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Virginia Tech will appeal fine over handling of 2007 shootings

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Virginia Tech will appeal a $55,000 fine imposed by the federal government for the school’s handling of the 2007 shooting rampage that left more than 30 students and teachers dead, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said Wednesday in a sharply worded statement.

Cuccinelli (R) called the federal action “appalling” and the Education Department’s four-year investigation of the events “shoddy at best,” reading from a prepared statement in a conference call with reporters.

Federal officials in March announced plans to levy the maximum fine against Virginia Tech for failing to provide timely warnings about the threat to the campus on the day of the massacre, April 16, 2007. An Education Department official wrote that the school’s violations “warrant a fine far in excess of what is currently permissible under the statute.”

At issue is the university’s response when two students were discovered fatally shot in a dormitory on the morning of the shooting rampage. Federal officials contend that university police arrived by 7:24 a.m., yet the first campus-wide e-mail alert didn’t go out until 9:26 a.m.

Cuccinelli portrayed the federal inquiry as “Monday-morning quarterbacking at its very worst.” He accused the department of “bad faith” in issuing critical findings a few months ahead of a planned civil trial in state court.

In four years of inquiry, Cuccinelli said, federal investigators “have not once gotten into the car and driven down to Blacksburg to talk to the police chief or the university president or to anyone else who had to deal with these events in real-time. Their investigation — if you can call it that — appears deeply flawed, and their indifference to the facts on the ground is shocking.”

Cuccinelli said relatively little about whether Virginia Tech had followed the law or its own internal rules in handling the shootings. The Education Department noted that omission in a brief written response to Cuccinelli’s statement.

“Let’s not get distracted, the real issue is Virginia Tech and its response to the shootings,” the statement said. “Thirty-two students and faculty died on that tragic day and we all want to make sure nothing like that happens again. Our findings say Virginia Tech should have done more to respond. They have the right to appeal our finding, and we will work through that process. In the end, this is about keeping students safe and learning, which is a goal we all share.”

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