Monday, April 20, 2009

Families of Virginia Tech Tragedy Seek Truth and Accountability with Lawsuits

On Thursday, April 16, 2009, two years after the Virginia Tech shootings, the families of Julia Kathleen Pryde and Erin Nicole Peterson—students who died in the tragedy—filed a lawsuit in the Fairfax County Virginia Circuit Court and issued a statement explaining why.

"We raised our daughters with a sense of integrity, a desire to seek the truth and a belief in keeping their word. Virginia Tech did not keep its word to us. We have filed this lawsuit in the hope that we will receive accountability for the tragic events of April 16, 2007.

"The faculty and students at Virginia tech have been extremely supportive of the families during this difficult time. Erin and Julia loved Virginia Tech and they felt at home there and were receiving a wonderful education. But, on April 16, 2007 the administrators who ran the university let our daughters down in ways we are just now learning.

"Sadly, the Report of the [Virginia Tech] Review Panel to the Governor, issued in August 2007, contained important inaccuracies, despite the panel's best efforts to get to the truth. University officials, it now appears, may have been less than candid and forthright in their responses to the questions put to them by the panel."

Details in the formal complaint include:

  • Virginia Tech issued a release which obfuscated the fact that there had been a double homicide in a dormitory the morning of April 16th, 2007, would dilute any information to that effect, implied that there were no serious injuries or deaths in the "shooting incident" and further implied that the incident was a completed event, that there was no gunman at large who was armed and dangerous and potentially on campus, and there was no need for anyone on campus to take specific precautions for their own safety.
  • As an inadequate warning, it constituted no warning at all, and in a sense artificially reassured the students, faculty and employees that whatever occurred in West Ambler Johnston Hall that morning was of much lesser consequences and risks than the Morva incident and the two recent threatened bombings on the engineering campus. The language, content and lack of specificity of the alert clearly implied that there was no reason to take any specific action for one's own safety.
  • In May, 2002 the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education issued its report: Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates… Research led to an inescapable conclusion. The first line of safety for students, faculty and employees was detection of those students who posed a risk of harm to fellow students, teachers or school employees. The published studies set out a list of early warning signs… as of October, 2005 into April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech had no threat assessment process, no threat assessment team no threat assessment policies, protocols or plans…Had Virginia Tech followed this roadmap, Seung-Hui Cho would have been identified as a student at risk.
  • The records of Cho's visits to the Cook Counseling Center and the records made by others but accumulated at the Cook Counseling Center with respect to Cho were required by Virginia law to be maintained. They were not…The absence of any records of Cho's contacts with the Cook Counseling Center, the absence of records of his adjudication of mental illness and dangerousness, the absence of records of his involuntary detention and involuntary order into out patient therapy based upon that illness and that dangerousness reflects the continued consequences of the negligence and gross negligence of the officers, agents and employees of the Cook counseling Center.
  • On the 16th of April, 2007, the duly authorized agents of the university, seduced by the prospect of a successful fund drive, and driven to control the message of the morning of April 16th in fulfillment of that ambition and to protect the general reputation and image of the university, behaved in a deliberately indifferent way to the safety of the university's students and faculty, failed to warn them of the risks inherent in allowing a gunman who had already killed two to run loose on the campus.

For these families—and for all the families whose loved ones were killed or injured on that tragic day—this lawsuit is not about money. It is about revealing the truth of the events of April 16, 2007 and holding those in positions of responsibility and authority accountable.


Families issue statement about Virginia Tech shooting lawsuit Click here to visit site
Family Complaint Click here to visit site
Family Press Release Click here to visit site
Crisis of Leadership: A Response to the Virginia Tech Panel Report Click here to visit site
Virginia Tech Blogs Click here to visit site



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