Virginia EMS Council,
Section 2.1.8, p. 2.
Critical Illness and Trauma Foundation, Inc. (2001).
START—Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment.
A decision was quickly made to treat a 22-yearold male victim who exhibited a profuse femoral
artery bleed by applying a commercial-brand
tourniquet (Figure 17) to control the bleeding.
The patient was transported to MRH, where surgical repair was performed and he survived. The
application of a tourniquet was likely a lifesaving
of focusing on individual patient care. Patient
care is limited to quick interventions that will
make the difference between life and death. The
medics systematically approached the initial triage, with one assessing victims in the oddnumbered rooms on the second floor of Norris
Hall while the other assessed victims in the
even-numbered rooms. The medics were able to
quickly identify those victims who were without
vital signs and would likely not benefit from
medical care. This initial triage by the two tactical medics accompanying the police was appropriate in identifying patient viability. The medics
reported “a tough time with radio communications traffic” while triaging in Norris Hall.
The triage medics identified several patients who
required immediate interventions to save their
lives. Some victims with chest wounds were
treated with an Asherman Chest Seal (Figure
16). It functions with a flutter valve to prevent
air from entering the chest cavity during inhalation and permits air to leave the chest cavity
during exhalation. This is a noninvasive technique that can be applied quickly with low risk.
It was reported that a female victim with chest
wounds benefited by the immediate application
of the seal. Since the scene was not yet secured
at this point to allow other EMS providers to
enter, the tactical medics quickly instructed
some police officers how to use the seal.
Figure 17 Tourniquet
At approximately 10:09 a.m., VTPD dispatch
notified EMS command that the “shooter was
down” and that EMS crews could enter Norris
Hall. EMS command assigned a lieutenant from
VTRS to become the triage unit leader. Triage
continued inside and in front of Norris Hall.
Some critical patients at the Drillfield side and
others at the secondary triage (critical treatment
unit) Old Turner Street side of Norris Hall were
placed in ambulances and transported directly to
hospitals. Noncritical patients were moved to a
treatment area at Stanger and Barger Streets.
A BVRS officer and crew arrived at Norris Hall
and began to retriage victims. Their reassessment confirmed that 31 persons were dead.
Based on the evidence available, the decision not
to attempt resuscitation on those originally triaged as dead was appropriate. No one appeared
to have been mistriaged. A medical director
(emergency physician) for a Virginia State Police
Division SWAT team responded with his team to
the scene. He was primarily staged at Burress
Hall and was available to care for wounded
Figure 16. Asherman Chest Seal
ACS (2007). Asherman Chest Seal.
Medgadget (2007).
officers if needed. There were no reports of injuries to police officers.
Interviews of prehospital and hospital personnel
revealed that triage ribbons or tags were not
consistently used on victims. The standard triage
tags were used on some patients but not on all.
These triage tags, shown in Figure 18, are part of
the Western Virginia EMS Trauma Triage
Protocol and can assist with record keeping and
patient follow-up. Not using the tags may have
led to some confusion regarding patient
identification and classification upon arrival at
Treatment – Patients were moved to the treatment units based on START guidelines. The
treatment group was divided into three units: a
critical treatment unit, a delayed treatment unit
and a minor treatment unit. The critical treatment unit was located at the Old Turner Street
Side of Norris Hall where patients with immediate medical care needs (red tag) received care.
Patients who were classified as less critical (yellow tag) were moved to the delayed treatment
unit at Stanger and Barger Streets. Patients
with minor injuries, including walking wounded/
worried well (green tag) were moved to a minor
treatment unit at VTRS (Figure 19). “Worried
well” are those who may not present with injuries but with psychological or safety issues.
Patients were moved to the treatment units in
various ways. Some critical patients were carried
out of Norris Hall by police and EMS personnel.
Others were moved via vehicles, while those less
critical walked to the delayed treatment or minor
treatment units. EMS command assigned leaders
to each of the units.
Figure 18. Virginia Triage Tag
The weather was a significant factor with wind
gusts of up to 60 mph grounding all aeromedical
services and hampering the use of EMS equipment. This included tents, shelters, and treatment area identification flags that could not be
set up or maintained. Large vehicles such as
trailers and mobile homes, often used for temporary shelter, had difficulty responding as high
winds made interstate driving increasingly hazardous. The incident site was close to ongoing
construction. High winds blew debris, increasing
danger to patients and providers and impeding
patient care. To protect the walking wounded/
worried well from the environment, patients
WVEMS. (2006). Mass Casualty Incident Plan: EMS
Mutual Aid Response Guide: Western Virginia EMS Council.,
Section 22.3, p. 13.
A/B: Staging Areas
C: Command Post
D: Treatment Area
(Delayed and Minor
Treatment Units)
E: Secondary Triage
(Critical Treatment
Figure 19. Initial Location of Treatment Units
was among the first in line at Norris Hall. CRS,
BVRS, CPTS, and Longshop–McCoy Rescue
Squad transported critical patients to area hospitals. CPTS ambulances from Giles, Radford,
and Blacksburg as well as some of their
Roanoke-based units, including Life-Guard
flight and ground critical care crews, responded
in mass to the incident either at Norris Hall or
by interfacility transport of critical victims. By
10:51 a.m., all patients from Norris Hall were
either transported to a hospital, or moved to the
delayed or minor treatment units. In addition to
VTRS, 14 agencies responded to the incident
with 27 ALS ambulances and more than 120
EMS personnel (Table 4). Some agencies
delayed routine interfacility patient transports
or “back filled” covering neighboring communities through preset mutual aid agreements.
Agency supervisors and administrators were
working effectively behind the scenes procuring
were moved to the minor treatment unit at the
VTRS building.
Twelve EMS patient care reports (PCRs) were
available for review. In some cases PCRs were
not completed, and in other cases not provided
upon request. In multiple casualty incident
situations, EMS providers can use standard triage tags in place of the traditional PCR; however, no triage tag records were provided, as
noted earlier.
Based on the PCRs available and the interviews
of EMS and hospital personnel, it appears that
the patient care rendered to Norris Hall victims
was appropriate.
Transportation – EMS command appointed a
transportation group leader who assigned
patients to ambulances and specific hospital
destinations. Christiansburg Rescue Squad
(CRS) responded with BLS and ALS units and
EMS units from several companies would transport the deceased to Roanoke. In general, frontline EMS units are not used to transport the
deceased. In this instance, however, the use of
EMS units was acceptable because emergency
coverage was not neglected and the rescuers felt
that the sight of a refrigeration truck and
funeral coaches on campus would be undesirable.
Table 4. EMS Response
14 Assisting Agencies
Montgomery County Emergency Services
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
Christiansburg Rescue Squad
Shawsville Rescue Squad
Longshop-McCoy Rescue Squad
Carilion Patient Transportation Services
Salem Rescue Squad
Giles Rescue Squad
Newport Rescue Squad
Lifeline Ambulance Service
Roanoke City Fire and Rescue
Vinton First Aid Crew
Radford University EMS
City of Radford EMS
The decedents were placed two to a unit for
transport. A serious concern raised by EMS providers was an order given by an unidentified
police official that the decedents be transported
to Roanoke under emergency conditions (lights
and sirens). Due to safety considerations, EMS
command modified this order.
The police order to transport the deceased under
emergency conditions from Norris Hall to the
medical examiners office in Roanoke was inappropriate for several reasons:
the necessary resources and supporting the
response of their EMS crews. These agencies
demonstrated an exceptional working relationship, likely an outcome of interagency training
and drills.
False Alarm Responses – At 10:58 a.m., EMS
command was notified of a reported third shooting incident at the tennis court area on Washington Street that proved to be a false alarm. At
11:18 a.m., EMS command was notified of a
bomb threat at Norris and Holden Halls that
also proved to be false. Due to safety concerns,
EMS command ordered the staging area moved
from Barger St. to Perry St.
Post-Incident Transport of the Deceased –
At 4:03 p.m., the medical examiner authorized
removal of the deceased from Norris Hall to the
medical examiner’s office in Roanoke. Due to
another rescue incident in the Blacksburg area,
units were not available until 5:15 p.m. to begin
transport of the deceased. Several options were
considered including use of a refrigeration
truck, funeral coaches, or EMS units. EMS
command, in consultation with the medical
examiner’s representative, determined that
It is not within law enforcement’s scope
of practice to order emergency transport
(red lights and siren) of the deceased.
There was no benefit to anyone by
transporting under emergency conditions.
A 30-minute or longer drive to Roanoke,
during bad weather, with winds gusting
above 60 mph, exposes EMS personnel
to unnecessary risks.
Transporting under emergency conditions increases the possibility of vehicle
crashes with risk to civilians.
Critical Incident Stress Management –
Although no physical injuries were reported,
psychological and stress- related issues can subsequently manifest in EMS providers. Local and
regional EMS providers participated in critical
incident stress management activities such as
defusings and debriefings immediately postincident.
VTRS. (2007). April 16, 2007: EMS Response. Presentation to the Virginia Tech Review Panel. May 21, 2007, The
Inn at Virginia Tech.
Montgomery Regional Hospital – The MRH
emergency department, a Level III trauma center, received 17 patients from the Virginia Tech
incident; two from West Ambler Johnston and
15 from Norris Hall. The patients from WAJ
arrived at 7:51 and 7:55 a.m. The first patient
from WAJ was the 22-year-old male with a gunshot wound to the head who was DOA. No further attempts at resuscitation were made in the
emergency department.
atients from Virginia Tech were treated at
five area hospitals:
Montgomery Regional Hospital
Carilion New River Valley Hospital
Lewis–Gale Medical Center
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital
Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital
The second patient from WAJ was the 18-yearold female who arrived in critical condition with
a gunshot wound to the head. Upon arrival to
the emergency department, she was unable to
speak and her level of consciousness was deteriorating. Airway control via endotracheal intubation was achieved using rapid sequence induction. At 8:30 a.m., she was transported by
ALS ambulance to Carilion Roanoke Memorial
Hospital, the Level I trauma center for the
region. She died shortly after arrival at CRMH.
Twenty-seven patients are known to have been
treated by local emergency departments. Some
others who were in Norris Hall may have been
treated at other hospitals, medical clinics, or
doctor’s offices including their own primary care
providers; but there are no known accounts.
Overall, the local and regional hospitals quickly
implemented their hospital ICS and mobilized
resources. Aggressive measures were taken to
postpone noncritical procedures, shift essential
personnel to critical areas, reinforce physician
staffing, and prepare for patient surge. Three
hospitals initiated their hospital-wide emergency plans. One hospital, a designated Level I
trauma center, did not feel that a full-scale,
hospital-wide implementation of their emergency plan was necessary.
notified of shots fired somewhere on the
Virginia Tech campus. Because they were unsure of the number of shooters or whether the
incident was confined to campus, MRH initiated
a lockdown procedure. Since the killing of a hospital guard at MRH in August 2006 (the Morva
incident mentioned in Chapter VII), there has
been heightened awareness at MRH regarding
security procedures. At 10:00 a.m., information
became available confirming multiple gunshot
victims. A “code green” (disaster code) was initiated and the following actions were taken:
The most significant challenge early on was the
lack of credible information about the number of
patients each expected to receive. The emergency departments did not have a single official
information source about patient flow. Likely
explanations for this were (1) an emergency
operations center (EOC) was not opened at the
university, and (2) the Regional Hospital Coordinating Center did not receive complete information that it should have under the MCI
The hospital incident command center
was opened and preassigned personnel
reported to command.
The hospital facility was placed on a
controlled access plan (strict lockdown).
Only personnel with appropriate identification (other than patients) could enter
the hospital and then only through one
All elective surgical procedures were
Preparedness, patient care/patient flow, and
patient outcomes were reviewed for each of the
receiving hospitals.
Personal communications, Morris Reece, Near Southwest
Preparedness Alliance, June 15, 2007.
Day surgery patients with early surgery
times were sent home as soon as possible.
The emergency department was placed
on divert for all EMS units except those
arriving from the Norris Hall incident.
The emergency department was staffed
at full capacity. A rapid emergency
department discharge plan was instituted. Stable patients were transferred
from the emergency department to the
outpatient surgery suite.
At 10:30 a.m. as the above actions were being
taken, four more gunshot victims arrived via
EMS transport from Norris Hall. Between 10:45
and 10:55 a.m., five additional patients arrived
via EMS. Command designated a public information officer and, by 11:00 a.m., a base had
been established where staff and counselors
could assist family and friends of patients.
By 11:15 a.m., MRH was still unclear about how
many additional patients to expect. (They had a
total of 12 by this time.) The operations chief
instructed an emergency administrator to
respond to the Virginia Tech incident as an onscene liaison to determine how many more
patients would be transported to MRH. At 11:20
a.m., the emergency department administrator
reported to the Virginia Tech command center.
MRH said that the face-to-face communications
were helpful in determining how many additional patients to expect.
At 10:05 a.m., the first patient from Norris Hall
arrived via self-transport. This patient was
injured escaping from Norris Hall. MRH was
unable to determine the extent of the Norris
Hall incident based on the history and minor
injuries of this patient. The Regional Hospital
Coordinating Center (RHCC) was notified of the
incident and asked to open. Although the RHCC
had early notification of the incident, they too
were not able to ascertain the extent of the crisis initially.
At 11:40 a.m., MRH received its last gunshot
victim from the incident. By 11:51 a.m., its onscene liaison confirmed that all patients had
been transported. At 12:12 p.m., the EMS divert
was lifted. At 13:04 and 13:10 p.m., however,
two additional patients from the incident
arrived by private vehicle. At 13:35 p.m., the
code green was lifted.
At 10:14 and 10:15 a.m., two EMS-transported
patients from Norris Hall arrived. It was evident that MRH might continue to receive
expected and unexpected patients. In preparation for the surge, MRH took the following additional actions:
The Red Cross was alerted and the blood
supply reevaluated.
all, 15 patients arrived at MRH from the Norris
Hall incident (Table 5) and were managed well.
Additional pharmaceutical supplies and
a pharmacist were sent to the emergency department.
A runner was assigned to assist with
bringing additional materials to and
from the emergency department and the
Disaster supply carts were moved to the
hallways between the emergency
department and outpatient surgery.
An emergency department (ED) nurse/EMT-C
was assigned to online medical direction and
assisted with directing patients to other hospitals. EMS was instructed to transport four
patients to Carilion New River Valley Hospital
and five patients to Lewis–Gale Medical Center.
One patient from the Norris Hall incident was
transferred from MRH to CRMH in Roanoke.
The hospital representatives reported that there
were problems with patient identification and
tracking. As noted earlier:
Montgomery Regional Hospital. (2007). Montgomery
Regional Hospital VT Incident Debriefing. April 23, 2007,
p. 1.
friends to gather. Since Virginia Tech had not
yet opened an EOC or family assistance center,
some victims’ family and friends chose to proceed to the closest hospital. Several family
members and friends of victims came to MRH
even though their loved ones were never transported there.
Table 5. Norris Hall Victims Treated by
Montgomery Regional Hospital
GSW left hand – fractured
4th finger
OR and admission
GSW to right chest –
Chest tube in OR and
GSW to right flank
OR and admission to
GSW left elbow, right thigh
GSW x 2 to left leg
OR and admission
GSW right bicep
Treated and discharged
GSW right arm, grazed chest
wall; abrasion to left hand
GSW right lower extremity;
laceration to femoral artery
OR and ICU
GSW right side abdomen
and buttock
OR and ICU
GSW right bicep
Treated and discharged
GSW to face/head
Intubated and transferred to CRMH
Asthma attack precipitated
by running from building
Treated and discharged
Tib/fib fracture due to jumping from a 2nd-story window
OR and admission
First-degree burns to chest
Treated and discharged
Back pain due to jumping
from a 2nd-story window
Treated and discharged
A psychological crisis counseling team was
assembled at MRH to provide services to victims, their families and loved ones, and hospital
staff. Virginia State Police troopers were
assigned to the hospital and were helpful in
maintaining security.
At 11:30 a.m., a surgeon arrived from Lewis–
Gale Hospital and was emergently credentialed
by the medical staff office. This is notable as
Lewis–Gale and MRH are not affiliated.
Police departments often rely on hospitals to
help preserve evidence and maintain a chain of
custody. MRH was able to gather evidence in
the emergency department and operating
rooms, including bullets, clothing, and patient
identification. At 1:45 p.m., the Virginia State
Police notified the hospital that all bullets and
fragments were to be considered evidence.
Internal communications issues included:
An EOC was not activated at Virginia
Tech. Establishing an EOC can enhance
communications and information flow to
Triage tags were not used for all
patients. This would have provided a
discrete number for identifying and
tracking each patient.
MRH activated its ICS as shown in Figure 20.
The Nextel system was overwhelmed.
Clinical directors were too busy to
retrieve and respond to messages.
Monitoring EMS radio communications
was difficult due to noise and chatter.
There was deficient communications
between the university and MRH.
An EOC could have been helpful with
FRIENDS: MRH accommodated families and
friends of patients they treated in their emergency department. MRH was challenged by the
need to provide assistance to those who were
unsure of the status or location of persons they
were trying to find (possibly victims). An open
space on the first floor was used for family and
Heil, J. et al. (2007). Psychological Intervention with the
Virginia Tech Mass Casualty: Lessons Learned in the Hospital Setting. Report to the Virginia Tech Review Panel.
Incident Commander
Operations Chief
Staging Manager
Personnel Staging Team
Vehicle Staging Team
Equipment/Supply Staging Team
Medication Staging Team
Medical Care Director
ED Director
Triage Unit Leader
(ED RN/Surgeon)
Immediate Care Unit Leader
(ED Charge Nurse)
Delayed/Minor Unit Leader
Infrastructure Branch
PIO Marketing
Safety Officer
Director Safety/Security
Liaison Officer
Dir. Emergency Mgmt.
Planning Chief
CEO/Director Emergency Mgmt.
Logistics Chief
Resources Leader
Director Material Mg.
Services Branch
Personnel Tracking
Material Tracking
Communications Unit
IT/IS Unit
Staff Food & Water Unit
Situation Unit Leader
Support Branch
Patient Tracking
Bed Tracking
Employee Health & Well-Being Unit
Family Care Unit
Supply Unit
Facilities Unit
Transportation Unit
Labor Pool & Credentialing Unit
Documentation Unit
Demobilization Unit
Power/Lighting Unit
Water/Sewer Unit
Building/Grounds Damage Unit
Medical Gases Unit
Medical Devices Unit
Environmental Services Unit
Food Services Unit
Hazmat Branch Director
Detection and Monitoring Unit
Spill Response Unit
Victim Decontamination Unit
Decontamination Unit
Security Branch
Access Control Unit
Crowd Control Unit
Traffic Control Unit
Search Unit
Law Enforcement Interface Unit
Business Continuity
Branch Director
Information Technology Unit
Service Continuity Unit
Records Preservation Unit
Business Function Relocation Unit
Figure 20. Montgomery Regional Hospital ICS
Biological/Infectious Disease
Clinic Administration
Hospital Administration
Legal Affairs
Risk Management
Medical Staff
Pediatric Care
Medical Ethicist
Finance Section Chief
Time Unit Leader
Procurement Unit
Unit Leader
Cost Unit Leader
friends and assisting others who were looking
for their loved ones.
Carilion New River Valley Hospital –
CNRVH is a Level III trauma center that
received four patients with moderate to severe
Table 6. Norris Hall Victims Treated by Carilion New
River Valley Hospital
unofficial reports of the WAJ shootings. They
heard nothing further for over 2 hours until
they received a call from MRH and also from an
RN/medic who was on scene. They were called
again later by MRH and advised that they
would be receiving patients with “extremity
injuries.” They were also notified that MRH was
on EMS divert.
