Governor, victims' families insist Tech review explain why system failed to stop shootings - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Governor, victims' families insist Tech review explain why system failed to stop shootings

By BOB LEWIS
Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A report due out this week on the Virginia Tech shootings must explain in frank detail how a student was able to kill 32 people, despite abundant warning signs that he was deeply troubled, the governor and families of the slain say.

Inconclusive findings won't do, say Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the victims' relatives. "It should say where things went right and where things went wrong.

And that's what I expect that it will say," Kaine said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm hoping to find that there is somebody or some entity that's going to be held accountable for the inaction," said Holly Sherman, mother of slaying victim Leslie Sherman.

"If no action could be taken that day, then convince me with that report," said Sherman, who conducts official investigations as an inspector general at the Office of Naval Research in Arlington.

"Even if it's 'so-and-so made a big mistake, so-and-so is an idiot,' that's better than what I've got now, which is 'Gee, nobody did anything wrong' - which isn't true because my daughter's not here," she said.

The report is being written by an eight-member panel, appointed by Kaine, which will finish its work behind closed doors Monday.

Kaine said family members will have an opportunity to see it before it comes to him Friday and is made public. Kaine said he expects answers on why the mental health system failed to intercept gunman Seung-Hui Cho despite menacing and bizarre behavior that alarmed Cho's classmates, professors and police.

A court even found him a danger to himself and ordered him evaluated. And the governor wants to see specifics on where accountability broke down in dealing with Cho. "Who gets the order? Who do you give that order to and make responsible for following it up? Why didn't that happen? All of those issues are the ones I'm really riveted on," the governor said.

There are other questions the survivors, the bereaved and those who return this month for fall classes want answered, Sherman said.

Why did police assume the first two students slain in a dormitory were the victims of a domestic dispute? Why was a handwritten bomb threat found in Norris Hall before 30 people were killed there handed to a janitor and not to an authority figure? Why wasn't the campus locked down after the first shootings?

"Rather than focusing on the event, I wish it would go beyond that and inform us on some kind of profound level what we can do to prevent this," said Ishwar Puri, head of a Tech engineering department that was Norris Hall's chief tenant.

Some people died 25 feet from Puri's second-floor office. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said he hopes the report will provide guidance on how universities can better deal with students like Cho. "We are not a social-service agency," he said.

"We are not a psychiatric institution." Kaine said the families' demand all along has been consistent: no whitewash, no cover-ups. "We expect this panel to come up with responsibility and accountability for the actions on April 16th and before," Dennis Bluhm, whose son Brian was killed, told panel members during a public hearing in July.

"When there's 32 dead, one suicide, 25 or 26 injured and many dozens or hundreds traumatized, I think that presents a situation where pointing of fingers is necessary," said Roger O'Dell, whose son Derek was shot but survived.

Some families are concerned the report will minimize fault by the state or other institutions to avoid provoking lawsuits.

"They're so worried about the liability, that they're losing their focus on the prize - and the prize is the truth," Sherman said.

"Forget the liability thing. Just tell us what we need to fix. But be specific because a broad brush is not going to help me sleep at night." Kaine said the report has to be frank, legal issues notwithstanding.

"I'm sure some will look at this and, based on what they see, they'll think about litigation as a follow-up, but I don't think that with any of the family members this is the thing they're primarily interested in.

I think they're interested in getting answers." W. Gerald Massengill, the retired head of the Virginia State Police appointed to head the panel, said he knows people expect blame to be assigned.

"From where the facts have taken us, if somebody wants to take it and assign blame, then that's up to them.

We're going to point out what was done correctly, what maybe could have been done differently - and of course what we think absolutely should have been done differently," Massengill said.

--- Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Richmond and Sue Lindsey in Blacksburg contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-08-18-07 1500EDT

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