Jurors in Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled last year that the state was negligent in the deaths of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, two of the 32 people killed by Cho on the Blacksburg campus. The jury panel awarded the parents of Pryde and Peterson $4 million each, although the court later reduced the amount to $100,000 per family.
Harry Pryde, whose daughter Julia was killed in her advanced hydrology class on the second floor of Norris Hall, said the families were “deeply saddened that the court was so dismissive of assigning responsibility and was so protective of the commonwealth.”
The lawsuit was about accountability, not money, Pryde said in a telephone interview, “and we still take a good measure of satisfaction that the jury listened to all of the evidence and decided as it did. We don’t feel at all that the Supreme Court can take that away from us.”
Virginia Tech and the state maintained all along that campus officials and police had acted appropriately, given what they knew at the time.
While expressing sympathy for the victims of the massacre, “the Virginia Supreme Court has found what we have said all along to be true: The commonwealth and its officials at Virginia Tech were not negligent on April 16, 2007,” said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, in a written statement. “Cho was the lone person responsible for this tragedy.”
After Cho’s rampage — one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history — most of the victims’ families accepted a settlement that prohibited them from suing the university or the state. The Petersons and Prydes refused, instead pursuing a lawsuit because, they said, they wanted to get to truths they suspected officials were withholding.
Several people, including Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, were originally named as defendants in the lawsuit. But by the time the case went to trial, all of the individual defendants had been dismissed, leaving the state as the lone defendant.
The question at the heart of the lawsuit was one the families had been asking since 2007: Why hadn’t Virginia Tech officials informed the campus community that a gunman might be on the loose after the double murder in the dorm?
The Prydes and Petersons maintained that a proper warning would have helped their daughters avoid Cho’s bullets.
The jury agreed, but the state appealed, arguing that it was not required, by law, “to warn of third party criminal acts.”