While waiting for patients to arrive, the emergency department (ED) physician medical director assumed responsibility for the “regular” ED
patients while the on-duty physicians were preparing to treat patients from Norris Hall. The
on-duty hospitalist (a physician who is hired by
the hospital to manage in-patient care needs)
reported to the ED to make rapid decisions on
whether current patients would be admitted or
GSW to face, pre-auricular
area, bleeding from external
auditory canal, GCS of 7, poor
airway, anesthesiologist recommended surgical airway
Surgical cricothyrotomy
Transferred to CRMH
by critical care ALS
GSW to flank and right arm,
Immediately taken to
OR; small bowel
GSW to posterior thorax (exit
right medial upper arm), additional GSWs to right buttock,
and left lateral thigh
To OR for surgical
repair of left femur
GSW to right lateral thigh, exit
thru right medial thigh, lodged
in left medial thigh
Admitted in stable
condition and
observed; no vascular
Lewis–Gale Medical Center – LGMC, a community hospital, received five patients from the
Norris Hall shootings. The ICS structure used
and their emergency response to the incident
were appropriate. Multiple casualty incidents
and use of the ICS were not new to LGMC.
Their ICS had been recently tested after an outbreak of food poisoning at a local college.
The hospital declared a “code green” and their
EOC was opened at 11:50 a.m. The incident
commander was a social worker who had special
training in hospital ICS. Security surveyed all
patients with a metal detection wand because
they were unsure who may be victims or perpetrators. A SWAT team from Pulaski County
responded to assist with security.
aware of the Norris Hall incident when a call
was received requesting a medical examiner.
They were unable to fulfill the request. At 11:10
a.m., they received a call from Montgomery
Regional Hospital advising them of the incident.
LGMC immediately declared a “code aster,”
which is their disaster plan.
Four patients were transported by EMS to
CNRVH, each having significant injuries. The
hospital managed the patients well and could
have handled more. Table 6 lists the patient
injuries and dispositions.
The code aster was announced throughout the
hospital, the EOC was opened, and the ICS was
initiated. At 11:16 a.m., they were notified that
MRH was on EMS diversion. At 11:32 a.m., they
were notified that they were receiving their first
patient suffering from a gunshot wound. In
addition to preparing for the patients to arrive
at their own hospital, LGMC sent a surgeon to
MRH to assist with the surge of surgical
patients there.
FRIENDS: The hospital received many phone calls
concerning the whereabouts of Virginia Tech
shooting victims. Communications issues, particularly the lack of accurate information, were
a big concern for the hospital; while providing
accommodations for patients’ families and
trauma fellow physician, one radiologist, one
anesthesiologist, and a lab technician.
EMS transported five patients from the Norris
Hall shootings to LGMC. Table 7 lists the
patient injuries and dispositions. These patients
were well managed.
In addition to the patient transfers, CRMH
received a trauma patient from another incident. The ED had three other emergency physicians physically present with others on standby.
A neurosurgeon was also in the ED awaiting the
arrival of transfer patients.
Table 7. Norris Hall Victims Treated by
Lewis–Gale Medical Center
GSW grazed shoulder and
lodged in occipital area, did
not enter the brain
Patient taken to surgery by ENT for
GSW in back of right arm,
bullet not removed
Patient admitted for
GSW to face, bullet fragment
in hair, likely secondary to
shrapnel spray
Treated in ED and
Jumped from Norris Hall, 2nd
floor, shattered tib/fib
Admitted, taken to surgery the next day
Jumped from Norris Hall, 2nd
floor, soft tissue injuries,
neck and back sprain, reportedly was holding hands
with another jumper
Treated in ED and
CRMH’s concerns echoed those of the other hospitals who received patients from the Virginia
Tech incident, including lack of clarity as to
expected patient surge and the need for better
regional coordination. It was suggested that the
RHCC Mobile Communications Unit could have
been dispatched to the scene.
CRMH appropriately triaged and managed well
the patients they received. Adequate staffing
and operating rooms were immediately available. Table 8 lists WAJ and Norris Hall victims
treated at CRMH.
Table 8. WAJ and Norris Hall Victims Treated by
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital
No specific information was obtained from
LGMC about accommodations for patients’ families and friends. However, the hospital’s needs
for accurate information while accommodating
patient families’ and friends and assisting
others in attempting to locate loved ones are
similar for all emergency departments in times
of mass casualty incidents.
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital – This
Level I trauma facility located in Roanoke
received three critical patients transferred from
local hospitals. Two patients were transported
from MRH (one from the WAJ incident and one
from the Norris Hall incident). The third patient
was transferred from CNRVH (from the Norris
Hall incident).
Transfer from MRH, severe head injury
Pronounced dead in ED
Transfer from MRH, head
and significant facial/jaw
injuries, subsequent orotracheal intubation
Patient taken to OR for
surgery, subsequently
transferred to a facility
closer to home
Transfer from CNRVH,
GSW to face, subsequent
Patient taken to OR for
Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital –
CRCH is a community hospital located near and
associated with CRMH. CRCH treated a selftransported student who was injured by jumping from Norris Hall. Table 9 lists the injuries
and disposition of this patient.
its hospital-wide disaster plan since standard
procedures allowed for effective incident management with the relatively small number of
patients received. They did initiate a “gold
trauma alert” that brings to the ED three
nurses, one trauma attending physician, one
Table 9. Norris Hall Victim Treated by Carilion
Roanoke Community Hospital
Ankle contusion and sprain
secondary to jumping
Treated and released
The Virginia Department of Health regional
planning approach aligns hospitals with health
department planning regions. In collaboration
with the 88 acute care hospitals in the Commonwealth, six hospital and healthcare planning regions were established, closely corresponding with five health department planning
regions. Each of the six hospital planning
regions has a designated Regional Hospital
Coordinating Center (RHCC) located at or near
the Level I trauma facility in the region as well
as a regional hospital coordinator funded
through the HRSA cooperative agreement.
ulticasualty incidents often require coordination among state, regional, and local
authorities. This section reviews the interrelationships of these authorities.
Virginia Department of Health – In 2002,
the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) was
awarded funding from the Health Resources and
Services Administration (HRSA) National
Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program
(NBHPP) for enhancement of the health and
medical response to bioterrorism and other
emergency events. As part of this process, VDH
developed a contract with the Virginia Hospital
and Healthcare Association (VHHA) to manage
the distribution of funds from the HRSA grant
to state acute care hospitals and other medical
facilities and to monitor compliance. A small
percentage of the HRSA funds were used within
VDH to fund a hospital coordinator position, as
well as to partially fund a deputy commissioner
and other administrative positions. Substantially more than 85 percent of this HRSA grant
funding was distributed to hospitals or used for
program enhancement, including development
of a web-based hospital status monitoring system, multidisciplinary training activities,
behavioral health services, and poison control
Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance –
The Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance
(NSPA), which covers the Virginia Tech area,
was developed under the auspices of the Western Virginia EMS Council pursuant to a memorandum of understanding between the Virginia
Department of Health, the Virginia Hospital
and Healthcare Association, and the NSPA.
NSPA is organized to facilitate the development
of a regional healthcare emergency response
system and to support the development of a
statewide healthcare emergency response system. Regional hospital preparedness and coordination will foster collaborative planning
efforts between the several medical care facilities and local emergency response agencies in
the established geographically and demographically diverse region.21
At the same time, VDH received separate funding from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) for the enhancement of public
health response to bioterrorism and other emergency events. The position of VDH Deputy
Commissioner for Emergency Preparedness and
Response was created, with responsibility for
both CDC and HRSA emergency preparedness
funds. The physician in this position reports
directly to the state health commissioner, who
serves as the state health officer for Virginia.
The “Near Southwest” region is defined as:
4th Planning District (New River area),
which includes Floyd, Giles, Montgomery, and Pulaski counties and the City of
5th Planning District (Roanoke and
Alleghany area), which includes
Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, and Roanoke counties as well as the cities of
Covington, Roanoke, and Salem.
11th Planning District, which includes
Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and
Kaplowitz, L, Gilbert, C. M., Hershey, J. H., and Reece,
M. D. (2007). Health and Medical Response to Shooting
Episode at Virginia Tech, April, 2007: A Successful
Approach. Unpublished Manuscript. Virginia Department of
Health, p. 2.
Campbell counties; the cities of
Lynchburg and Bedford; and the towns
of Altavista, Amherst, Appomattox, and
Establish and manage WebEOC and
communications systems for the duration of the incident.
Serve as the single point of contact and
collaboration point for Virginia fire/EMS
agencies for the purposes of hospital diversion management, movement of
patients from an incident scene to
receiving hospitals, and input/guidance
with respect to hospital capabilities,
available services, and medical transport decisions.
Coordinate interhospital patient movement, transfers, and tracking
Provide primary resource management
to hospitals for:
Coordinate regional expenditures for
Coordinate regional medical treatment
and infection control protocols during
the incident as needed.
Coordinate Virginia hospital requests
for the Strategic National Stockpile
through the local jurisdiction EOC.
12th Planning District (Piedmont area),
which includes Franklin, Henry, Patrick
and Pittsylvania counties and the cities
of Danville and Martinsville
The region covers 7,798 square miles and
houses a population of 910,900. It has 24 local
governments and 16 hospitals.
Regional Hospital Coordinating Center –
At the regional level, hospital emergency
response coordination during exercises and
actual events is provided by RHCCs that have
been established to facilitate emergency
response, communication, and resource allocation within and among each of the six hospital
regions. These centers serve as the contact
among healthcare facilities within the region
and with RHCCs in other state regions. RHCCs
are also linked to the statewide response system
through the hospital representative seat at the
VDH Emergency Coordinating Center (ECC) in
Richmond, Virginia. The hospital seat at the
ECC serves as the contact between the healthcare provider system and the statewide emergency response system. It provides a communication link to the Virginia Emergency Opera22
tions Center (VEOC).
The RHCC complements but does not replace
the relationships and coordinating channels
established between individual healthcare
facilities and their local emergency operations
centers and health department officials. The
regional structure is intended to enhance the
communication and coordination of specific
issues related to the healthcare component of
the emergency response system at both regional
and state levels.
The primary responsibilities of the RHCC
Provide a single point of contact between
hospitals in the region and the VDH
Collect and disseminate initial event notification to hospitals and public safety
Collect and disseminate ongoing situational awareness updates and warnings, including the management of the
current bed availability in hospitals.
At 10:05 a.m. on April 16, MRH requested that
the RHCC be activated. At 10:19 a.m., it was
activated under a standby status and signed on
WebEOC is a web-based information management system
that provides a single access point for the collection and
dissemination of emergency or event-related information
to WebEOC. By 10:25 a.m., the Virginia Department of Health also had signed on to
WebEOC and monitored the event. At 10:40
a.m., the RHCC requested that all hospitals
provide an update of bed status and diversion
status for their facility. By 10:49 a.m., LGMC
was the only hospital that signed on to WebEOC
of the hospitals that had received patients from
the Norris Hall incident. Pulaski County Hospital also signed on and provided their status. At
11:49 a.m. (1 hour later), MRH signed on fol25
lowed by CNRVH at 12:33 p.m.
those in Patrick, Floyd, and Giles counties. The
region’s total population (based on 1998 estimates) is 661,200. The region encompasses
9,643 square miles.
The region encompasses the counties of
Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, Floyd, Franklin,
Giles, Henry, Montgomery, Patrick, Pittsylva26
nia, Pulaski, and Roanoke (Figure 21).
The WebEOC boards (the RHCC Events Board
and the Near Southwest Region Events Board)
were used for a variety of communications
between the RHCC, hospitals, and other state
agencies. Some hospitals spent considerable
time attempting to post information on the
WebEOC boards. None of the EMS jurisdictions
signed on to either of the boards. Not all hospitals or EMS agencies are confident in using
WebEOC and require regular training drills for
Figure 21. Map Showing Counties in the
Western Virginia EMS Region
The hospitals and public safety agencies should
have used the RHCC and WebEOC expeditiously to gain better control of the situation.
Considering the many rumors and unconfirmed
reports concerning patient surge, the incident
could have been better coordinated. If the RHCC
was kept informed as per the MCI plan, it could
have acted as the one official voice for information concerning patient status and hospital
Multicasualty Incidents – The Western
Virginia EMS Mass Casualty Incident Plan
(WVEMS MCI) plan defines a multiple casualty
incident as “an event resulting from man-made
or natural causes which results in illness and/or
injuries that exceed the emergency medical services capabilities of a hospital, locality, jurisdic28
tion and/or region.” Online medical direction is
the responsibility of the MCI Medical Control,
defined as:
That medical facility, designated by the
hospital community, which provides remote
overall medical direction of the MCI or
evacuation scene according to predetermined guidelines for the distribution of
patients throughout the community.
Western Virginia EMS Mass Casualty Incident Plan – The Western Virginia EMS region
encompasses the 7 cities and 12 counties of
Virginia Planning Districts 4, 5, and 12. The
region extends from the West Virginia border to
the north and to the North Carolina border to
the south. The region encompasses the urban
and suburban areas of Roanoke and Danville, as
well as many rural and remote areas such as
WVEMS. (2006). Trauma Triage Plan. Western Virginia
EMS Council, Appendix E.
WVEMS. (2006). Mass Casualty Incident Plan: EMS
Mutual Aid Response Guide: Western Virginia EMS Council,
Section 2.1.1, p. 1.
Ibid., Section 2.1.4, p. 1.
Baker, B. (2007). VA Tech 4-16-2007: RHCC Events
Board, p. 1.
Baker, B. (2007). April 16, 2007: Near Southwest Region
Events Board, p. 1.
Access to online physician medical direction
should be available. In MCI situations, modern
EMS systems rely more on standing orders and
protocols and less on online medical direction.
Therefore, it may be more logical to have the
RHCC coordinate these efforts, including patching in providers to online physician medical
direction as needed.
were unable to determine the appropriate level of preparation.
The MCI plan identifies three levels of incidents
based on the initial EMS assessment using the
Virginia START Triage System:
Level 1 – Multiple-casualty situation
resulting in less than 10 surviving victims.
Level 2 – Multiple casualty situation
resulting in 10 to 25 surviving victims.
Level 3 – Mass casualty situation result30
ing in more than 25 surviving victims.
Communications between the scene and
the hospitals were too infrequent. Hospitals were unable to understand exactly
what was going on at the scene. They
Cell phones and blackberries worked
intermittently and could not be relied
upon. Officials did not have time to
return or retrieve messages left on cell
phones. A mobile cell phone emergency
operating system was not immediately
available to EMS providers.
From a technological standpoint, the NIMS
requirement for interoperability is critical. Local
communities must settle historical issues and
move forward toward an efficient communications system.
Frustrating communications issues and barriers
occurred during the incident. Every service
operated on different radio frequencies making
dispatch, interagency, and medical communications difficult. These issues included both onscene and in-hospital situations that could be
avoided. Specific communications challenges
included the following:
The radios used by responding agencies
consisted of VHF, UHF, and HEAR frequencies. This led to on-scene communications difficulties and the inability for
EMS command or Virginia Tech dispatch to assure that all units were
aware of important information.
In several instances, on-scene providers
called hospitals or other resources
directly instead of through the ICS. This
included relaying incorrect information
to hospitals.
Interviews with EMS and hospital personnel
reiterated a well-known fact: face-to-face communications, when practical, is the preferred
The Virginia Tech incident clearly fits into the
definition of a Level 3 MCI, since at least 27
patients were treated in local emergency
Lack of a common communications system
between on-scene agencies creates confusion
and could have caused major safety issues for
responders. Each jurisdiction having its own
frequencies, radio types, dispatch centers, and
procedures is a sobering example of the lack of
economies of scale for emergency services. Local
political entities must get past their inability to
reach consensus and assure interoperability of
their communications systems. In this case, the
most reasonable and prudent action probably
would be to expand the Montgomery County
Communications System to handle all public
safety communications within the county. Cooperation, consensus building, and the provision of
adequate finances are required by emergency
service leaders and governmental entities. Failure to accomplish this goal will leave the region
vulnerable to a similar situation in the future
with potentially tragic results.
Unified Command – There is little evidence
that there was a unified command structure at
Ibid., Section 7, p. 4.
the BPD, a university official, a VT EMS officer,
a BVRS EMS officer, the FBI special agent-incharge, the state police superintendent, and the
ranking elected official for the City of Blacksburg. The operations section chief would have
received operational guidelines from the unified
command post and assured their implementation.
the Virginia Tech incident. Command posts
were established for EMS and law enforcement
at the Norris Hall scene and for law enforcement at another location. Separate command
structures are traditional for public safety agencies. The 9/11 attack in New York City exemplified the need for public safety agencies to step
back and reconsider these traditions. At Norris
Hall, a unified command structure could have
led to less confusion, better use of resources,
better direction of personnel, and a safer working environment. Figure 22 depicts a proposed
model unified command structure that could
have been utilized.
The unified command team would be in direct
communications with the EOC and policymaking group. Command and general staff members
would have communicated with their counterparts in the EOC. The policymaking group
would have transmitted their requests to the
EOC and the unified command post.
The unified command post would be staffed by
those having statutory authority. During the
Virginia Tech incident, those personnel would
likely have been the police chiefs for VTPD and
Liaison Officer
Montgomery County
Emergency Coord.
Safety Officer
EMS or Fire
Joint Information
Section Chief
Virginia Tech or
Blacksburg Police
Section Chief
VT Police or VTRS
Section Chief
Virginia Tech EMS
Virginia Tech Univ.
Deputy Planning
Section Chief
FBI or ATF Assistant
Special Agent In
Charge (ASAIC)
*For this incident, law enforcement would have been the lead agency. The unified command post would be staffed by
those having statutory authority. During the Virginia Tech Incident, those personnel would likely have been the police
chiefs for the VTPD and BPD, a university official, a VT EMS officer, the FBI special agent-in-charge, the Virginia State
Police superintendent, and the ranking elected official for the City of Blacksburg.
Figure 22. Proposed Model Unified Command Structure for an April 16-Like Incident
The application of a tourniquet to control a
severe femoral artery bleed was likely a lifesaving event.
Emergency Operations Center – The lack of
an EOC activated quickly as the incident unfolded led to much of the confusion experienced
by hospitals and other resources within the
community. An EOC should have been activated
at Virginia Tech. The EOC is usually located at
a pre-designated site that can be quickly activated. Its main goals are to support emergency
responders and ensure the continuation of
operations within the community. The EOC
does not become the incident commander but
instead concentrates on assuring that necessary
resources are available.
Patients were correctly triaged and transported
to appropriate medical facilities.
The incident was managed in a safe manner,
with no rescuer injuries reported.
Local hospitals were ready for the patient surge
and employed their NIMS ICS plans and managed patients well.
All of the patients who were alive after the
Norris Hall shooting survived through discharge
from the hospitals.
A policy-making group would function within
the EOC. Virginia Tech had assembled a policy
making group that functioned during the incident.
Quick assessment by a hospitalist of emergency
department patients waiting for disposition
helped with preparedness and patient flow at
one hospital.
Another responsibility of the EOC is the establishment of a joint information center (JIC) that
acts as the official voice for the situation at
hand. The JIC would coordinate the release of
all public information and the flow of information concerning the deceased, the survivors,
locations of the sick and injured, and information for families of those displaced. By not immediately activating an EOC, hospitals or the
RHCC did not receive appropriate or timely
information and intelligence. There was also a
delay in coordinating services for families and
friends of victims who needed to be identified or
located. Although Virginia Tech eventually set
up a family assistance center, it was not done
The overall EMS response was excellent, and
the lives of many were saved.
EMS agencies demonstrated an exceptional
working relationship, likely an outcome of
interagency training and drills.
