What went wrong at Blacksburg?

The Virginia Tech tragedy will continue to resonate for some time to come, and rightly so. Many questions surrounding last Monday’s events are yet to be answered, and must be in order for the grieving victims and families to move on from the horror that was April 16th, 2007.

To be fair, there has been no official statement concretely outlining the events of that fateful Monday morning, although what has been pieced together speaks to a rather shabbily-handled situation.

Why was there a delay in the excess of two hours following the first incident before students were notified? Why had President Charles Stegler not declared a campus-wide emergency and locked the school down? Why were students in the classrooms at Norris Hall at 9:10 a.m. trying to make sense of a vague e-mail informing them of the shooting?

The only precautionary measure taken by the campus security apparatus prior to 9 a.m. was to lock down the site of the first incident. Shortly after, an e-mail was sent advising the University community of the incident, recommending caution, and instructing them to contact police with any information. Less than one hour later, the gunman reemerged to massacre 30 people in a nearby classroom. One cannot help but ponder if, had more decisive initiatives been taken, many of the deaths and injuries could have been preventable.

Freak tragedy, yes-unmanageable, no. As the president of Virginia Tech, Mr. Stegler is responsible for the safety of students during emergencies. In the words of Dr. Sharon Javie, former professor of Marketing at LaSalle University, “It is unconscionable that [Stegler] did not lock the campus down after the first two students were shot. You either apprehend the suspect, or you shut the campus down.”

I can’t say I disagree. While impossible to predict the first shootings, Mr. Stegler has indicated that he thought the first killings were simply the result of a domestic dispute and that the gunman had fled campus. Even so, it’s better to err on the side of safety. Mr. Stegler gambled with the safety and well-being of his students and lost miserably.

Dr. William Dunkleberg, former Dean of the Fox School of Business at Temple University and professor of Economics, explained the sensitivity of the issue. “Your first response in such a situation is that it’s personal and isolated. It is highly unlikely that what occurred is actually the beginning of a killing spree. You’re faced with a dilemma.” A dilemma, indeed, but if locking down the campus could ultimately save lives, I doubt many would complain.

Also unnerving is the lack of mechanisms in place at schools to identify individuals like Cho Seung-Hui and get them help before they act out. Described as an introvert, Cho shocked his fellow students and English professor with disturbing and violent plays written for a class, now posted on aol.com.

Issues of free speech and confidentiality would conflict with such systems, but shouldn’t there be a point where the line is drawn?

Jason Javie is a senior majoring in political science. He may be contacted at j.javie@umiami.edu.

April 20, 2007


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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