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© 2019 Amye Archer + Loren Kleinman  |  PRIVACY POLICY

 
 

The Virginia Tech massacre is considered one of the deadliest school shootings in America, surpassing the rampage at the University of Texas at Austin Tower shooting in 1966. The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, shot forty-nine people, killing thirty-two and wounding seventeen, before committing suicide.


The first shootings happened in West Ambler Johnston Hall (WAJ), a co-ed residence hall. At about 7:15 a.m., Cho, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, entered the dorm room of nineteen-year-old Freshman, Emily J. Hilscher, and fatally shot her. Resident Assistant, twenty-two-year old student and senior, Ryan C. Clark, heard the gunshots and tried to help Hilscher, but was shot and killed. The Blacksburg Police departments responded to the report of shootings in West Ambler Hall, residence hall. But Cho used the police investigations to his advantage, and while the police were responding to the shootings at WAJ, Cho went back to his dorm, changed out of his clothes, deleted his emails, and then removed the hard drive from his computer.


After the first murders, Cho was seen at a post office mailing a package, which contained letters and videos, to NBC. After mailing this package, and more than two hours after the first killings, he walked to Norris Hall with chains, locks, a hunting knife, and about 400 rounds of ammunition. He chained the three main entrances of Norris Hall, and put a note on the doors that a bomb would go off if anyone tried to remove them. “Cho was able to kill 31 people including himself at Norris Hall in about 10 minutes with the semi automatic handguns at his disposal.”


Days after the shooting, on April 19, 2007, Timothy M. Kaine, Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia, announced the formation of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, which performed a review independent of the Commonwealth’s own efforts to respond to the shooting. The panel found that  “Senior university administrators, acting as the emergency Policy Group, failed to issue an all-campus notification about the WAJ killings until almost 2 hours had elapsed...The police reported to the university emergency Policy Group that the "person of interest" probably was no longer on campus. The VTPD erred in not requesting that the Policy Group issue a campus-wide notification that two persons had been killed and that all students and staff should be cautious and alert.”


The panel’s timeline of Cho also revealed past “suicidal and homicidal ideations.” But despite reports filed by students about his behavior such as stabbing a carpet with a knife in front of suitmates, the staff psychiatrist said his “‘insight and judgment [were] normal.’”


After the shooting, the state of Virginia worked on closing legal gaps allowing mentally unstable individuals to purchase guns without detection from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In January 5, 2008, President Bush signed legislation to tighten gun control laws, the first federal gun control measure in years. Even before the shooting, states were required by federal law to enter names of those deemed mentally ill by the courts into an FBI database, but many states did not comply noting lack of resources. The law allocated $1.3 billion in federal grants for states to track people purchasing guns, and prevent the sale of guns to unstable people. However, support for this bill took years, even with the backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Gaps still remain, and the law doesn’t apply to all sales at gun shows where vendors are not required to run background checks.