Areas for Improvement
All EMS units were initially dispatched by the
Montgomery County Communications Center to
respond to the scene; this was contrary to the
There was a 4-minute delay between VTRS
monitoring the incident (9:42 a.m.) on the police
radio and its being dispatched by police (9:46
Positive Lessons
Virginia Tech police and the Montgomery
County Communications Center issued separate
dispatches. This can lead to confusion in an
EMS response.
The EMS responses to the West Ambler Johnston residence hall and Norris Hall occurred in a
timely manner.
Initial triage by the two tactical medics accompanying the police was appropriate in identifying patient viability.
BVRS was initially unaware that VTRS had
already set up an EMS command post. This
could have caused a duplication of efforts and
further organizational challenges. Participants
interviewed noted that once a BVRS officer
reported to the EMS command post, communi-
National Incident Management System
Incident Command System model. For this
incident, law enforcement would have been the
lead agency.
cations between EMS providers on the scene
Because BVRS and VTRS are on separate primary radio frequencies, BVRS reportedly did
not know where to stage their units. In addition,
BVRS units were reportedly unaware of when
the police cleared the building for entry.
IX-3 Emergency personnel should use the
National Incident Management System
procedures for nomenclature, resource typing and utilization, communications,
interoperability, and unified command.
Standard triage tags were used on some
patients but not on all. The tags are part of the
Western Virginia EMS Trauma Triage Protocol.
Their use could have assisted the hospitals with
patient tracking and record management. Some
patients were identified by room number in the
emergency department and their records
became difficult to track.
IX-4 An emergency operations center must
be activated early during a mass casualty
The police order to transport the deceased under
emergency conditions from Norris Hall to the
medical examiners office in Roanoke was
IX-5 Regional disaster drills should be
held on an annual basis. The drills should
include hospitals, the Regional Hospital Coordinating Center, all appropriate public safety and
state agencies, and the medical examiner’s
office. They should be followed by a formal postincident evaluation.
The lack of a local EOC and fully functioning
RHCC may lead to communications and operational issues such as hospital liaisons being sent
to the scene. If each hospital sent a liaison to
the scene, the command post would have been
IX-6 To improve multi-casualty incident
management, the Western Virginia Emergency Medical Services Council should
review/revise the Multi-Casualty Incident
Medical Control and the Regional Hospital
Coordinating Center functions.
A unified command post should have been
established and operated based on the NIMS
ICS model.
IX-7 Triage tags, patient care reports, or
standardized Incident Command System
forms must be completed accurately and
retained after a multi-casualty incident.
They are instrumental in evaluating each component of a multi-casualty incident.
Failure to open an EOC immediately led to
communications and coordination issues during
the incident.
IX-8 Hospitalists, when available, should
assist with emergency department patient
dispositions in preparing for a multicasualty incident patient surge.
Communications issues and barriers appeared
to be frustrating during the incident.
IX-9 Under no circumstances should the
deceased be transported under emergency
conditions. It benefits no one and increases the
likelihood of hurting others.
IX-1 Montgomery County, VA should
develop a countywide emergency medical
services, fire, and law enforcement communications center to address the issues of
interoperability and economies of scale.
IX-10 Critical incident stress management
and psychological services should continue
to be available to EMS providers as needed.
IX-2 A unified command post should be
established and operated based on the
Chapter X
n April 16, 2007, after the gunfire ceased on
the Virginia Tech campus and the living had
been triaged, treated, and transported, the sad
job of identifying the deceased and conducting
autopsies began. Since these were deaths associated with a crime, autopsies were legally
required. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) had to scientifically identify each
victim and conduct autopsies to determine with
specificity the manner and cause of death. Autopsy reports help link the victim to the perpetrator and to a particular weapon. The OCME
also has a role in providing information to victims’ families.
he Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
incorporates a statewide system with headquarters in Richmond and regional offices in
Fairfax, Norfolk, and Roanoke. Commonwealth
law requires the OCME to be notified and to
investigate deaths from violence.
Autopsies are used to collect and document evidence to link the accused with the victim of the
crime. In the Virginia Tech cases, this was ballistic evidence—bullets and fragments of bullets.
The autopsies provided scientific evidence on
the types and numbers of bullets that caused
the fatal injuries.
To assess how these responsibilities were met,
the panel interviewed:
The parents and family members of the
deceased victims
Dr. Marcella F. Fierro, Chief Medical
Examiner and her staff
Colonel Steven Flaherty, Superintendent of Virginia State Police
Mandie Patterson, Chief of the Victim
Service Section, Virginia Department of
Criminal Justice Services
Jill Roark, Terrorism and Special Jurisdiction, Victim Assistance Coordinator,
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Mary Ware, Director of the Criminal
Injuries Compensation Fund
Numerous victim service providers.
The OCME also must ensure that there is complete, accurate identification of the human
remains presented for examination. When there
are multiple fatalities, the possibility exists that
there could be a misidentification, which would
result in the release of the wrong body to at
least two families. Though a rare occurrence,
there are examples of this type of error in recent
history. The National Association of Medical
Examiners (NAME) has adopted Forensic
Autopsy Performance Standards, which are considered minimal consensus standards. The most
recent version was approved in October 2006.
Dr. Fierro is a member of the standards committee of NAME.
The NAME standards require several procedures to be performed if human remains are
presented that are unidentified. A major issue
with some of the families of those who were
murdered, however, was that they felt they were
capable of identifying the body of their family
member; in other words, from their viewpoint,
the remains were not unidentifiable.
The panel also reviewed the report issued by the
OCME on areas for improvement, lessons
learned, and recommendations.
Sec. 32.1-283 Investigations of deaths. Section A, Code
deceased victims have a wide range of needs and
reactions to the sudden and untimely death of
their loved ones. Consequently, the individuals
who deliver the death notifications and the
manner in which they carry out this duty factor
significantly in the trauma experienced by the
family. Death notifications must be delivered
with accuracy, sensitivity, and respect for the
deceased and their families. Ideally, death notification should be delivered in private, in person, and in keeping with a specific protocol
adopted from one of the effective models.
Family members of homicide victims are generally unaware that the medical examiner is
required to complete a thorough, scientific
investigation in order to identify a body, determine the cause of death, and collect evidence.
For the family members of victims, the experience is focused on immediacy. Is my loved one
dead? When can I see my loved one? As happened at Virginia Tech, a difference in perspectives can cause deep hurt and misunderstanding. A separate matter in some of the cases was
whether it was advisable for a family to view
the remains.
The Virginia Tech incident presented the potential for misidentification. Bodies were presented
with either inconsistent identification or none at
all. This is not uncommon in mass fatality
scenes due to the amount of confusion that generally exists. In order to prevent misidentification, medical examiners have established a rigorous set of practices based on national standards to ensure that identification is irrefutable.
The Virginia OCME followed these standards as
well as Commonwealth law in identifying the
Monday, April 16 – The closest OCME office to
Virginia Tech is located in Roanoke. All remains
from the western part of the commonwealth
that require an autopsy are taken there. In
addition to their full-time employees, the OCME
has part-time and per-diem investigators to help
conduct death investigations and refer cases to
the regional offices.
The first news about the Virginia Tech shootings came to the OCME from the Blacksburg
Police Department at 7:30 a.m. A police evidence technician there, who also is a per-diem
employee for the ME, called to say he would not
be able to attend a scheduled postmortem exam
(autopsy) because there had been a shooting at
the Virginia Tech campus. At this time, six
cases were awaiting examination in the western
regional office, an average caseload.
he death notification process is the opening
portal to the long road of painful experiences and varying reactions that follow in the
wake of the life-altering news that a loved one
has met with death due to homicide. This news
that someone intentionally murdered a family
member is the critical point of trauma and often
inflicts its own wounds to the body, mind, and
spirit of the survivors. From a psychological and
mental health perspective, trauma is an emotional wounding that affects the will to live and
one’s beliefs, assumptions, and values.
By 11:30 a.m., another per-diem medical examiner, who was a member of a local rescue squad,
notified the regional OCME office of a multiple
fatality incident at Norris Hall with upwards of
50 victims. It was at this time that one of the
decedents from West Ambler Johnston (WAJ)
residence hall was transported to Carillion
Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The western office
notified the central office in Richmond that
additional assistance would be needed to handle
the surge in caseload.
A homicide affects victims’ families differently
than other crimes due to its high-profile nature,
intent, and other factors. The act of informing
family members of a homicidal death requires a
responsible, well-trained, and sensitive individual who can manage to cope with this mutually
traumatizing experience. Family members of
At 1:30 p.m., representatives from the Roanoke
office arrived on campus and attended an incident management team meeting with the public
safety agencies that had responded. OCME representatives attended the operations section
briefing. The activities in Norris Hall were
organized by areas (classrooms and a stairway).
Investigation teams of law enforcement and
OCME employees were assigned specific tasks.
The OCME requested resources from the northern regional office in Fairfax and the central
office in Richmond. They, along with Dr. Fierro,
departed for Blacksburg by 3:00 p.m. The western office had two vacancies in forensic pathologist positions, so additional staff clearly was
All victims were to be forensically
identified prior to release.
A second-shooter theory was still under
consideration by law enforcement. As
such, all ballistic evidence had to be collected and documented. The distribution
of gunshot wounds was:
– One victim with nine
– One victim with seven
– Five victims with six
– One victim with five
– Five victims with four
The remainder of the victims had three or fewer
gunshot wounds. The complexity of tracking
bullet trajectories and retrieving fragments
would be especially time consuming for the multiple wounds.
The first autopsy, that of one of the dormitory
victims, began at 3:15 p.m. No autopsy could
begin until after the crime scene had been thoroughly documented and investigated. As each
decedent was transported from campus, the
Roanoke regional office was notified so that a
case number could be assigned.
It was decided to use fingerprints as the primary identification method and dental records
as the secondary. The reasons for this decision
By 5:00 p.m., the first victim from Norris Hall
had been transported to the Roanoke office.
Volunteer rescue squads were transporting the
victims from campus to the regional office, a 45minute trip.
At 6:30 p.m., Dr. Fierro and additional staff
from Richmond arrived and met with representatives from state police and the Departments of
Health and Emergency Management. The
methods for identification were discussed, as
was the process of documenting personal effects.
The last victim was removed from Norris Hall
and transported to Roanoke by 8:45 p.m. By
11:30 p.m., the first autopsy was completed;
identification made, next of kin notified, and the
remains released to a funeral home.
Tuesday, April 17 – In the early morning
hours of the first day after the shooting, additional pathologists departed the Tidewater and
central regional offices for Roanoke. A staff
meeting was held at 7:00 a.m. to formulate the
OCME portion of the incident action plan (IAP).
Key points addressed for the morgue operations
sections included:
Fingerprints were able to be taken from
all of the victims.
Foreign students had prints on file with
Customs and Border Protection.
There was an abundance of latent prints
on personal effects in dorm rooms and
apartments and on personal effects
recovered on site.
The Department of Forensic Services
had adequate staff available to assist in
the collection and comparison of the fingerprints. (The police reported that
nearly 100 law enforcement officers from
local, state, and federal agencies volunteered or were assigned to assist in
gathering prints and other identification.)
The alternative method for identification, dental
examination, required the name of the decedent’s dentist to obtain dental records, and
families were asked to provide the contact
information in case that method was needed.
and included in the file. Some state officials,
seeing the VIP acronym, mistakenly concluded
that OCME had designated some victims as
“VIPs” (very important persons), singling them
out for special consideration. As it happened,
several embassies did contact state officials to
demand preferential treatment for their nationals who were among the victims. However, the
OCME did not provide any preferential or “VIP”
DNA was excluded as a means of identification
because the collection and processing of samples
would have taken weeks.
In addition to being short-staffed by two vacancies and one injured pathologist, the ME’s office
had to respond to the concerns and demands of a
religious group that contested one of the autopsies. By the end of the first day of operations, all
of the deceased, 33, had been transported to the
western region office. Thirteen postmortem examinations had been completed, two positive
identifications had been made, and two families
were notified and the remains released and
picked up by next of kin or their representative.
announced that the “coroner” would be releasing
all of the human remains on Wednesday, April
18. The origin of this incorrect report is
Wednesday, April 18 – On the second day of
morgue operations, the process of forensic identification continued. Procedures began at 7:45
a.m. and continued until 8:00 p.m.
TRACKING INFORMATION: At the request of the gov-
ernor’s office, a spreadsheet that detailed specific information for each victim was developed.
During this process, members of the governor’s
staff became concerned that the OCME had prioritized some cases. But in fact, cases were handled without a specific plan or intent to prioritize them.
At 10:00 a.m., the chief medical examiner gave a
press conference where she discussed forensic
procedures and the methods employed.
At 11:00 a.m., a representative from OCME
assisted in collecting antemortem data from the
families who had gathered at the family assistance center at The Inn at Virginia Tech.
Staff members from the OCME went to the Inn
to assist in the operation of the FAC. The
Virginia State Police and the OCME established
a process and team to notify families that their
loved ones had been positively identified.
OCME uses to collect antemortem data is called
a Victim Identification Protocol (VIP) form. This
form, used by many medical examiners and federal response teams, documents information on
hair and eye color, medical history (such as an
appendectomy), and other distinguishing marks
such as scars or tattoos. During a postmortem
examination, the pathologist conducting the autopsy comments on his or her findings and each
identifier and that information is entered into a
case file. Forensic odontology (dental) and
fingerprint findings may also be incorporated.
Both profiles can be compared electronically and
possible matches or exclusions made. The
pathologist then reviews these findings as part
of the scientific identification.
the deceased victims were anxious for the formal identification and release of the bodies to be
completed. In response to the concerns of family
members regarding the length of time involved
in the identification process, some state officials
suggested that the families should be permitted
to go to the morgue and identify the bodies if
they so chose. Though this would seem reasonable, it conflicts with current practice.
A public information officer at the FAC
explained to families who were assembled there
what the OCME policy was regarding visible
presumptive identification. Then the public
information officer (PIO) unfortunately asked
the families for a “show of hands” of those who
As case files were compiled, a designation was
made as to whether a VIP form was available
wanted to view the remains of their loved ones
in case that could be arranged.
remains released to next of kin. Morgue operations were conducted from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Viewing and identifying remains is a significant
issue for victim survivors. Even though identification of the body by family members is not
always considered scientifically reliable, for
various reasons, victim survivors often want to
make that decision for themselves. At Virginia
Tech, families were frustrated with the lack of
information from OCME and why it was taking
so long to identify and release the victims’
remains. Medical examiners must be sensitive
to the waiting family members’ need to be kept
informed when there are delays and when they
can expect a status update
Thursday, April 19 – The third day of morgue
operations began at 7:00 a.m. It was determined
that the OCME would work around the clock if
necessary to complete the identification process
this day. By this time, all of the antemortem
records had arrived at the regional office.
The media had gathered in the area of the
morgue and was covering the activities of representatives of the families—usually funeral
homes—as they arrived to pick up the remains.
Roanoke County law enforcement provided
All of the remaining decedents were identified
and released by 6:00 p.m. The last case was a
special challenge as there were no fingerprints
on file and the victim did not have a dentist of
record. The latent prints in the home were not
readable. The identification was completed
through a process of exclusion and definition of
unique physical properties using the Victim
Identification Protocol process. The Virginia
OCME had completed 33 postmortem exams
and correctly made 33 positive legal identifications within 3 working days.
The remains of persons killed in a crime become
part of the evidence of the crime scene, and are
legally under the jurisdiction of the OCME until
released. The OCME can set the conditions it
thinks are appropriate for the situation. The
standard of care does not include presumptive
identification using visual means. The public
information officer who asked for a show of
hands should not have done so.
When the protocol and policies of the OCME
were explained to the families, some of the tension seemed to abate. The confusion and misunderstanding surrounding these issues involved
misinformation, late information, no information, and the high emotional stress of the event.
Had a public information officer with a background in the operations of the OCME been
available or a representative from the OCME
been present to answer these concerns, the controversy regarding this issue could have been
reduced or eliminated.
Figure 23 summarizes the statistics for 3-day
morgue operations. The figure shows that not
all of the remains were picked up by the end of
morgue operations because Cho’s family did not
pick up his remains for several days after the
operations were shut down.
hree major issues surfaced during panel
interviews and the collection of after-action
reports in regards to the actions of the Virginia
OCME; these were primarily issues presented
by some families of the deceased:
IDENTIFICATION PROGRESS: The progress of the first
day continued on the second day of morgue
operations. The second-shooter theory had been
discounted after it was determined forensically
that Cho used two different weapons. By the
end of the second day, another 20 autopsies had
been completed, which meant that all 33 victims
had received a postmortem exam. At this point,
there were 22 total identifications and 22
Some felt the autopsy process took too
Some felt families should have been
allowed to go to the morgue and visibly
identify their family members.
Ante Records
ID by Prints
Dental IDs 1
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Other IDs 1 1 1
Total IDs
Picked Up
Source: Virginia Office of the Medical Examiner'
Figure 23. Progress and Activity of the OCME Over the 3-Day Period April 17–19, 2007
Medical System (NDMS) program. That program can deploy a disaster mortuary operational response team (DMORT) composed of forensic specialists who can assist medical examiners in the event of mass fatality incidents. The
DMORT system has three portable morgue
units. DMORT resources (in this case, just personnel) could have been requested and probably
been in place within 24 hours of mobilization.
For example, a DMORT was used in the Station
Nightclub fire in Rhode Island in February 2003
to assist the Rhode Island medical examiner in
the identification of the victims of that fire.
Many felt the process of notifying the
families and providing assistance to the
families was disjointed, unorganized,
and in several cases insensitive.
Speed – There is no nationally accepted time
standard for the performance of an autopsy. The
NAME standards mentioned earlier do not set
time standards.
The average duration of the postmortem exams
was just under 2 hours. Had the OCME office
been fully staffed, it may have been able to perform the identifications and examinations
somewhat more rapidly. The OCME did have a
disaster plan that it implemented upon notification of the events. The plan called for staff from
the regional and central offices to deploy to the
regional office where the disaster occurred to
meet the surge in caseload, which was done.
Once antemortem information had been gathered, DMORT personnel could have worked a
second shift and might have reduced the elapsed
time of morgue operations by 24 hours. Given
the information regarding the performance of
The OCME did not call for federal assistance,
which is available from the Department of
Health and Human Service’s National Disaster
A member of TriData’s support staff to the panel is a
member of a DMORT and provided first-hand information
on its operation.
The operative word in this method of identification is reliable [italics added]. Personal recognition of visage or habitus,
under certain circumstances, is less reliable than fingerprints, dental data, or
radiology. It (this method) relies on memory and a rapid mental comparison of
physical features under stressful conditions
and often a damaged body.…
the family assistance center, which also was the
responsibility of OCME, this early collection
may or may not have occurred. The time delay
for identifications came from delays in gathering
antemortem information and then providing
that information to the OCME, a task outside
the control of the OCME.
Identification and Viewing – The second
issue was the insistence by the OCME to perform forensic identifications of the victims as
opposed to presumptive identifications. Forensic
identifications use methods such as fingerprinting, dental records, DNA matches, or other scientific means for identification. Presumptive
identification includes photographs, driver’s
licenses, and visual recognition by family or
Another hazard in visual identification is
denial. The situation may be so stressful or
the remains altered by age, injury, disease
or changes in lifestyle that identification is
denied even if later confirmed by fingerprints or dental examination.3
In Clinics in Laboratory Medicine, Victor Weedn
Visual recognition is among the least reliable forms of identification. Even brothers,
sisters and mates have misidentified victims. …Family members may find it emotionally difficult and uncomfortable to carefully gaze at the dead body, particularly a
loved one. Identification requires a rapid
mental comparison under stressful conditions. The environment in which the identification is made and the appearance of the
person at death are unnatural and
Some of the families wanted to go to the
regional office of the OCME to view the remains
and identify the victims. The OCME did not
permit this for several reasons. For one, the
regional office does not have an area large
enough to display all the bodies for families to
view each one to determine whether it is their
family member
As noted earlier, the idea of families viewing
their loved one and making a legally binding
identification is not the current practice of the
OCME because it is not considered scientifically
reliable. Nevertheless, it was emotionally
wrenching for families not to have a choice in
this matter. Presumptive identification is
acceptable in some communities under certain
conditions. OCME noted that several female
victims had no personal effects such as a
driver’s license or student identity card when
they were transported to the hospital or morgue.
