Va. Tech president stands by decisions on morning of shootings

Associated Press Writer

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Virginia Tech's president stands by his decision not to shut down the campus in the early stages of last spring's mass shootings, saying in an interview Friday that the school is simply too big for that to have worked.

"Virginia Tech is like a small city," Charles Steger told The Associated Press. "You just can't do it." Steger said he remains comfortable with the university's handling of the events of April 16, when a student killed two people in a dormitory, then killed 30 and wounded 23 two hours later in a classroom building before taking his own life.

Steger said that as classes resume Monday, the school will have more police officers and mental health counselors on campus. Parents of some of the victims have questioned why the campus wasn't shut down after the first shootings, shortly after 7 a.m. Police initially thought the killings were a domestic case.

The president said he has consulted experts who agreed that "it's just not an operable concept" to shut down a campus such as Tech's.

At that time, he said, about 22,000 people were en route to the 2,600-acre campus. Between the time Seung-Hui Cho shot two students in West Ambler Johnston dormitory and went on a killing spree in Norris Hall, Steger said, university officials were actively involved in the investigation.

"There were a number of things under way during that period," he said. He and other members of the campus security committee "were getting communications from the police every two minutes," he said.

The campus transmitted warnings by e-mail and sirens about two hours after the first shootings.

Tech has instituted a new system to alert students and staff of emergencies by text messages to cell phones, e-mails and online instant messages.

Steger said about 12,000 people have signed up to receive them. When the fall semester begins, Virginia State Police will have extra officers on campus for "as long as needed" but at least a week, the president said, and the campus police force is in the process of hiring 11 more officers.

The university also is hiring four additional counselors, but Steger said others have been brought in for the beginning of school, especially to help students who were injured.

The hirings are an example of the university's policy to spend whatever is needed to help the campus recover, Steger said. So far, Virginia Tech has spent $10 million that it doesn't have in the budget, he said.

Steger said he is trying to balance the needs of a campus that remains in mourning but still must move forward. Steger said students he's talked to have been eager for the start of the semester.

He has been buoyed by messages of support, including one from a stranger who stopped his van when he saw Steger on a Richmond street recently. "He gets out and says, 'Mr. President, we're behind you,"' Steger said with a smile.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)