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Virginia Tech shooting report details fumbled response

Friday, December 4, 2009 | 2:01 p.m. CST

RICHMOND, Va. — Some Virginia Tech officials warned their own families and the president's office was locked down well before a campus-wide alert was issued in the 2007 slayings of 32 people, according to a revised state report that details new fumbles in the response to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

One student survived several hours after being shot without anyone notifying her family until she had died, said the updated report, released Friday.

At least two officials with a crisis response team called their family members after the first shootings at a dorm and about 90 minutes before the all-campus alert was issued at 9:26 a.m. The president's office was locked down at 8:52 a.m., and two academic buildings were also shut down before the general alert.

The revisions, made partly in response to requests from victims' families, also added details about troubling behavior by Seung-Hui Cho (sung-wee joh) and includes information from his mental-health records. Cho killed 32 people and injured several others before killing himself on April 16, 2007, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said the findings that some school officials called their own family members about the initial shootings in a dorm before an all-campus warning was issued were "inexcusable."

"There is almost never a reason not to provide immediate notification," Kaine told The Associated Press Friday. "If university officials thought it was important enough to notify their own families, they should have let everyone know."

While new details were added and other portions were corrected or clarified, the original report's conclusions and recommendations weren't revised. The first document was critical of communications failures, privacy laws and other factors, and issued suggestions on improving campus emergency procedures and notification systems, mental health regulations, and gun purchase reporting requirements.

Kaine agreed to the revision to correct factual errors and reflect new information that emerged after the panel he appointed to investigate the slayings completed its first document in August 2007. Victims' parents had pressed for corrections, and wanted university officials and others to be held more accountable for their roles.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said in a statement Friday that "none of the new information merited changes to any of the recommendations in the original report."

The amended report found that Virginia Tech had two different emergency-alert policies in effect when the shootings took place, and that led to a delay in issuing a university-wide alert until nearly two hours after Cho killed his first two victims in a dormitory.

Kaine said he is considering whether legislation requiring immediate notification procedures might be submitted to the General Assembly before he leaves office Jan. 16.

Emily Hilscher, one of the two dorm victims, survived for three hours after she was shot, according to the amended report. But no Virginia Tech officials, police or hospital representatives notified her parents about her injuries or whereabouts until after she died.

The report also adds more information, including Cho's records from the Cook Counseling Center, which were made public earlier this year. It also concludes that university officials and police failed to look into signs about Cho's mental state, including "a long list of frightening writings and aberrant behaviors."


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