At the same time, some families told the medical examiner’s office about specific moles, scars,
or other distinguishing marks that were far
more reliable than a purse and could not be confused with another victim.
Family Treatment – The third issue was the
treatment of the families of the decedents
regarding official notification and support while
waiting for positive identification. Their treatment was haphazard, inconsistent, and compounded the pain and trauma of the event.
Victims of crime are afforded a number of
rights, among them the right to be treated with
dignity and respect. The right of respect speaks
to victims being given honest and direct information free of any attempt to protect them from
perceived emotional injury or their inability to
process information. Crime victims rights are
protected by federal and state laws. Basic rights
Spitz and Fisher, Medicolegal Investigation of Death, 3rd
edition, Edited by Werner U. Spitz. 1993, pages 77–78.
Victor Weedn, “Postmortem Identification of Remains,”
Clinics in Laboratory Medicine, Volume 18, March 1998,
page 117.
A textbook for students of forensic pathology
discusses the identification of human remains.
Regarding the topic of reliable visual identification:
for victim survivors generally include the right
to be notified and heard, and to be informed.
adequate. Many complaints were lodged by
families regarding what they perceived as an
insensitive attitude and manner of communication from the medical examiner’s office. Some
families also objected to the rigid application of
the scientific identification process. Among the
complaints and questions relevant to the ME
functions were the following:
In 1996, following several airline accidents, the
families of the victims felt the airline companies
and government officials did not address their
needs, desires, or expectations. In that year,
Congress passed the Aviation Disaster Family
Assistance Act. This law holds airline companies and government officials, such as medical
examiners and coroners, accountable to the
National Transportation Safety Board for compassionate, considerate, and timely information
regarding the disposition of their loved ones or
next of kin.
The U.S. Department of Justice, through its
Office of Justice Programs, has an Office for
Victims of Crime (OVC) that can provide
support for victims of federal crimes such as
To this end, many medical examiners’ offices
have developed plans for the establishment of
family assistance centers. A FAC serves several
purposes. First, it is the location where families
can receive timely, accurate, and compassionate
information from officials. Second, medical
examiner’s office staff can collect vital antemortem information from families there to
assist in the positive identification of the
deceased. Third, it can be the location where
private, compassionate notification of the positive identification of the deceased can be conducted with next of kin.
A FAC was established in Oklahoma City in
April 1995 following the Murrah Building bombing. Families were notified in private, before the
media was notified. This model for the compassionate, accurate information exchange was
published by the federal OVC.
Although a FAC was established at The Inn at
Virginia Tech, reports received by the panel
indicate that what was provided was not
OVC, “Providing Relief After a Mass Fatality, Role of the
Medical Examiners Office and the Family Assistance Center,” Blakney, 2002
Inadequate communication efforts (lack
of information).
Lack of sensitivity to the emotions of
Lack of a central point of contact for
information for responders, victims, and
family members.
Lack of a security plan that resulted in
an inability to distinguish personnel,
responding service providers, and other
agents with authority to enter the FAC
and surrounding areas.
Confusion regarding the Victim Identification Profile form.
Confusion regarding the identification
process as to length and method used
and its necessity.
Failure to provide adequate isolation for
parents in receiving information.
Location of the media relative to the
FAC; media management in general was
Issues surrounding the source and
responsibility for death notifications.
Lack of personnel trained, skilled, and
prepared to assist victims upon receipt
of death notification.
Concern that no one was addressing the
needs of all family members, and
awareness that some family members
were having great difficulty in coping.
No timely or consistent family briefings.
Confusion about who is responsible for
the death notifications and family
Some of these complaints are associated with
the medical examiner’s office, but others are
not. In fact, no one individual agency or
department of government is charged with the
responsibility of organizing and maintaining a
fully operational family assistance center. This
is an oversight in federal and state policies.
Existing planning guidance, such as the
National Response Plan, parcels out pieces of
the FAC function to various lead agencies, but
places no one agency in charge. The OCME is
clearly identified as being responsible for fatality management, including death notifications;
also, the state plan calls for OCME to set up a
family victim identification center within the
FAC. Who is supposed to run the FAC is not
Materials and Terrorism Consequence Management Plan,” part 14-D-2.
The OCME plan considers 12 or more fatalities
in 1 day in one regional office to be the trigger
point for implementation of the emergency plan.
The plan calls for the establishment of both a
family assistance center and a family victim
identification center. At this location, the OCME
and law enforcement agencies would conduct
interviews to gather antemortem information
and notify next of kin. The OCME, however,
does not have sufficient personnel to perform
this task, and its plan indicates as much (page
16). To their credit, the OCME has recruited a
team of volunteers through the Virginia Funeral
Directors Association to assist in the operation
of a FAC. Funeral directors by training and disposition have experience in interactions with
bereaved families. This group is an ideal choice
to provide assistance to the OCME. Unfortunately, this team was not available for the
Virginia Tech incident because the state
requires background checks and ID cards for
these teams and funding was not provided for
The university attempted to provide these services. In the Virginia Tech Emergency Operations Plan, the Office of Student Programs is
responsible to:
Develop and maintain, in conjunction with
the Schiffert Health Center, Cook Counseling Center, the University Registrar, and
Personnel Services, procedures for providing mass care and sheltering for students,
psychological and medical support services,
parental notification and other procedures
as necessary,
What evolved by Wednesday, April 18, was an
uncoordinated system of providing family support. It was too late and inadequate.
A university the size of Virginia Tech must be
prepared for more than emergencies of limited
size and scope. Universities need plans for
major operations. If the situation dictates the
need for additional help from outside the university, then all concerned must be prepared to
proceed in that direction.
Positive Lessons
The part of the OCME disaster plan related to
postmortem operations functioned as designed.
The internal notification process as well as staff
redeployments allowed the surge in caseload
generated by the disaster to be handled appropriately as well as existing cases and other new
cases that were referred to the OCME from
other events statewide.
The university turned to the state for help on
Wednesday, April 17. It should have done so
earlier. The Commonwealth Emergency Operations Plan in its “Emergency Support Function
(ESF)” #8” addresses public health and fatality
issues. The Health Department is the lead
agency for this ESF. The OCME mass fatality
plan is found in Volume #4, “Hazardous
Thirty-three positive identifications were made
in 3 days of intense morgue operations.
The contention that the OCME was slow in
completing the legally mandated tasks of investigation is not valid.
“VA Tech Emergency Response Plan,” Appendix 10 to
Functional Annex A, page 45.
Crime scene operations with law enforcement
were effective and expedient.
and misinformation, which caused additional
stress to victims’ families.
Cooperation with the Department of
Forensic Services for fingerprint and dental
comparison was good.
No one was in charge of the family assistance
center operation. Confusion over that responsibility between state government and the university added to the problem. Under the current
state planning model, the Commonwealth’s
Department of Social Services has part of the
responsibility for family assistance centers. The
university stepped in to establish the center and
use the liaisons, but they were not knowledgeable about how to manage such a delicate operation. Moreover, the university itself was traumatized.
The OCME performed their technical duties
well under the pressures of a high-profile event.
Areas for Improvement
The public information side of the OCME was
poor and not enough was done to bring outside
help in quickly to cover this critical part of their
duties. The OCME did not dedicate a person to
handle the inquiries and issues regarding the
expectations of the families and other state officials. This failure resulted in the spread of misinformation, confusion for victim survivors, and
frustrations for all concerned.
he following recommendations reflect the
research conducted by the panel, afteraction reports from Commonwealth agencies,
and other studies regarding fatality management issues.
The inexperience of state officials charged with
managing a mass fatality event was evident.
This could be corrected if state officials include
the OCME in disaster drills and exercises.
X-1 The chief medical examiner should not
be one of the staff performing the postmortem exams in mass casualty events; the
chief medical examiner should be managing the overall response.
The process of notifying family members of the
victims and the support needed for this population were ineffective and often insensitive. The
university and the OCME should have asked for
outside assistance when faced with an event of
this size and scope.
X-2 The Office of the Chief Medical Examminer (OCME) should work along with law
enforcement, Virginia Department of
Criminal Justice Services( DCJS), chaplains, Department of Homeland Security,
and other authorized entities in developing
protocols and training to create a more
responsive family assistance center (FAC).
Training for identification personnel was inadequate regarding acceptable scientific identification methods. This includes FAC personnel; Virginia funerals directors; behavioral health, law
enforcement, public health, and public information officials; the Virginia Dental Association;
and hospital staffs.
X-3 The OCME and Virginia State Police in
concert with FAC personnel should ensure
that family members of the deceased are
afforded prompt and sensitive notification
of the death of a family member when possible and provide briefings regarding any
Adequate training for PIOs on the methods and
operations of the OCME was lacking. This training had been given to two Health Department
public information officers prior to the shootings. However, since neither was available,
information management in the hands of an
inexperienced public information officer proved
disastrous. This in turn, allowed speculation
X-4 Training should be developed for FAC,
law enforcement, OCME, medical and
mental health professionals, and others
X-11 The Commonwealth should amend its
Emergency Operations Plan to include an
emergency support function for mass fatality operations and family assistance. The
new ESF should address roles and responsibilities of the state agencies. The topics of family
assistance and notification are not adequately
addressed in the National Response Plan (NRP)
for the federal government and the state plan
that mirrors the NRP also mirrors this weakness. Virginia has an opportunity to be a
national leader by reforming their EOP to this
regarding the impact of crime and appropriate intervention for victim survivors.
X-5 OCME and FAC personnel should
ensure that a media expert is available to
manage media requests effectively and that
victims are not inundated with intrusions
that may increase their stress.
X-6 The Virginia Department of Criminal
Justice Services should mandate training
for law enforcement officers on death
X-7 The OCME should participate in disaster or national security drills and exercises
to plan and train for effects of a mass fatality situation on ME operations.
The weaknesses and issues regarding the performance of the OCME and the family assistance process that came to light in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech homicides did not
reveal new issues for this agency. In July 2003,
the Commonwealth published “Recommendations for the Secure Commonwealth Panel.” Appendix 1-3 of this report addressed mass fatality
issues. Although the intent of the report was to
assess the state of preparedness in Virginia for
terrorist attacks, many of the issues that arose
following the Virginia Tech homicides were
identified in this report. Had the recommendations in this report been implemented, many of
the problems cited above might have been
X-8 The Virginia Department of Health
should continuously recruit board-certified
forensic pathologists and other specialty
positions to fill vacancies within the OCME.
Being understaffed is a liability for any agency
and reduces its surge capability.
X-9 The Virginia Department of Health
should have several public information
officers trained and well versed in OCME
operations and in victims services. When
needed, they should be made available to the
OCME for the duration of the event.
X-10 Funding to train and credential volunteer staff, such as the group from the
Virginia Funeral Director’s Association,
should be made available in order to utilize
their talents. Had this team been available,
the family assistance center could have been
more effectively organized.
Therefore, the panel also recommends that the
recommendations found in Appendices 1-3 of the
Secure Commonwealth Panel from 2005 be
Chapter XI
n the hours, days, and weeks following Cho’s
calculated assault on students and faculty at
Virginia Tech, hundreds of individuals and dozens of agencies and organizations from Virginia
Tech, local jurisdictions, state government, businesses, and private citizens mobilized to provide
assistance. Once again the nation witnessed the
sudden, unexpected horror of a large number of
lives being intentionally destroyed in a fleeting
moment. Only those caught up in the immediate
moments after the attacks can fully describe the
confusion, attempts to protect and save lives, and
the heartbreaking struggle to recover the dead.
Reeling from shock and outraged by the shootings, students and faculty who survived Norris
Hall and law enforcement officers and emergency
medical providers who arrived on the scene will
carry images with them that will be difficult to
deal with in the months and years ahead.
Disaster response organizations including community-based organizations, local, state and federal agencies, and volunteers eager to help in
any capacity flooded the campus. The media
descended on the grounds of Virginia Tech with a
large number of reporters and equipment, pursuing anyone and everyone who was willing to talk
in a quest for stories that they could broadcast
across the nation to feed the public’s interest in
the shocking events.
The toll of April 16, 2007, assaults the senses: 32
innocent victims of homicide, 26 physically
injured, and many others who carry deep emotional wounds. For each, there also are family
members and friends who were affected. Each of
the 32 homicides represents an individual case
unto itself. The families of the deceased as well
as each physically and emotionally wounded victim have required support specific to their individual needs. Finding resolution, comfort, peace,
healing, and recovery is difficult to achieve and
may take a lifetime for some.
The people whose lives were directly affected
Family members of the murdered victims, who are often called co-victims due
to the tremendous impact of the crimes
on their lives.
Physically and emotionally wounded victims from Norris Hall and their family
members who, while grateful that they or
their loved ones were spared death, face
injuries that may have a profound effect
upon them for a lifetime.
Witnesses and those within a physical
proximity to the event and their family
Law enforcement personnel who faced
life-threatening conditions and were the
first to respond to Norris Hall and among
the first to respond to West Ambler
Johnston dormitory. They encountered a
scene few officers ever see. Their families
are not sparred from the complicated
impact of the events.
Emergency medical responders who
treated and transported the injured.
Their family members also share in the
complexity of reactions experienced by
emergency medical responders.
Everyone from Virginia Tech who was
part of the immediate response to the
two shooting incidents and the aftermath
that followed.
Mental health professionals.
Funeral home personnel and hospital
personnel, who, while accustomed to
traumatic events, are not necessarily
spared the after-effects.
Volunteers and employees from surrounding jurisdictions and state agencies, and others who worked diligently to
initial spontaneous responses helped to stabilize
some of the impact of the devastation as it
provide support in the first hours and
The campus population of students, faculty, and staff and their families.
This chapter describes the major actions that
were taken in the aftermath of April 16... Many
other spontaneous, informal activities took place
as well, especially by students. For example,
members of the Hokie band went to the hospitals
and played for some injured students outside
their windows. The madrigal chorus from
Radford University sang at a memorial service
for several students who had been killed. The
private sector made donations and offered assistance. It is difficult to capture the true magnitude of the heartfelt responses and the special
kindnesses exhibited by thousands of people.
At the time of publication of this report, recovery
was only 4 months along in a process that will
continue much longer. The following sections discuss the actions that key responders and entities
took in the immediate aftermath of the shootings
and during the weeks that followed.
fter Cho committed suicide and the scene
was finally cleared by the police to allow
EMS units to move in, the grim reports began to
emerge. The numbers of dead and injured rose as
each new report was issued. Parents, spouses,
faculty, students, and staff scrambled for information that would confirm that their loved ones,
friends, or colleagues were safe. They attempted
to contact the university, hospitals, local police
departments, and media outlets, in an attempt to
obtain the latest information.
Chaos and confusion reigned throughout the
campus in the immediate aftermath. Individuals
and systems were caught unaware and reacted to
the urgency of the moment and the enormity of
the event. There was an outpouring of effort to
help and to provide for the safety of everyone.
Responders scrambled to offer solace to the
despairing and to meet emergency needs for
medical care and comfort to the injured. These
Grief-stricken university leaders, faculty, staff,
and law enforcement worked together to monitor
the rapidly changing situation and set up a location where families could assemble. Some family
members arrived not knowing whether their
child, spouse, or sibling had been taken to a hospital for treatment for their wounds, or to a
morgue. University officials designated The Inn
at Virginia Tech as the main gathering place for
he immediate tasks were to provide support
to the families of Virginia Tech students and
particularly to the family members of the slain
and injured. Countless responders including law
enforcement officers, concerned volunteers, government entities, community-based organizations, victim assistance providers, faculty, staff,
and students worked diligently to lend assistance
in this uncharted territory, the impact of a mass
murder of this scale. Many aspects of the postincident activities went well, especially considering the circumstances; others were not well handled.
The incident revealed certain inadequacies in
government emergency response plan guidelines
for family assistance at mass fatality incidents.
Also, certain state assistance resources were not
obligated quickly enough and arrived late.
Finally, the lack of an adequate university emergency response plan to cover the operation of an
onsite, post-emergency operations center (and
most particularly a joint information center) and
a family assistance center hampered response
A variety of formal and informal methods were
used to assist surviving victims and families of
deceased victims.
University-Based Liaisons – The Division of
Student Affairs organized a group of family liaisons, individuals who were assigned to two or
more families for the purpose of providing direct
support to victim survivors. The liaison staff was
comprised of individuals from the Division of
Student Affairs, the graduate school, and the
Provost’s Office. They were tasked to track down
and provide information to families of those
killed and to victim survivors, to assist them
with the details of recovering personal belongings and contacting funeral homes, and to act as
an information link between families and the
university. Liaisons worked out the details on
such matters as transportation, benefits from
federal and state victim’s compensation funds (as
that information became available), coordination
with the Red Cross, travel arrangements for outof-country relatives, and much more. They also
helped arrange participation in commencement
activities where deceased students received
posthumous degrees.
Interviews with victims’ families revealed that
many of the liaisons were viewed as sensitive,
knowledgeable, caring, and helpful. Originally
set up as a temporary resource for the early days
and weeks following the shootings, the liaisons
soon discovered that the overwhelming needs
and expectations for their assistance would be
ongoing. Many liaisons continued to help even as
the weeks stretched on, while others were not in
a position to continue on at such an intense level
for an extended period of time. Still others were
not prepared to serve in the capacity of a liaison
and lacked training and skills needed to provide
assistance to crime victims.
There were a few reports of poor communication,
insensitivity, failure to follow-up, and
misinformation, which added to the confusion
and frustration experienced by a number of
families. Largely, these problems occurred
because Liaisons were volunteers untrained in
responding to victims in the aftermath of a major
disaster. Nevertheless, they were willing and
available to fill an acute need while system based
assistance providers awaited the required
invitation before they were authorized to respond
to Virginia Tech campus. The liaisons
themselves had little if any experience in dealing
with the aftermath of violent crime scenes and
were grappling with their own emotional
responses to the deaths and injuries of the
students and faculty. Liaisons did not have
adequate information on the network of services
designed for victims of crime until at least 2 days
later when most of the state’s victim assistance
team arrived.
In general, most families reported that their liaisons were wonderful and conscientious, and they
were grateful for the tremendous amount of time
and effort put forth by them on their behalf.
State Victims Services and Compensation
Personnel – Assistance to survivor families and
families of the injured could have been far more
effective if executed from the beginning as a dual
function between university-assigned liaisons
and professional victim assistance providers
working together to meet the ongoing needs of
each family
Victim assistance programs throughout the
nation are supported by federal, state, and local
governments. Many victim assistance programs
are community based and specific to domestic
violence and sexual assault crimes, while other
programs are system-based and operate out of
police departments, prosecutor’s offices, the
courts, and the department of corrections. These
programs provide crisis intervention, counseling,
emotional support, help with court processes,
links to various resources, and financial assistance to victims of crime. They represent a network of trained, skilled professionals accustomed
to designing programs and strategies to meet the
specific needs of crime victims. Moreover, all
states have a victim compensation program
charged with reimbursing crime victims for certain out-of-pocket expenses resulting from criminal victimization.
Patricia Snead, Emergency Planning Manager at
the Virginia Department of Social Services
(DSS), alerted Mandie Patterson, Chief of the
Commonwealth’s Victim Services Section (VSS)
at the Department of Criminal Justice Services
(DCJS), at 12:21 p.m. on April 16, and asked that
office to stand by for possible mobilization to
support the needs at Virginia Tech. At that
point, it was unclear whether DCJS staff from
Richmond or local advocates would be needed to
staff a family assistance center and whether
Virginia Tech would request assistance for these
services per the state’s emergency management
procedures. According to those procedures, before
VSS staff can move forward, they must be
authorized to do so from DSS. There was no further instruction that day from DSS.
expenses, funeral and burial costs, and a number
of other out-of-pocket expenses associated with
criminal victimization. At Virginia Tech, CICF
enabled the rapid provision of funds to cover funeral expenses, temporarily setting aside certain
procedures until they could be processed at a
later date. CICF staff and the team of victim service providers orchestrated by DCJS arrived on
Wednesday morning and proceeded to help in
various capacities.
The following day, April 17, the DCJS chief of
VSS sent a broadcast e-mail to the 106 victim
witness programs in Virginia to determine the
availability of advocates with experience in
working with victims of homicide. At 4:17 p.m.
that day, DSS sent a message to DCJS, VSS and
the victim advocates from local sister agencies
indicating that they were authorized to respond
to the needs of victims on the campus. The team
of victim service providers arrived on April 18,
2 days after the massacre. Thus, even though the
Commonwealth’s emergency plan authorizes
immediate action, the process moved slowly—a
real problem given the substantial need for early
intervention, crisis response, information and
help in establishing the family assistance center.
According to Snead, time was lost while officials
from the state and the university worked
through the question of who was supposed to be
in charge of managing the emergency and its
aftermath: the state university or the state government. Reportedly, the university was guarded
and initially reluctant to accept help or relinquish authority to the Commonwealth for managing resources and response.
The delay in the mobilization and arrival of the
victim service providers resulted in some families working directly with the medical examiner
regarding that office’s request for personal items
with fingerprints or DNA samples to help identify the bodies. Though the university liaisons
were helping, a number of families did not have
the benefit of a professional victim service provider to support them in coping with the ME’s
requests. Many families had scattered and begun
making arrangements with funeral homes, which
had a direct line to the ME’s office. Other nongovernmental service providers—many without
identification or a security badge—appeared on
the scene without having been summoned to
help. As a consequence, some families received
conflicting information about what the Red Cross
would pay for, what the state would cover, and
what they would have to manage on their own.
Mary Ware, Director of the Department of Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund (CICF), arrived
on Tuesday around midnight. Early on Wednesday morning, she began providing the services of
her office and talked to two on-scene staff from
the Montgomery County Victim Witness Program. Kerry Owens, director of that program,
told the panel, “You have never seen such pain,
sorrow, and despair in one place, and you have
never seen so many people come together for a
common cause.” The CICF provides funds to help
compensate victim survivors with medical
The victim assistance team comprised of the
state’s two relevant agencies—DCJS and CICF—
had difficulty locating and identifying victim
survivors. Victim Services and Crime Compensation staff became aware that the United Way
was fund-raising on campus and sought out
those individuals to ensure that there were no
conflicts or duplications of effort. The victim assistance team provided assistance for family
members by informing them of their rights as
crime victims and offering assistance in a number of areas to include help with making funeral
arrangements, childcare in some instances, arranging for transportation, emotional support
and referral information. Unfortunately, when
many of the family members returned home to
other states or other parts of Virginia, they were
not connected directly to available services in
their local jurisdictions. Because of the need to
respect privacy and confidentiality, victim assistance providers in the victims’ hometowns had to
refrain from intruding and instead had to await
invitation or authorization by others to become
linked to the families. There was a gap in the
continuum of care as, in many cases, survivors
returned home with little or no information regarding ongoing victim services in their jurisdictions. To the extent the liaisons had sufficient
information about victim’s assistance services to
tell the families, they did. However, unless the
liaison or other responsible on-scene providers
provided families and victims with specific information regarding their local victim services
office, they did not know what services were
available or how to access them.
The Family Assistance Center – The Inn at
Virginia Tech became the de facto information
center and gathering place where everyone congregated to await news on the identification of
the wounded and deceased. It also was designated as a family assistance center—a logical
choice for families who needed lodging, information, and support. Accommodations at the inn
(rooms, food, and staff service) were well
received, and hotel staff offered special care to
the families who stayed there. However, the
sheer magnitude of the immediate impact coupled with the failure to establish an organized,
centralized point of information at the outset
resulted in mass confusion and a communications nightmare that remained unabated
throughout the week following the shootings.
The official Virginia Tech FAC was set up in one
of the ballrooms at Skelton Conference Center at
the Inn. Over the first 36 hours, 15 victim advocates from several victim assistance programs
arrived and formed a victim assistance team
comprised of seven staff from the Office of CICF
and other service providers and counselors. Additionally, staff from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) was assigned to supervise
the family identification section (FIS) at the
FAC. The FIS, according to the OCME Fatality
Plan “will receive inquiries on identification,
prepare Victim Identification Profiles, and collect
any materials, records, or items needed for confirmation of identification.
A FAC also is supposed to serve as a safe haven,
a compassion center, and a private environment
created to allow victims and surviving family
members’ protection from any additional distress
brought about as a result of intrusive media. In
addition to serving as an information exchange
mechanism, the FAC affords victims and family
member’s refreshments, access to telephones for
long-distance calls, and support from mental
health counselors and victims’ service providers.
Arriving media, unfortunately, were situated in
a parking lot directly across from the inn. Families had to traverse a labyrinth of cameras and
microphones to reach the front desk at the inn.
The media were a constant presence because
they were stationed in the same area rather than
at a site farther away on Virginia Tech’s large
campus. The impact of the media on victim survivors is enormous. In high-profile murder cases
the murderer instantaneously is linked to the
victims and together become household names.
Some members of the press were appalled at the
tactics that some of their colleagues used to
gather information on campus at the family
assistance center.
There was little organization and almost no verifiable information for many hours after the
shooting ended. The operative phrase was “go to
the inn” but once there, families struggled to
know who was responsible for providing what
services and where to go for the latest news
about identification of the dead victims. Some
unidentified people periodically asked families if
they needed counseling. Those offers were premature in the midst of a crisis and information
was the most important thing that families
wanted at the time.
Family members were terrified, anxious, and
frantic to learn what was happening. Who had
survived? Which hospital was caring for them?
Where were the bodies of those who had perished
taken and how can one get there? There was no
identified focal point for information distribution
for family members or arriving support staff. For
decades, disaster plans have underscored the
importance of having a designated public
information officer (PIO) who serves as the reliable source of news during emergencies. The PIO
serving at the FAC was inexperienced and overwhelmed by the event. He was unable to adequately field inquires from victim survivors. Help
from the state arrived later, but here again,
repairing the damage caused by misinformation
or no information at all became all but impossible.
Guests at the inn, officials from state government, and others reported a chaotic scene with
no one apparently in charge. From time to time,
small groups of families were pulled aside by law
enforcement officials or someone working in public information to hear the latest information,
leaving other families to wonder why they could
not hear what was happening and what the
information might mean for their own relative
whose condition was in question. A number of
victim families eventually gave up hope of learning the status of their spouse, son, or daughter
and returned home.
Without a formal public information center, adequately staffed, the ability to maintain a steady
stream of updates, control rumors, and communicate messages to all the families at the same
time was seriously hampered. Here is where
advance planning for major disasters provides
jurisdictions with a template and a fighting
chance to appropriately manage the release of
The university did establish a 24-hour call center
where volunteers from the university and staff
from the Virginia Department of Emergency
Management responded to an enormous volume
of calls coming into the school.
Two of the most deeply disturbing situations
were the dearth of information on the status and
identification of Cho’s victims and the instances
where protocol for death notifications was
breached. The authority and duty for this grim
task falls usually to law enforcement, hospital
emergency room personnel, and medial examiner
offices. Victim advocates, clergy, or funeral
directors ideally accompany law enforcement
during a death notification. Reports are that law
enforcement, where involved, conducted sensitive
and caring death notifications to family members.
Virginia State Police officers, in some instances
with local law enforcement, personally carried
the news no one wants to hear to victims’ homes
around Virginia late into the night of the 16th.
Officers also coordinated with law enforcement
in other states who then notified the families in
those jurisdictions. Not all families, however,
were informed in that manner. One family
learned their child was dead from a student. In
another case, a local clergy member took it upon
himself to inform a family member that their
loved one was dead while they were on an elevator at the Inn. The spouse of a murdered faculty
member saw members of the press descend on
her home before his death had been confirmed.
The victims were known to faculty and friends
across campus. As a result, information circulated quickly through an informal network,
which allowed a few family members, who lived
in the immediate area and who arrived quickly
at the inn, to connect with those who were helping to locate the missing. Families who lived out
of the area had to rely on the telephone to obtain
information. Lines were busy and connections
were clogged. They were referred from one number to another as they tried to track down information that would confirm or deny their worst
Until Friday, April 20, families reported that
they had to think of what questions to ask and
then try to locate the right person or office to
answer the question. The intensity of their pain
and confusion would have been diminished
somewhat if they had received regular briefings
with updates on the critical information sought
by all who were assembled at the inn. It would
have helped if there had been a point person
through whom questions were channeled. The
liaisons and the victim assistance team did the
best they could, but for the most part they were
in the dark as well.
To make room for all the individuals who needed
to stay at the inn, many resource personnel like
Virginia State Police and others were housed in
dormitories at nearby college campuses like
Radford University.
Counseling and Health Center Services – The
university’s Cook Counseling Center quickly led
efforts to provide additional counseling resources
and provide expanded psychological assistance to
students and others on campus. They extended
their hours of operation and focused special
attention on individuals who lived at the West
Ambler Johnston dormitory, surviving students,
who were in Norris Hall at the time of the incident, roommates of deceased students, and
classmates and faculty in the other classes where
the victims were enrolled. The victims had participated in various campus organizations, so
Cook Counseling reached out to them as well.
Dozens of presentations on trauma, post-incident
stress, and wellness were made to hundreds of
faculty, staff, and student groups. The center
helped make referrals to other mental health
and medical support services. The center sent 50
mental health professionals to the graduation
ceremonies several weeks later, recognizing that
the commencement would be an exceptionally
difficult time for many people. Resource information on resilience and rebounding from trauma
was developed and distributed, including posting
on the Internet.
Schiffert Health Center at the university sent
medical personnel to the hospitals where injured
victims were being treated to check on their well
being and reassure them of follow-up treatment
at Schiffert if needed. The medical personnel
included some psychological screening questions
into their conversations with the injured students so that they could monitor the student’s
psychological state as well.
Other University Assistance – The Services for
Students with Disabilities Office began investigating classroom accommodations that might be
needed for injured students and planned for possible needs among students with psychological
disabilities. The Provost’s Office announced
flexible options for completing the semester and
for grading. The college deans, the faculty, and
Student Affairs were helpful in advising students
and helping them complete the semester.
Academic suspensions and judicial cases were
Cranwell International Center provided complimentary international telephone cards to students who needed to contact their families
abroad and assure them they were safe. Center
staff called each Korean undergraduate and
many Korean graduate students and, with the
Asian American Student Union and Multicultural Programs and Services, assured each
one of the university’s concern for their safety.
They especially addressed potential retaliation
and requests from the press.
Residence Life asked resident advisors to speak
personally with each resident on campus and
make sure they were aware of counseling services as they grappled with lost friends or roommates. Housing and Dining Services provided
complimentary on-campus meals for victims’
families and friends at graduation. Several of the
victims were graduate students at Virginia Tech.
The graduate school helped open the multipurpose room in the Graduate Life Center as a place
for graduate students to gather and receive
counseling services. They also aided graduate
assistants in continuing their teaching and
research responsibilities.
Hokies United is a student-driven volunteer
effort that responds to local, national, and international tragedies. In addition to a candlelight
vigil, this group organized several well-attended
activities designed to bring the campus community together.
Human Resources requested assistance from the
university’s employee assistance provider, which
sent crisis counselors immediately. The counselors worked with faculty and staff on issues of
self-care, recovery, how to communicate the
tragedy to their children, and other subjects.
After 4 weeks, more than 125 information sessions had been held and 800 individuals had
been individually counseled.
assistance and support they had received and for
the work of the panel.
resident Steger, Governor Kaine, and
Attorney General McDonnell visited injured
students in area hospitals to reassure them of
the university’s and the Commonwealth’s concern for their recuperation. President Steger also
met with many families over the following
weeks. Governor Kaine held a private meeting
with families who were dealing with the death of
their child, husband, or wife and another meeting with injured students and their families.
On April 19 Governor Kaine appointed the
Virginia Tech Review Panel to examine the facts
surrounding April 16. After appointment, panel
chairman Gerald Massengill sent a letter to all
families of the deceased to express condolences
and offer to meet with anyone who wished a private audience with up to two members of the
panel. (As noted in Chapter I, FOIA rules require
that such meetings be public if more than two
members participate.) The letter also offered
them the opportunity to speak at one of the four
public meetings that were to be scheduled in different parts of the state. Several families took
advantage of a special web site that was created
as a tool for collecting information and comments. Others communicated their thoughts
through letters. The chairman sent a similar letter to injured students.
Over the next several weeks, a number of families communicated their desire to meet. Others
preferred their privacy, which of course was
respected. Panel members and staff held at least
30 meetings (in individual and group sessions)
with families of the murdered victims and with
injured students and their parents, and fielded
more than 150 calls. The governor designated
Carroll Ann Ellis as the panel’s special family
advocate. She spent many days initiating and
returning calls to provide information and to
help families regarding their individual issues
and concerns. Many with whom the panel met or
talked with by phone noted appreciation for the
Several families raised concerns about poor coordination—what they saw as failings of the university, of responders, of communicators, of volunteers, of the panel and staff, and more. Some
demanded financial restitution; most focused on
relating what society had lost with those 32 lives,
who by all measures were outstanding individuals whose achievements and character were
making a difference in the world. The families
asked the panel and the Commonwealth to find
out what went wrong and change what needs to
be changed so others might be spared this horror. That has been the overriding concern of the
governor and of the panel.
Family members of homicide victims of mass
fatalities tend to view their experiences and the
impact of the crime from the following perspectives:
The overwhelming event and the system
response to the scale of the event. Very
often, the victims become categorized as
a group rather than as individuals (e.g.,
9/11 and Oklahoma City victims). The
particular needs of each victim can be
overlooked as the public perceives them
as a unit rather than as separate families. Victims are attuned to whether they
received the information and care attention that they needed. Victim survivors
want to know what happened, how it
happened, and why their loved was
killed. They look for resources that can
adequately respond to their needs and
answer their questions, though some
answers may never be found.
Death notifications have long-term
impact on victims. Survivors typically
remember the time, place, and manner in
which they first learned of the death of
their loved ones.
Where is the justice? Victim survivors
look to the criminal justice system to
hold the murderer accountable for the
crime. Cho ended his life and denied the
injury they already are experiencing. In these
cases, accurate information in real time is
imperative if survivors are to develop a sense of
trust in the very systems they now must count
on to explain what happened, and why it happened. When for a variety of reasons that does
not occur, relatives of homicide victims can
experience increased trauma.
criminal justice system and its participants the justice that comes from a conviction and eventual sentencing.
A homicide differs from other types of death
because it—
Is intentional and violent.
Is sudden and unexpected.
Connects the innocent victim to the murderer in a relationship that is disturbing
to family members of the dead victim.
Creates an aura of stigma that surviving
family members often experience.
Is a criminal offense and as such is associated with the criminal justice system.
It has the problematic overlap of symptoms created by the victim survivor’s
inability to move through the grief process because of a preoccupation with the
trauma experience cause by a homicidal
death. This completed grief reaction is
identified as traumatic grief.
Is pursued by the media and is of interest to the public.
Meeting the overwhelming needs of the families
of homicide victims and fulfilling those expectations to a level each one finds acceptable is extremely challenging when there is a mass murder. So many people need the same information
and services simultaneously. Systems are
severely tested because disasters cause the
breakdown of systems and create chaos. Without
a well-defined plan, navigating through the aftermath is an uphill struggle at best. Even when
plans are in place, the quality and degree of
response to victims of disaster are often inconsistent. A small change in the initial conditions of a
sensitive system can drastically affect the outcome.
All deaths generate feelings of anger, rage and
resentment. In the case of a murder, and especially when the shooter commits suicide, survivors are denied their day in court and the opportunity for the justice system to hold that person
accountable. This adds insult to the terrible
Each family has its own particular way of processing the death of a loved one, because each life
taken was unique. Several grievances, however,
were shared widely among the victims’ families
as well as questions they wanted the panel’s
investigation to address. Among the major concerns and questions were the following:
What are the facts and details of the first
responder and university response to the
first shooting, including the decision
process, timing, and wording of the first
What were the assumptions regarding
the relationship between the first two
victims, and why were they made?
Did those assumptions affect the nature
and timeliness of the subsequent first
What are the facts and details of the first
responder and university response when
the shooting at Norris Hall began?
With so many red flags flying about Cho
over a protracted period of time, how was
it that he was still living in the dorm and
allowed to continue as a student in good
standing? Why were the dots not connected?
Was Cho’s family notified of any or all of
his interactions with campus police, the
legal system, and the mental hospital?
Why was there no central point of contact
or specific instructions for families of victims at The Inn at Virginia Tech?
Why were identifications delayed when
wallet identifications, photos, and other
methods available would hasten the
release of remains?
Who was responsible for ensuring that
the media was properly managed, and
who was supposed to be the authoritative
source of information?
What is going to be done with the Hokie
Fund and what about other crime compensation funds?
What common sense practices regarding
security and well being will be in place
before students return to campus?
What changes to policy and procedures
about warnings have been made at
Virginia Tech?
These and many other issues all have been examined by the panel and the results presented
throughout this report.
With regard to the individuals who Cho
injured— physically and emotionally—their
wounds may take a long time to heal if they ever
can heal completely. Many of the men and
women who were in the classrooms that Cho attacked and who survived, bravely helped each
other to escape, called for help, and barricaded
doors. Others were too severely wounded to
move. These men and women in Norris Hall not
only witnessed the deaths of their colleagues and
professors, but on a physical and emotional level
also experienced their dying. The terror of those
who survived Cho’s attacks in the classrooms
was increased by the silence of death as the living harbored somewhere between life and death.
Exposure to such an overwhelmingly stressful
event quite often leads to post traumatic stress
disorder (also known as critical incident stress)
represented by an array of symptoms that range
from mild to severe and which are not always
immediately apparent..
The law enforcement officers and emergency
medical providers who were the first to witness
the carnage, rescue the living, and treat and
transport the physically wounded were exposed
to significant trauma. Their healing also is of
eople seek ways to share their grief when
tragic events occur. The university community came together in many ways, from small
prayer groups to formal ceremonies and candlelight vigils. Cassell Coliseum was the site of convocation on Tuesday, April 17. President George
Bush, Governor Tim Kaine, University President
Charles Steger, noted author and Professor
Nikki Giovanni, and leaders from four major
religions spoke to a worldwide television audience and 35,000 people in attendance divided
between the coliseum and Lane Stadium. Perhaps the most poignant event, however, was the
student-organized candlelight vigil later that
evening. One by one, thousands of candles were
lit in quiet testimony of the shared mourning
that veiled every corner of the campus. Stones
were placed in a semicircle before the reviewing
stand to honor the victims of the previous day’s
shooting. Mourners wrote condolences and
expressed their grief on message boards that
filled the area, while flowers, stuffed animals,
and other remembrances were left in honor of
the professors and students who died in a dorm
room and in classrooms.
isasters draw an enormous response. At
Virginia Tech, hundreds of volunteers came
to offer their services; others arrived in unofficial
capacities to promote a particular cause, and
many drove to Virginia Tech to share the grief of
their friends and colleagues. As occurs during
many disasters, some special interest groups
with less than altruistic intentions arrived in
numbers and simply took advantage of the situation to promote their particular cause. One group
wore T-shirts to give the impression they were
bona fide counselors when their main goal was to
proselytize. Others wanted to make a statement
for or against a particular political position.
Legitimate resources can be a great asset if they
can be identified and directed appropriately. An
emergency plan should define where volunteers
should report and spells out procedures for registration, identification, and credentialing. That
way, available services can be matched to immediate needs for greater effectiveness.
ith regard to identifying the victims, everything was done by the book and with careful attention to exactness as described in Chapter X. Therein, however, lay the crux of a
wrenching problem for the families. From a clinical perspective, the ME’s office can be credited
with unimpeachable results. From a communications and sensitivity perspective, they performed
A death notification needs to be handled so that
families receive accurate information about their
loved one in a sensitive manner and in private
with due respect. The OCME should have taken
into consideration the wishes of the family and
their care and safety once the news was delivered. Counseling services need to be available to
families during the process of recovering the
remains. The media needs to be managed with
reference to families and their right to privacy,
dignity, and respect. Finally, victims’ families
need to be given explanations for any delays in
official notifications and then be provided crisis
support in the wake of receiving that news.
For example, families needed to know what
method was being used to identify their loved
one, and when and how the personal effects
would be retuned. Some families were told that
identification would take 5 days and were given
no explanation why. Some families did not understand why autopsies had to be performed.
Some wondered about getting copies of the ME’s
reports and how they could obtain those. The
ME’s office attached this information to each
death certificate, but they concur this may not
have been sufficient.
any families interviewed by the panel
praised Virginia Secretary of Public Safety
John Marshall and the efforts of the Virginia
State Police during the days following the murders. Marshall’s leadership coalesced resources
at the scene. The state police, with some help
from campus police, mobilized to assist the medical examiner. They collected records and items
from homes to help confirm the identities of the
deceased and they carried official notification of
death to the families. State troopers also provided security at The Inn at Virginia Tech to
prevent public access to the FAC.
Finally, in the aftermath of April 16, the panel
has discerned no coordinated, system-wide
review of major security issues among Virginia’s
public universities. With the exception of the
Virginia Community College System, which
immediately formed an Emergency Preparedness
Task Force for its 23 institutions, the responses
of the state-supported colleges and universities
appear to be uncoordinated.
While Governor Kaine covered a large conference
on campus security August 13, to the panel’s
knowledge, there have been no meetings of
presidents and senior administrators to discuss
such issues as guns on campus, privacy laws,
admissions processes, and critical incident management plans. The independent colleges and
universities met collectively with members of the
panel, and the community colleges have met
them twice. The presidents of the senior colleges
and universities declined a request to meet with
members of the panel June 26, saying it was “not
timely” to do so.
Mass fatality events, especially where a crime is
involved, present enormous challenges with
regard to public information, victim assistance,
and medical examiner’s office operations. Time is
critical in putting an effective response into
Discussions with the family members of the
deceased victims and the survivors and their
family members revealed how critical it is to
address the needs of those most closely related to
victims with rapid and effective victim services
and an organized family assistance center with
carefully controlled information management
Family members of homicide victims struggle
with two distinct processes: the grief associated
with the loss of a loved one and the wounding of
the spirit created by the trauma. Together they
impose the tremendous burden of a complicated
grieving process.
Post traumatic stress is likely to have affected
many dozens of individuals beginning with the
men and women who were in the direct line of
fire or elsewhere in Norris Hall and survived,
and the first responders to the scene who dealt
with the horrific scene.
While every injured victim and every family
members of a deceased victim is unique, much of
what they reported about the confusion and disorganization following the incident was similar
in nature.
Numerous families reported frustration with
poor communications and organization in the
university’s outreach following the tragedy,
including errors and omissions made at commencement proceedings.
A coordinated system-wide response to public
safety is lacking. With the exception of the
Virginia community College System, which immediately formed an Emergency Preparedness
Task Force for its 23 institutions, the response of
the state-supported colleges and universities has
been uncoordinated. To the panel’s knowledge,
there have been no meetings of presidents and
senior administrators to discuss such issues as
guns on campus, privacy laws, admissions processes, and critical incident management plans.
The independent colleges and universities met
collectively with members of the panel, and the
community colleges have met with panel members two times. The presidents of the senior colleges and universities declined a request to meet
with members of the panel June 26, saying it
was “not timely” to do so.
he director of Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund and the chief of the Victim Services Section (Department of Criminal Justice)
conducted internal after-action reviews and prepared recommendations for the future based on
the lessons that were learned. The recommendations with which the panel concurred are incorporated into the following recommendations.
XI-1 Emergency management plans should
include a section on victim services that
addresses the significant impact of homicide and other disaster-caused deaths on
survivors and the role of victim service providers in the overall plan. Victim service professionals should be included in the planning,
training, and execution of crisis response plans.
Better guidelines need to be developed for federal
and state response and support to local governments during mass fatality events.
XI-2 Universities and colleges should
ensure that they have adequate plans to
stand up a joint information center with a
public information officer and adequate
staff during major incidents on campus. The
outside resources that are available (including
those from the state) and the means for obtaining their assistance quickly should be listed in
the plan. Management of the media and of selfdirected volunteers should be included.
XI-3 When a family assistance center is created after a criminal mass casualty event,
victim advocates should be called immediately to assist the victims and their families.
Ideally, a trained victim service provider should
be assigned to serve as a liaison to each victim or
victim’s family as soon as practical. The victim
service should help victims navigate the agencies
at the FAC.
XI-4 Regularly scheduled briefings should
be provided to victims’ families as to the
status of the investigation, the
XI-8 It is important that the state’s Victims
Services Section work to ensure that the
injured victims are linked with local victim
assistance professionals for ongoing help
related to their possible needs.
identification process, and the procedures
for retrieving the deceased. Local or state victim advocates should be present with the families or on behalf of out-of-state families who are
not present so that those families are provided
the same up-to-date information.
XI-5 Because of the extensive physical and
emotional impact of this incident, both
short- and long-term counseling should be
made available to first responders, students,
staff, faculty members, university leaders,
and the staff of The Inn at Virginia Tech.
Federal funding is available from the Office for
Victims of Crime for this purpose.
XI-6 Training in crisis management is
needed at universities and colleges. Such
training should involve university and area-wide
disaster response agencies training together
under a unified command structure.
XI-7 Law enforcement agencies should
ensure that they have a victim services section or identified individual trained and
skilled to respond directly and immediately
to the needs of victims of crime from within
the department. Victims of crime are best
served when they receive immediate support for
their needs. Law enforcement and victim services form a strong support system for provision
of direct and early support.
XI-9 Since all crime is local, the response to
emergencies caused by crime should start
with a local plan that is linked to the wider
community. Universities and colleges should
work with their local government partners
to improve plans for mutual aid in all areas
of crisis response, including that of victim
XI-10 Universities and colleges should create a victim assistance capability either inhouse or through linkages to county-based
professional victim assistance providers for
victims of all crime categories. A victim
assistance office or designated campus victim advocate will ensure that victims of
crime are made aware of their rights as victims and have access to services.
XI-11 In order to advance public safety and
meet public needs, Virginia’s colleges and
universities need to work together as a
coordinated system of state-supported institutions.
Appendix A
Appendix B
The Virginia Tech Review Panel conducted more than 200 interviews. The interviewees
included family members of victims; injured victims; students; and individuals from
universities, law enforcement, hospitals, mental health organizations, courts, and schools.
During the course of the review, the interviews were conducted in person, through public
meetings, by phone, and through group meetings. A number of people were interviewed
multiple times.
The panel wishes to express its appreciation to everyone who graciously provided their time
and comments to this undertaking.
Virginia Tech
Carl Bean
English Department Faculty
Cathy Griffin Betzel
Cook Counseling Center
Erv Blythe
Vice President for Information Technology
Tom Brown
Dean of Students
Sherry K. Lynch Conrad
Cook Counseling Center
Fred D’Aguilar
English Department Faculty
Ed Falco
English Department Faculty
Christopher Flynn, MD
Director, Cook Counseling Center
Davis R. Ford
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Nikki Giovanni
English Department Faculty
Kay Heidbreder
University Counsel
Bob Hicok
English Department Faculty
Zenobia Lawrence Hikes
Vice President for Student Affairs
Lawrence G. Hincker
Associate Vice President for University Relations
Maggie Holmes
Manager, West Ambler Johnston Hall
Jim Hyatt
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Frances Keene
Director, Judicial Affairs
Gail Kirby
Faculty in Norris Hall
Judy Lilly
Associate Vice President
Heidi McCoy
Director of Administrative Operations, News and External
Jim McCoy
Capital Design and Construction
Lenwood McCoy
Liaison of University President to Panel
Jennifer Mooney
Coordinator Undergraduate Counseling
Jerome Niles
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Lisa Norris
English Department Faculty
Lynn Nystrom
Director, News and External Relations, College of Engineering
(faculty in Norris Hall)
Ishwar Puri
Chairman, Engineering Mechanics Dept. (faculty in Norris Hall)
Kerry J. Redican
President, Faculty Senate
Lucinda Roy
Past Chair, English Department
Carolyn Rude
Chair, English Department
Joe Schetz
Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Faculty
Maisha Marie Smith
Cook Counseling Center
Ed Spencer
Faculty in Norris Hall
Charles Steger
Other Universities and Colleges
Richard Alvarez
Chief Financial Officer, Hollins University
Grant Azdell
College Chaplain, Lynchburg College
Mary Ann Bergeron
Virginia Community Services Board
Walter Bortz
President, Hampden-Sydney College
William Brady, MD
University of Virginia, Department of Emergency Medicine
William Thomas Burnett, MD
University of Virginia, Medical Director of the Virginia State
Police Division 6 SWAT Team
Valerie J. Cushman
Athletic Director, Randolph College
Susan Davis
University of Virginia, Special Advisor/Liaison to the General
Counsel, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
Chris Domes
Chief Admissions Officer, Marymount University
Roy Ferguson
Executive Assistant to the President, Bridgewater College
Pamela Fox
President, Mary Baldwin College
Ken Garren
President, Lynchburg College
Nancy Gray
President, Hollins University
Robert B. Lambeth
President, Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia
Robert Lindgren
President, Randolph-Macon College
Greg McMillan
Executive Assistant to President, Emory and Henry College
Katherine M. Loring
Vice President for Administration, Virginia Wesleyan College
Courtney Penn
Special Assistant to the President, Roanoke College
Herb Peterson
Vice President for Business and Finance, University of
Richard Pfau
President, Averett University
Jeff Phillips
Director of Administrative Services, Ferrum College
Michael Puglisi
President, Virginia Intermont College
Robert Reiser, MD
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia
James C. Renick
Senior Vice President, American Council on Education
Robert Satcher
President, Saint Paul’s College
LeeAnn Shank
General Counsel, Washington and Lee University
Wesley Shinn
Dean, Appalachian School of Law
Douglas Southard
Provost, Jefferson College of Health Sciences
Phil Stone
President, Bridgewater College
Loren Swartzendruber
Melvin C. Terrell
Madelyn Wessel
President, Eastern Mennonite University
Vice President of Student Affairs, Northeastern Illinois
Special Advisor/Liasion to the General Counsel and Chair,
Psychological Assessment Board, University of Virginia
William Woods, MD
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia
Andrea Zuschin
Dean of Student Affairs, Ferrum College
National Higher Education Associations
Robert M. Berdahl
George R. Boggs
Susan Chilcott
President, Association of American Universities
President and CEO, American Association of Community
Vice President for Communications, American Association of
State Colleges and Universities
Charles L. Currie
President, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Benjamin F. Quillian
Senior Vice President, American Council on Education
James C. Renick
Senior Vice President, American Council on Education
David Ward
President, American Council on Education
Law Enforcement
Donald J. Ackerman
Joseph Alberts
Richard Ault
Kenneth Baker
Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge, FBI Criminal Division (NY)
Captain, Virginia Tech Police Department
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, (ret.), Academy Group
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, U.S. Secret Service (ret.),
Academy Group Inc., Manassas, VA
Ed Bracht
Director of Security, Hofstra University
David Cardona
Special Agent-in-Charge, FBI Criminal Division (NY)
Rick Cederquist
Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Union County (NJ) Sheriff's
Don Challis
Chief, College of William and Mary Police Department
Kim Crannis
Chief, Blacksburg Police Department
Lenny Depaul
U.S. Marshal's Service (NY/NJ), Fugitive Task Force
Robert C. Dillard
Chief, University of Richmond Police Department and President,
Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police
Jonathan Duecker
Assistant Commissioner, New York Police Department
Chuck Eaton
Special Agent, Salem, VA, Virginia State Police
Samuel Feemster
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, Behavioral Science Unit
Martin D. Ficke
SES Resources International/ Special Agent-in-Charge (ret.)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (NY)
W. Steve Flaherty
Superintendent, Virginia State Police
Wendell Flinchum
Chief, Virginia Tech Police Department
Kevin Foust
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, Roanoke, VA
Vincent Giardani
New York Police Department Counter-Terrorism Division
Richard Gibson
Chief, University of Virginia Police Department
Christopher Giovino
SES Resources/Dempsey Myers Co.
Ray Harp
SWAT Team Commander and Homicide Detective, Arlington
County (VA) Police Department (ret.)
Charles Kammerdener
New York Police Department, Special Operations Division
Robert Kemmler
Lt. Col., Virginia State Police; Deputy Director, Bureau of
Administration and Support Service
Kenneth Lanning
Jeff Lee
Stephen Mardigian
George Marshall
Raymond Martinez
Bart McEntire
William McMahon
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI (ret.)
Active Shooter Training Program, International Tactical
Officers Organization
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI (ret.), Academy Group
New York State Police
New York Police Department Counter-Terrorism Division
Resident Agent-in-Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives, Roanoke, VA
Special Agent-in-Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives, Roanoke, VA
Ken Middleton
High-Intensity Drug Traffic Agency (NY/NJ)
Terrence Modglin
Executive Director, College Crime Watch
Andrew Mulrain
Nassau County, New York Police Department.
Eliud P. Pagan
Office of Homeland Security, State of New York
Chauncey Parker
Director, High-Intensity Drug Traffic Agency (NY/NJ)
Robert Patnaude
Captain, New York State Police
Alfred Perales
Sergeant, University of Illinois Police Department, Chicago, IL
Kevin Ponder
Special Agent, FBI Criminal Division (NY)
David Resch
Chief, Behavioral Analysis Unit, FBI, Quantico, VA
Anthony Rocco
Nassau County, New York Police Department.
Jill Roark
Terrorism and Special Jurisdiction, Victim Assistance
Coordinator, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Bradley D. Schnur Esq.
President, SES Resources International Inc.
Dennis Schnur
Chairman, Police Foundation of Nassau County Inc.
Andre Simons
Sean Smith
Philip C. Spinelli
Matt Sullivan
Bob Sweeney
Thomas Turner
Shaun F. VanSlyke
Anthony Wilson
Jason Winkle
Joan Yale
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, Behavioral Analysis
Unit, Quantico, VA
Sergeant, Emergency Response Team Virginia Tech Police
Union County, New Jersey Office of Counter-Terrorism
Detective/Lt. Suffolk County, New York Police and Hostage
Negotiation Team
Lieutenant, Suffolk County, New York Police Emergency
Services Bureau
Director of Security, Roanoke College
Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, Behavioral Analysis
Unit, Quantico, VA
Sergeant, Emergency Response Team, Blacksburg Police
President, Active Shooter Training Program, International
Tactical Officers Organization
Nassau County, New York Police Department
Families of Victims
Mrs. Alameddine
Mother of Ross Alameddine
Stephanie Hofer
Wife of Christopher James Bishop
Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Bluhm
Parents of Brian Roy Bluhm
Mr. and Ms. Cloyd
Parents of Austin Michelle Cloyd
Mrs. Patricia Craig
Aunt to Ryan Christopher Clark
Ms. Betty Cuevas
Mother of Daniel Alejandro Perez
Mrs. Linda Granata
Wife of Kevin P. Granata
Mr. Gregory Gwaltney
Father of Matthew Gregory Gwaltney
Ms. Lori Haas
Mother of Emily Haas
Marian Hammaren and Chris Poote
Mother and Stepfather of Caitlin Millar Hammaren
Mr.. John Hammaren
Father of Caitlin Millar Hammaren
Mr. Michael Herbstritt
Father of Jeremy Michael Herbstritt
Mr. and Mrs. Eric Hilscher
Parents of Emily Jane Hilscher
Mrs. Tracey Lane
Mother of Jarret Lee Lane
Mr. Jerzy Nowak
Husband of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Mr. William O’Neil
Father of Daniel Patrick O’Neil
Mrs. Celeste Peterson
Mother of Erin Nicole Peterson
Mr. and Mrs. Larry Pryde
Parents of Julia Kathleen Pryde
Mr. and Mrs. Peter Read
Parents of Mary Karen Read
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Samaha
Parents of Reema Joseph Samaha
Mrs. Holly Adams-Sherman
Mother of Leslie Geraldine Sherman
Mr. Girish Suratkal
Brother of Minal Hiralal Panchal
Mr. and Mrs. Paul Turner
Parents of Maxine Shelly Turner
Ms. Liselle Vega-Coates Ortiz
Wife of Juan Ramon Ortiz
Mr. and Mrs. White
Parents of Nicole Regina White
Cho Family
Mr. and Mrs. Cho
Parents of Seung Hui Cho
Sun Cho
Sister of Seung Hui Cho
Wade Smith
Attorney at Law, Tharrington Smith, Raleigh, NC; Advisor,
Friend to Cho Family
Injured Victims and Their Families
Alec Calhoun
Student, Virginia Tech
Colin Goddard
Student, Virginia Tech
Suzanne Grimes
Mother of Kevin Sterne
Emily Haas
Student, Virginia Tech
Jeremy Kirkendall
Virginia National Guard
Mrs. Miller
Mother of Heidi Miller
Erin Sheehan
Student, Virginia Tech
Rescue Squads
Allan Belcher
Carilion Patient Transportation Services
Sidney Bingley
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
William W. Booker IV
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Charles Coffelt
Carilion Patient Transportation Services
Paul Davenport
Carilion Patient Transportation Services
Jeremy Davis
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Jason Dominiczak
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Kevin Hamm
Christiansburg Rescue Squad
Matthew Johnson
Captain, Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Tom Lovejoy
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
Alisa Nussman
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
John O’Shea
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
Neil Turner
Montgomery County EMS Coordinator
Colin Whitmore
Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Carole Agee
Legal Counsel, Carilion Hospital
Deborah Akers
Lewis-Gale Medical Center
Pat Campbell
Director of Nursing, New River Valley Medical Center
Candice Carroll
Chief Nursing Officer, Lewis–Gale Medical Center
Loressa Cole
Montgomery Regional Hospital
Michael Donato, MD
Special Advisor/, Liaison to the General Counsel, Office of
the Vice President for Student Affairs
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital Emergency Room
Robert Dowling, MD
Lewis–Gale Medical Center
Patrick Earnest
Carilion New River Valley Medical Center
Ted Georges, MD
Carilion New River Valley Medical Center
Carol Gilbert, MD
EMS Regional Medical Director
Mike Hill
Director, Emergency Department, Montgomery Regional
Scott Hill
Chief Executive Officer, Montgomery Regional Hospital
Anne Hutton
Manager, CONNECT, Carilion Hospital
Judith M. Kirkendall
Administrator, Criminal History Records, Richmond, VA
David Linkous
Rick McGraw
Director, Staff Development and Emergency Management,
Montgomery Regional Hospital
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital Emergency Room
William Modzeleski
Assistant Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
Susan Davis
John O’Shea
Fred Rawlins, DO
Lieutenant and Cardiac Technician, Blacksburg Volunteer
Rescue Squad
Carilion New River Valley Medical Center
Mike Turner
Clinical Support Representative, Carilion St. Albans
Holly Wheeling, MD
Montgomery Regional Hospital
Federal, State, and Local Agencies
Marcella Fierro, MD
Robert Foresman
Mandie Patterson
Patricia Sneed
Jessica Stallard
Chief Medical Examiner, VA
Director of Emergency Management, Rockbridge County,
Chief Victim Service Section, Department of Criminal
Justice Services, VA
Emergency Planning Manager, Virginia Department of
Social Services
Assistant Director, Victim Services, Montgomery County,
Karen Thomas
Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services
Mary Ware
Director, Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund
Mental Health Professionals
Harvey Barker, MD
Richard Bonnie
Gail Burruss
Director of Crisis and Intervention, New River Community
Service Board
Director, Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy,
University of Virginia
Director, Adult Clinical Services and Crisis Intervention,
Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare
Pam Kestner Chappalear
Executive Director, Council of Community Services
Lin Chenault
Executive Director, New River Community Service Board
Katuko T. Coelho
Center for Multicultural Human Services
Roy Crouse
Independent Evaluator for Commitment
Joan M. Ridick Depue
Russell Federman
Kathy Godbey
James Griffith, MD
Kathy Highfield
Dennis Hunt
D. J. Ida
Jerald Kay , MD
Wun Jung Kim, MD
Jeanne Kincaid
Francis Lu, MD
James Madero
Clinical Psychologist, Pastoral Counseling, Culpeper, VA
Director, Counseling and Psychological Services, University
of Virginia
New River Community Service Board, pre-screener for
Psychiatrist, Center for Multicultural Human Services
Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare
Executive Director, Center for Multicultural Human
Clinical Psychologist and Executive Director, National
Asian American and Pacific Islander Mental Health
Chair, College Mental Health Committee for the American
Psychiatric Association, Chair of the Department. of
Psychiatry, Wright State School of Medicine
Psychiatrist and Professor, University of Pittsburgh
ADA/OCR , Attorney with Drummond Woodson
Chair, APA Council on Minority Mental Health and Health
Disparities, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, UCSF
Clinical Psychologist, Former NIMH Staff/School Violence
Specialist, California School of Professional Psychologists at
Alliant International University
Kent McDaniel, MD
Jasdeep Migliani, MD
Frank Ochberg, MD
Carrie Owens
Annelle Primm, MD
Andres Pumariega, MD
James S. Reinhard
Gregory B. Saathoff, MD
Consultant Psychiatrist to the Office of the Inspector
General, VA
Staff Psychiatrist, St Albans Medical Center, Carilion
Health System
Former Director of Michigan Department of Mental Health
Director of Victim Services, Montgomery County, VA
Director, Division of National and Minority Affairs,
American Psychiatric Association
Chair of the Diversity Committee for the American
Psychiatric Association, Chair Department of Psychiatry,
Reading Hospital, PA
Commissioner, Virginia Department of Mental Health,
Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services
Executive Director, Critical Incident Analysis Group,
University of Virginia
Les Saltzberg
Executive Director, New River Community Service Board
Jim Sikkema
Executive Director, Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare
Bruce Smoller, MD
President-elect, Medical Association of Maryland; HPC
James W. Stewart III
Inspector General, Virginia Department of Mental Health,
Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services
Terry Teel
Attorney for Commitment
Clavitis Washington-Brown
Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare
Richard West
Psychologist, Research on Preventing Campus Mental
Health-Related Incidents
Courts/Hearing Officials
Paul Barnett
Special Justice
Donald J. Farber
Attorney at Law, San Rafael, CA
Lorin Costanzo
Special Justice, Virginia
John Molumphy
Special Justice, Virginia
Joseph Graham Painter
Attorney, Former Special Justice
High School Staff
Dede Bailer
Director, Psychology and Preventative Services, Fairfax
County Public Schools
Rita Easley
School Guidance Counselor, Westfield High School
Frances Ivey
Former Assistant Principal, Westfield High School
Students at Virginia Tech
Joseph Aust
Cho Roommate
Chandler Douglas
Resident Advisor
John Eide
Cho Roommate
Andy Koch
Cho Suitemate
Austin Morton
Cho Resident Advisor
Melissa Trotman
Resident Advisor
Kathleen Schmid Koltko-Rivera
President, Professional Services Group, Winter Park, FL
Mark E. Koltko-Rivera
Executive Vice President, Professional Services Group,
Winter Park, FL
Steve Capus
President, NBC News
Steven Erickson
Father of Stalking Victim
Mr. Gibson
Father of Stalking Victim
David McCormick
Luke Van Heul
Vice President, NBC News
Former Member, Delta Force
Appendix C
First Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Monday, May 10, 2007, General Assembly Building, Richmond
Second Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Monday, May 21, 2007, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
Third Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Monday, June 11, 2007, George Mason University, Fairfax
Forth Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
First Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
House Room C, General Assembly Building
910 Capitol Street, Richmond, VA
May 10, 2007
Panel Pre-Meeting Coffee
Anteroom to House Room C (to the left of the dais)
Welcome and Charge to the Panel
The Honorable Timothy Kaine, Governor of Virginia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Comments from Dr. Charles Steger, President
Introduction of Panel Members and SPC/TriData Project Leaders
plus Guidance to the Panel
Colonel Gerald Massengill, Chairman
Overview of SPC/TriData Support
Philip Schaenman, Project Director
Panel Members: Initial Thoughts on Key Issues to be Considered
(Panel Meet in Anteroom)
Presentation: The Process for Obtaining a Weapon in the
Commonwealth of Virginia
Major Robert Kemmler, Virginia State Police, Deputy Director, Bureau of
Administration and Support Services
Opportunity for Comments from the Public
Future Meetings and Next Steps
Second Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
May 21, 2007
The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center
Latham Ballroom A&B
901 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061
540-231-8000 or 877-200-3360; Fax: 540-231-0146
7:30 a.m.
Vote to be taken in accordance with Virginia Code Section 2.2-3712 to go
into a closed meeting to review and discuss matters related to the ongoing criminal investigation and public safety.
10:30 a.m.
Re-opening of Public Meeting
Remarks by Colonel Gerald Massengill, Panel Chair
10:35 a.m.
Virginia Tech Presentation:
Dr. Charles Steger, President
Mr. Jim McCoy, Capital Design & Construction
Ms. Kay Heidbreder, University Counsel
Dr. David Ford, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs
Dr. Zenobia Hikes, Vice President, Student Affairs
11:50 a.m.
Law Enforcement Presentation:
Chief Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech Police Department
Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Superintendent, Virginia State Police
12:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m.
Emergency Response Presentation:
Richard Ferraro, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs
Matthew Johnson, Captain, Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Colin Whitmore, Lieutenant, Virginia Tech Rescue Squad
Hospital Presentation:
David Linkous, RN, BSN, MS Ed. Director of Staff Development and
Emergency Management, Montgomery Regional Hospital
Michael Hill, RN, BS, Director of Emergency Department,
Montgomery Regional Hospital
3:00 p.m.
Public Comments
4:00 p.m.
Third Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Monday, June 11, 2007
Mason Hall (Meese Conference Room)
George Mason University
4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
Opening remarks
h Colonel Gerald Massengill, Chair
9:05 Welcoming remarks
h Dr. Alan G. Merten, President, George Mason University
Update from Panel Staff (SPC/TriData)
h Phil Schaenman
h Hollis Stambaugh
Summary Report on the Investigation of Virginia’s Mental
Health Services and Seung-Hui Cho
h James Stewart, Virginia Inspector General for Mental Health, Mental
Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services.
Faculty Options for Dealing with Students at Virginia Tech
Dr. Mark McNamee, Provost
Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Niles, Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Dr. Christopher Flynn, Director of Thomas Cook Counseling Center
Dr. Kerry Redican, President of the Faculty Senate
Mental Health Issues at College Campuses
h Dr. Jerald Kay, Chair, College Mental Health Committee, American
Psychiatric Association, and Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Wright State
University School of Medicine
h Panel will vote to go into a closed meeting over lunch
(Pursuant to ¤ 2.2-3711.A.7, Virginia Code, the Panel will address with its legal advisors specific legal questions
regarding its access to and use of information developed in connection with its investigation.)
Risk Assessment and Counseling at the High School Level
h Dr. Dede Bailer, Director, Psychology and Preventative Services, Fairfax
County Public School (canceled - lack of time)
Status Report on the Panel’s Research into the Mental Health Issues
of the Virginia Tech Tragedy (canceled-lack of time)
h Dr. Bela Sood, Member of Panel and Chair, Division of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, and
Medical Director of the Virginia Treatment Center for Children,
Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems
Awareness and Strategies for Families and Survivors
h Carroll Ann Ellis, Member of Panel and Director, Victim Services Division,
Fairfax County Police Department
Public Comments
h Persons desiring to speak are requested to sign up during the meeting
Fourth Public Meeting of Governor Kaine’s
Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
100 Darden Boulevard, Charlottesville, VA 22903
Abbott Center Auditorium at the Darden School
(434) 924-3900
8:30 Abbott Center Doors Open
9:00 Opening Remarks
Colonel Gerald Massengill, Chair
9:10 Welcome
Dr. John T. Casteen III, President, University of Virginia
9:15 Update on Panel and Staff Activities
Phil Schaenman, Staff Director
9:30 Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement
Chief Don Challis, President, VACLEA (Speaker)
William and Mary Police Department
Michael Gibson, Chief of Police
University of Virginia
Chief Robert Dillard
University of Richmond Police Department
Thomas Turner, Director
Roanoke College Campus Safety Department
Added at Meeting:
Chief Mark Marshall, 4
VP, International Association of Chiefs of Police
Mike Yost, Chief of Williamsburg, Virginia Police Department; President, Virginia
Police Chiefs Association
10:15 Possible Civil Commitment Law Reform in Virginia
Richard Bonnie, Director, University of Virginia Institute of Law,
Psychiatry and Public Policy and Chair, Commonwealth of Virginia
Commission on Mental Health Law
11:15 Handling the Seriously Troubled Student – Legally Permissible
Options and Strategies Available to Academic Institutions
Dr. James Madero, San Francisco Campus, California School of Professional
Psychology at Alliant International University
Dr. Russell Federman, Director Smith Memorial Center for Counseling and
Psychological Services, University of Virginia
Richard Bonnie, University of Virginia
12:15 Lunch
There will be a closed session to consult with counsel and discuss matters and
records which are required to be kept confidential
1:15 Mental Health Issues
Dr. Bela Sood, Virginia Tech Review Panel Member
1:30 Public Comments
Persons desiring to address the panel may sign up at the meeting venue
3:30 Adjourn
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Darden Business School
Classroom 130
9:00 -12:00 Closed Panel Session
There will be a closed session to consult with counsel and discuss matters
and records which are required to be kept confidential
Appendix D
The panel made the following recommendations related to its operations.
Establish the authority of a review panel from the outset. It was especially
important to have the authority of the panel and the powers to collect confidential data spelled
out in an executive order.
Appoint independent counsel to the panel from the outset. Having a noted law
firm to interpret the various rules regarding privacy, record keeping, public vs. private
meetings, and authority to obtain information expedited the work of the panel, and allowed it
to move forward more confidently than if uncertain about the ground rules under which it
operated. The governor’s office also suggested having independent counsel to avoid conflicts of
As an investigating body, the panel should be expressly authorized to meet in
closed sessions from the outset. It was the desire of the panel and the governor’s office to
conduct a review as transparent and open to the public and media as possible. However, some
discussion needs to be held in private while discussing and formulating opinions. The largest
methodological problem faced by the panel probably was the limited ability to have multiparty
conference calls or meetings in private with more than two panel members to discuss
controversial issues.
Appendix E
The successful system would provide:
Multi-modal communications;
text messaging (preferably using true Short Message Service [SMS]
Instant Messaging (IM)
web posting
voice communication to cellular or land line based extensions (including
ability to fax)
Flexibility in “registering” or “subscribing” users;
ability to pre-load based on existing directory data with both APIs and
online mechanisms for batch or manual updates
Robust, but distributed data centers, i.e. more than one location; ability to send
alerts even if event impacts vendor’s facility
Robust, but dispersed messaging; concern is with saturation of communications
channels (Part of “Lessons Learned” from 9/11 and previous incident in Blacksburg
on first day of Fall Semester 2006; “too much, too soon” will quickly overwhelm
cellular and land line telephony systems)
The vendor would have to be flexible in terms of contracting, and willing to
collaborate on further developing the product’s features to meet specific needs
identified by Virginia Tech.
Appendix F
Excerpt from University of Virginia Emergency Response Plan, Annex K, “Critical
Incidents and Response Strategies – Active Shooter or Violent Incident”
Violent incidents, including but not limited to: acts of terrorism, an active shooter, assaults, or
other incidents of workplace violence can occur on the University Grounds or in close proximity with
little or no warning. An “active shooter” is considered to be a suspect or assailant whose activity is
immediately causing serious injury or death and has not been contained.
The UVA Police Department has adopted nationally accepted law enforcement response
procedures to contain and terminate such threats, as quickly as possible. The following information
regarding law enforcement response will enable you to take appropriate protective actions for yourself.
Try to remain calm as your actions will influence others. The following instructions are intended for
incidents that are of an emergent nature (i.e., imminent or in progress).
Immediate Action
Secure the immediate area. Whether a classroom, residence hall room, office, or restroom:
Lock or barricade the door, if able. Block the door using whatever is available – desks,
tables, file cabinets, other furniture, books, etc.
After securing the door, stay behind solid objects away from the door as much as possible.
If the assailant enters your room and leaves, lock or barricade the door behind them.
If safe to do so, allow others to seek refuge with you.
Protective Actions. Take appropriate steps to reduce your vulnerability:
Close blinds.
Block windows.
Turn off radios and computer monitors.
Silence cell phones.
Place signs in interior doors and windows, but remember the assailant can see these as
Place signs in exterior windows to identify your location and the location of injured
Keep people calm and quiet.
After securing the room, people should be positioned out of sight and behind items that
might offer additional protection – walls, desks, file cabinets, bookshelves, etc.
Unsecured Areas: If you find yourself in an open area, immediately seek protection:
Put something between you and the assailant.
Consider trying to escape, if you know where the assailant is and there appears to be an
escape route immediately available to you.
If in doubt, find the safest area available and secure it the best way that you can.
Call 911. Emergency situations should be reported to law enforcement by dialing 911. You may
hear multiple rings – stay on the line until it is answered - do not hang up. Be prepared to
provide the 911 operator with as much information as possible, such as the following:
What is happening.
Where you are located, including building name and room number.
Number of people at your specific location.
Injuries, if any, including the number of injured and types of injuries.
Your name and other information as requested.
Try to provide information in a calm clear manner so that the 911 operator quickly can relay
your information to responding law enforcement and emergency personnel.
What to Report. Try to note as much as possible about the assailant, including:
Specific location and direction of the assailant.
Number of assailants.
Gender, race, and age of the assailant.
Language or commands used by the assailant.
Clothing color and style.
Physical features – e.g., height, weight, facial hair, glasses.
Type of weapons – e.g., handgun, rifle, shotgun, explosives.
Description of any backpack or bag.
Do you recognize the assailant? Do you know their name?
What exactly did you hear – e.g., explosions, gunshots, etc.
Treat the Injured. The 911 operator will notify law enforcement and other emergency service
(EMS) agencies – fire and rescue. EMS will respond to the site, but will not be able to enter the
area until it is secured by law enforcement. You may have to treat the injured as best you can
until the area is secure. Remember basic first aid:
For bleeding apply pressure and elevate. Many items can be used for this purpose – e.g.,
clothing, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, newspapers, etc.
Reassure those in the area that help will arrive – try to stay quiet and calm.
Un-securing the Area
The assailant may not stop until his objectives have been met or until engaged and
neutralized by law enforcement.
Always consider the risk exposure by opening the door for any reason.
Attempts to rescue people only should be made if it can be done without further
endangering the persons inside of a secured area.
Be aware that the assailant may bang on the door, yell for help, or otherwise attempt to
entice you to open the door of a secured area.
If there is any doubt about the safety of the individuals inside the room, the area needs
to remain secured.
Law Enforcement Response
UVA Police will immediately respond to the area, assisted by other local law enforcement
agencies, if necessary. Remember:
Help is on the way. It is important for you to:
Remain inside the secure area.
Law enforcement will locate, contain, and stop the assailant.
The safest place for you to be is inside a secure room.
The assailant may not flee when law enforcement enters the building, but instead may
target arriving officers.
Injured Persons. Initial responding officers will not treat the injured or begin evacuation until
the threat is neutralized and the area is secure.
You may need to explain this to others in order to calm them.
Once the threat is neutralized, officers will begin treatment and evacuation.
Evacuation. Responding officers will establish safe corridors for persons to evacuate.
This may be time consuming.
Remain in secure areas until instructed otherwise.
You may be instructed to keep your hands on your head.
You may be searched.
You may be escorted out of the building by law enforcement personnel - follow their
After evacuation you may be taken to a staging or holding area for medical care,
interviewing, counseling, etc.
Once you have been evacuated you will not be permitted to retrieve items or access the
area until law enforcement releases the crime scene.
Decision Maker(s)
Assistance from local and state law enforcement agencies will be provided under existing mutual
aid agreements. The decision to call in outside supporting agencies or to close all or a portion of the
Grounds will be made by the Chief of Police or designee in consultation with the Executive Vice
President and Chief Operating Officer or designee and other appropriate individuals in University
administration. Information will be released to the UVA community as quickly as circumstances permit.
Subsequent Procedures/Information
We cannot predict the origin of the next threat; assailants in incidents across the nation have
been students, employees, and non-students alike. In many cases there were no obvious specific targets
and the victims were unaware that they were a target until attacked. Being aware of your surroundings,
taking common sense precautions, and heeding any warning information can help protect you and other
members of the community.
Appendix G
To University of New Mexico (2003)
To New Bremen Local Schools (1994)
Letter to University of New Mexico (November 2004)
Letter to New Bremen Local Schools (1994)
[Letter starts on following page.]
Appendix H
[This summary was prepared by Skadden, Arps for the Virginia Tech Review Panel]
All Law Enforcement Agencies
Upon request, must disclose basic criminal incident information (such as a
description of the crime and the date it occurred) about felony crimes.
Upon request, must release the name and address of anyone arrested and charged
with any crime.
Upon request, must release all records about an incident that was not a crime.
However, the agency must remove all personal information such as social security
Upon request, may release information from investigative files. Law enforcement
agencies typically adopt a policy against disclosure.
Universities and Campus Police Departments
Must keep a publicly-available log that lists all crimes. The log must give the time,
date, and location of each offense, as well as the disposition of each case.
Must disclose the name and address of people arrested for felonies and
misdemeanors involving assault, battery, or "moral turpitude."
Juvenile Law Enforcement Records
Records restricted from disclosure. Agencies can release the records to other parts of
the juvenile justice system or to parents.
Officials may release to school principals information about certain offenders who
commit serious felonies, arson, or weapons offenses.
Judicial Records
Generally, court records can be widely shared.
Juvenile records are tightly restricted. They can only be disclosed outside the
juvenile justice system with a court order.
Records of commitment hearings must be sealed when the subject of the hearing
requests it. If sealed, the records can only be accessed through court order.
Commitment hearings must be open to the public, so certain information is not
required to be kept in confidence: name of the subject, and the time, date, and
location of the hearing.
Medical Information
Governed by both state and federal law.
Federal law is the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
and the regulations interpreting it. Virginia law is the Virginia Health Records
Privacy Act.
In most respects, the federal and state laws are similar and can be analyzed
Both laws state that health information is private and can only be disclosed for
certain reasons.
HIPAA can pre-empt a state law, making the state law ineffective. This generally
occurs when state law is less protective of privacy than federal law.
The laws apply to all medical providers and billing entities. They define "provider"
broadly: doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, and social workers, as well as
HMOs, insurers, and other health organizations are all included in the definition.
Requires disclosure of records to patients who are the subject of the records.
Allows disclosure to anyone when a patient fills out a written authorization.
Allows sharing when it is necessary for treatment.
Allows disclosure to relatives with permission or in emergency situations.
Allows disclosure in situations where legislators and rule-makers have concluded
that privacy is outweighed by other interests. For example, providers may disclose in
certain situations when an individual presents an imminent threat to the health and
safety of individuals and the public. Providers may also disclose information to law
enforcement when necessary to locate a fugitive or suspect.
Providers may disclose information when state law requires it, such as in mandated
reports for domestic violence injuries. If the state law only permits disclosure and
does not require it, federal law will invalidate the state law.
Federal law does not apply to records held by school medical facilities. State law
does apply.
Educational Records
Privacy of educational records is primarily governed by federal law, the Family
Educational Rights Privacy Act of 1974, as well as regulations that interpret the
FERPA applies to all educational institutions that accept federal funding, whatever
the level. As a practical matter, this means almost all institutions of higher learning
as well as public elementary and secondary schools.
FERPA states that information from educational records is private and can only be
disclosed for certain reasons.
FERPA has a different focus than HIPAA. HIPAA protects all medical information
gained in the course of treatment, whether in oral or written form. FERPA applies
only to information in student records. Personal observations, including information
gained from a conversation with a student, fall outside FERPA.
Applies to health records maintained at university health clinics. However, it was
not drafted to address specific issues of medical information.
State laws about health records also apply. Disclosure is not permitted when a state
law is less protective of health records privacy than FERPA. However, state law can
be more protective than FERPA. State law can restrict disclosure that FERPA
Records created and held by law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes
fall outside of FERPA.
If a law enforcement agency shares a record with the school, the record that is
maintained by the school becomes subject to FERPA. The record kept by the law
enforcement agency is not subject to FERPA.
Authorizes disclosure of any record to parents who claim adult students as
dependents for tax purposes.
Authorizes release to parents when the student has violated alcohol or drug laws
and is under 21.
Authorizes use of information by all school officials designated to have a legitimate
educational interest in receiving such information.
Authorizes disclosure of the final result of a disciplinary proceeding that held that a
student violated school policy for an incident involving a crime of violence (as
defined under federal law) or a sex offense.
Allows state law to authorize certain uses in the juvenile justice system.
Authorizes emergency disclosure to any appropriate person in connection with an
emergency, “if the knowledge of such information is necessary to protect the health
or safety of the student or other persons.”
This exception is to be narrowly construed.
Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act
Establishes rules for collection, maintenance, and dissemination of individuallyidentifying data.
Does not apply to police departments or courts.
Agencies that are bound by the Act may only disclose information when disclosure is
permitted or required by law. "Permitted by law" to include any official request.
If an agency requests data from another agency for a function it is legally authorized
to perform, the request is official.
The agency releasing the data must inform individuals when their data is disclosed.
Disclosure of Information from Education Records to Parents of
Students Attending Postsecondary Institutions
Recently many questions have arisen concerning the Family Educational Rights and
Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of students’ education records.
The Department wishes to clarify what FERPA says about postsecondary institutions sharing
information with parents.
What are parents’ and students’ rights under FERPA?
At the K-12 school level, FERPA provides parents with the right to inspect and review
their children’s education records, the right to seek to amend information in the records they
believe to be inaccurate, misleading, or an invasion of privacy, and the right to consent to the
disclosure of personally identifiable information from their children’s education records. When
a student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, these rights
under FERPA transfer from the student’s parents to the student. Under FERPA, a student to
whom the rights have transferred is known as an “eligible student.” Although the law does say
that the parents’ rights afforded by FERPA transfer to the “eligible student,” FERPA clearly
provides ways in which an institution can share education records on the student with his or
her parents.
While concerns have been expressed about the limitations on the release of information,
there are exceptions to FERPA’s general rule that educational agencies and institutions subject
to FERPA may not have a policy or practice of disclosing “education records” without the
written consent of the parent (at the K-12 level) or the “eligible student.”
When may a school disclose information to parents of dependent students?
Under FERPA, schools may release any and all information to parents, without the
consent of the eligible student, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes under the IRS
Can a school disclose information to parents in a health or safety emergency?
The Department interprets FERPA to permit schools to disclose information from
education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
Can parents be informed about students’ violation of alcohol and controlled
substance rules?
Another provision in FERPA permits a college or university to let parents of students
under the age of 21 know when the student has violated any law or policy concerning the use or
possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
Can a school disclose law enforcement unit records to parents and the public?
Additionally, under FERPA, schools may disclose information from “law enforcement
unit records” to anyone – including parents or federal, State, or local law enforcement
authorities – without the consent of the eligible student. Many colleges and universities have
their own campus security units. Records created and maintained by these units for law
enforcement purposes are exempt from the privacy restrictions of FERPA and can be shared
with anyone.
Can school officials share their observations of students with parents?
Nothing in FERPA prohibits a school official from sharing with parents information
that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation and that is not based on
information contained in an education record. Therefore, FERPA would not prohibit a teacher
or other school official from letting a parent know of their concern about their son or daughter
that is based on their personal knowledge or observation.
How does HIPAA apply to students’ education records?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a law
passed by Congress intended to establish transaction, security, privacy, and other standards to
address concerns about the electronic exchange of health information. However, the HIPAA
Privacy Rule excludes from its coverage those records that are protected by FERPA at school
districts and postsecondary institutions that provide health or medical services to students.
This is because Congress specifically addressed how education records should be protected
under FERPA. For this reason, records that are protected by FERPA are not subject to the
HIPAA Privacy Rule and may be shared with parents under the circumstances described
In all of our programs here at the Department of Education, we consistently encourage
parents’ involvement in their children’s education. FERPA is no exception. While the privacy
rights of all parents and adult students are very important, there are clear and straightforward
ways under FERPA that institutions can disclose information to parents and keep them
involved in the lives of their sons and daughters at school.
Appendix I
Federal Firearms Transaction Record (ATF–4473)
Virginia Firearms Transaction Record (SP–65)
Firearms Transaction Record (ATF 4473)
Virginia Firearms Transaction Record (SP-65)
Appendix J
SP-237, Revised 2006
SP-237, Revised 2007
Appendix K
Appendix L
[This compilation was prepared by Skadden, Arps for the
Virginia Tech Review Panel]
Appendix M
By Roger Depue, Ph.D.
Experts who evaluate possible indicators that an individual is at risk of harming
himself or others know to seek out many sources for clues, certain red flags that merit
attention. A single warning sign by itself usually does not warrant overt action by a
threat assessment specialist. It should, however, attract the attention of an assessor
who has been sensitized to look for other possible warning signs. If additional warning
signs are present then more fact-finding is warranted to determine if there is a
likelihood of danger.
Some warning signs carry more weight than others. For instance, a fascination with,
and possession of, firearms are more significant than being a loner, because possession
of firearms gives one the capacity to carry out an attack. But if a person simply
possesses firearms and has no other warning signs, it is unlikely that he represents a
significant risk of danger.
When a cluster of indicators is present then the risk becomes more serious. Thus, a
person who possesses firearms, is a loner, shows an interest in past shooting situations,
writes stories about homicide and suicide, exhibits aberrant behavior, has talked about
retribution against others, and has a history of mental illness and refuses counseling
would obviously be considered a significant risk of becoming dangerous to himself or
others. A school threat assessment team upon learning about such a list of warning
signs would be in a position to take immediate action including:
Talking to the student and developing a treatment plan with conditions for
remaining in school
Calling the parents or other guardians
Requesting permission to receive medical and educational records
Checking with law enforcement to ascertain whether there have been any
interactions with police
Talking with roommates and faculty
Suspending the student until the student has been treated and doctors indicate
the student is not a safety risk
Following are some warning signs (indicators and red flags) associated with school
shootings in the United States. Schools, places of employment, and other entities that
are creating a threat assessment capability may want to be aware of these red flags:
Violent fantasy content –
Writings (Stories, essays, compositions),
Drawings (Artwork depicting violence),
Reading and viewing materials (Preference for books, magazines, television,
video tapes and discs, movies, music, websites, and chat rooms with violent
themes and degrading subject matter), and role playing acts of violence and
Anger problems –
Difficulty controlling anger, loss of temper, impulsivity,
Making threats
Fascination with weapons and accoutrements –
Especially those designed and most often used to kill people (such as machine
guns, semiautomatic pistols, snub nose revolvers, stilettos, bayonets, daggers,
brass knuckles, special ammunition and explosives)
Boasting and practicing of fighting and combat proficiency –
Military and sharpshooter training, martial arts, use of garrotes, and knife
Loner –
Isolated and socially withdrawn, misfit, prefers own company to the company of
Suicidal ideation –
Depressed and expresses hopelessness and despair
Reveals suicidal preparatory behavior
Homicidal ideation –
Expresses contempt for other(s)
Makes comments and/or gestures indicating violent aggression
Stalking –
Follows, harasses, surveils, attempts to contact regardless of the victim’s
expressed annoyance and demands to cease and desist
Non-compliance and disciplinary problems –
Refusal to abide by written and/or verbal rules
Imitation of other murderers –
Appearance, dress, grooming, possessions like those of violent shooters in past
episodes (e.g. long black trench coats)
Interest in previous shooting situations –
Drawn toward media, books, entertainment, conversations dealing with past
Victim/martyr self-concept –
Fantasy that some day he will represent the oppressed and wreak vengeance on
the oppressors
Strangeness and aberrant behavior –
Actions and words that cause people around him to become fearful and
Paranoia –
Belief that he is being singled out for unfair treatment and/or abuse; feeling
Violence and cruelty –
A history of using violence to solve problems (fighting, hitting, etc.), abusing
animals or weaker individuals
Inappropriate affect –
Enjoying cruel behavior and/or being able to view cruelty without being
Acting out –
Expressing disproportionate anger or humor in situations not warranting it,
attacking surrogate targets
Police contact –
A history of contact with police for anger, stalking, disorderly conduct;
Past temporary restraining orders (or similar court orders),
A jail/prison record for aggressive crimes
Mental health history related to dangerousness –
A history of referral or commitments to mental health facilities for
aggressive/destructive behavior
Expressionless face/anhedonia –
An inability to express and/or experience joy and pleasure
Unusual interest in police, military, terrorist activities and materials
Vehicles resembling police cars, military vehicles, surveillance equipment,
handcuffs, weapons, clothing (camouflage, ski masks, etc.)
Use of alcohol/drugs –
Alcohol/drugs are used to reduce inhibitions so that aggressive behaviors are
more easily expressed
Appendix N
From the Perspective of a Forensic Behavioral Scientist
From the Perspective of a Forensic Behavioral Scientist
By Roger L. Depue, Ph.D.
When a shocking and horrendous crime has been committed an immediate response is,
“Why?” It is human nature to seek an answer to that question, some feasible explanation for the motivation behind the crime. We will never know for certain what motivated Seung Hui Cho to go on a murderous rampage on April 16, 2007. But professionals experienced in the study of multiple victim murderers have noted some patterns of
personality and behavior that are pertinent here. As a result of 33 years of experience
in the analysis of crimes of violence, including the study of violent fantasies, I have developed the following theory about what drove Cho to do what he did. I begin with a
general observation.
Most assassinations in the United States are not politically motivated. Instead they are
often the work of inadequate persons who do not see any kind of meaningful life for
them ahead. As a consequence of any of several types of mental disorders, they have
come to the realization that they will never become important persons, such as significant contributors to their society and therefore, memorable persons in history. Some
feel so poorly about themselves they do not believe they can even cope with the ordinary responsibilities of life. They feel powerless over their destinies and are helpless
victims of their unfulfilled needs. They begin to build a fantasy where they can be
achievers and persons who can change the course of history not in a beneficial way, but
perhaps as an outcast. There is something significant they can do.
These killers target a particular person or persons. They can do away with one of those
very people who are functioning well, coping with life’s stresses and requirements all
the while achieving success. They can kill one of those people who have risen to a position of accomplishment, influence and prominence. Then they will be forever recognized
as the person who shot the president, the movie star, or the famous athlete. They begin
to plan the event. They read books and magazines about assassinations of the past.
Like John W. Hinkley, Jr., they have their photograph taken in front of Ford’s Theatre
and the White House. They write of their plan in essays and journals. They want to
make sure that history properly records their most significant event. And if they are
killed in the assassination effort it will be worth it. It will be a sacrifice. They can go
down in history as a great assassin.
Their act will thus be two-fold: they will have a place in history as a major player (on
the world scene) if the victim is important enough, and they will be killing that which
they can not have for their own by virtue of ability, talent and achievement.
Similarly, some multiple victim killers act out of a distorted sense of unfairness and
disappointment stemming from their own actual inadequacies and unsatisfied needs
for attention, adulation, power and control. Perhaps, such was the case of Seung Hui
If one examines the life of Cho along the five dimensions of human growth and development, his inadequacies become apparent. Physically Cho was average to below average. He was frail and sick as an infant toddler. Even the autopsy report remarked
about his lack of muscle for the body of a 23-year-old male. Emotionally, his growth
was stunted as a result of his “selective mutism”. Spiritually, he showed little interest
and dropped out of his church before experiencing a growth in faith. Socially, he could
not function at all. He was virtually devoid of social skills due to his extreme social
anxiety disorder. Intellectually, which was his strongest attribute, he was average to
above average in his academic pursuits but even these afforded him little or no consistent or positive sense of achievement based on the feedback from his peers or others.
Cho lived a life of quiet solitude, extreme quiet and solitude. For all of his 23 years of
life the most frequent observation made by anyone about him was that Seung Hui Cho
had absolutely no social life. During all of his school years he had no real friends. He
had no interest in being with others. In fact, he shied away from other people and
seemed to prefer his own company to the company of others. His few attempts to reach
out to females at college were inappropriate and frightened them.
Cho was quiet and uncommunicative even in his own family. This led his parents to repeatedly discuss this abnormal characteristic with extended family members, church
leaders, schoolteachers, counselors and medical practitioners. It was all to no avail. It
appeared this boy could not voluntarily participate in the social arena under any circumstances, regardless of any advice, threats or rewards. Not even the medication he
took for a year or the several years of therapy seemed to correct this serious handicap.
As a result of this condition of solitude, he grew into a joyless, socially invisible loner.
But this condition in no way masked his desire to be somebody. He did well in school in
spite of his lack of interaction. He was intelligent and worked hard to complete his assignments so that he could convince his teachers that he had a good grasp of the subject matter presented, even though he was orally mute. He simply did it all alone and
with as little oral communication as was absolutely necessary. There are many problems that accompany such a lifestyle. One of the big problems with being a loner is that
one does not get helpful reality checks from people who can challenge disordered thinking. Once a loner cuts off outsiders he automatically takes himself out of the game
where he could grow, with help, out of his inadequacies. He inadvertently condemns
himself to ongoing inadequacy and compensatory fantasies.
It was in his second and third year of college that he began to find what he thought
would be his niche, his special talent that would set him apart from the sea of other
students at the university. He would become a great writer. He changed his major from
computer technology to English. He began to write in earnest banging out composition
after composition on his computer keyboard. He began seriously to believe that his
original material and unique style were very good. He sent a book proposal to a pub-
lisher with great expectations. When it was returned stamped “rejected” he probably
was devastated.
He internalized this rejection for months. His sister tried to console him and offered to
edit his work, but he would not let her even see the document. He tried to impress his
English professors with his writing assignments but only one or two saw any particular
talent. In fact many of his professors as well as his fellow students reacted negatively
to his stories that were often laden with horror and violence. Cho’s dream was slipping
away because of people - people who could not see and appreciate his desperate need to
be recognized as somebody of importance. Once again he could not function successfully
in the real world of people and normal expectations. These rejections were devastating
to him and he fantasized about getting revenge from a world he perceived as rejecting
him, people who had not satisfied so many of his powerful needs. He felt this way despite the fact that many of his teachers, counselors, and family members had extended
themselves to him out of a desire to help him succeed and be happy.
At the same time, he realized that his parents had made great sacrifices for him so that
he could attend college. He never asked them for anything yet they always asked him if
he needed anything. They paid for his tuition, books, and expenses, and tried to give
him whatever money he needed despite their own lack of education and low level of
employment and earning potential. Perhaps he resented the fact that his parents
worked and sacrificed so much and obtained so little in return. Meanwhile he was constantly aware of his classmates taking from their affluent parents and squandering
their money on luxuries and alcohol. He perceived that these students had no appreciation for hard work and sacrifice. He saw them as spoiled and wasteful. They drove their
BMW’s, dressed in stylish clothes and consumed the best food and drink. They had parties where sex and alcohol were plentiful. These students whom he once secretly
wished to join were now considered evil and his peers were conspicuously privileged.
They were engaging in “debauchery” and they needed to be taught a lesson.
Cho began to fantasize about punishing the “haves” for their stupidity and insensitivity
toward him and others like him – the “have nots”. He remembered how Eric and Dylan
(in his fantasy he was on a first name basis with Harris and Klebold, the Columbine
killers) had extracted their revenge while cheating society out of ever having the opportunity of arresting and punishing them by committing suicide at the end of their massacre.
His fantasies began to come out in his writings as he authored plays about violence and
revenge. Gradually, he realized he could extract a measure of revenge against the evil
all around him. He began to plan. Simply by signing his name, he easily got a credit
card to begin to make his purchases. He began to purchase the instruments and munitions he would need. He knew that he would never have to pay for these purchases because he would be dead. Like Eric and Dylan, he would kill as many of them as possible and then commit suicide. But his plan would be even better than theirs. He would
plan a killing that would go down in history as the greatest school massacre ever. He
would be remembered as the savior of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, and
the rejected.
There was pleasure in planning such a grand demonstration of “justice.” He began to
write about his plan and the rationale for it. He videotaped himself as he performed his
role and read from the script he had written. He began to feel a power he had never felt
before, and a freedom from his burden of inadequacy. He experienced a freedom to express the fantasies long held in abeyance. Whatever inhibitions he may have had
against committing such an act were easily slipping away. He rented a vehicle. He purchased his weapons and ammunition, and began to practice for the big day. The excitement mounted as he moved closer to the day of reckoning.
Graduation was only weeks away but for Cho it was not an occasion for joy. Rather it
was a time of fear and dread. He had never held a job in his life, not even during summer vacations from school. He did not want to go to graduate school as his parents had
urged. The educational institution did not appreciate him. He would soon be facing the
job market as a mediocre English major whose ideas and compositions as a writer had
been rejected, while all those around him were planning careers with enthusiasm and
great expectations.
What would he ever do once he was out of the intellectual environment of college where
his brain had at least some success? He would be turned out into the world of work, finances, responsibilities, and a family. What a frightening prospect. As graduation
loomed ahead he felt even more inadequate. There was the probability of only more rejection ahead.
By this time Cho may have become submerged (immersed) into a state of self-pity and
paranoia, and could not distinguish between constructive planning for the future and
the need for destructive vengeance and retaliation. His thought processes were so distorted that he began arguing to himself that his evil plan was actually doing good. His
destructive fantasy was now becoming an obsession. He had become a person driven by
a need for vengeance and would now strike out against “injustice” and rejection. He
would become the source of punishment, the avenger, against those he perceived as the
insensitive hypocrites and cruel oppressors. He didn’t need specific targets. His mission
was to destroy them all. In his distorted fantasy world, he himself had actually become
that which he seemed to despise most. He had become the instrument for the destruction of human dignity and precious potential.
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