By Bill Turque and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 20, 2007
RICHMOND, April 19 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Thursday created an eight-member independent panel, including former U.S. homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, to review all aspects of the Virginia Tech massacre, from shooter Cho Seung Hui's medical history to the school's widely criticized delay in warning students of danger.
Earlier in the day, the director of Virginia Tech's counseling center disclosed that school officials had not been told about Cho's release from a mental health facility in December 2005 with a court order to seek counseling. School officials said no students had formally complained about Cho's behavior in the 15 months after his release from the facility in nearby Radford.
In Richmond, Kaine (D) announced the appointment of Ridge and five experts from medicine, law enforcement and education to the group, which will be headed by retired Virginia State Police superintendent W. Gerald Massengill. Two other members, a judge and an expert in victim services, will be added soon, he said.
Kaine and Massengill made it clear that the inquiry was designed not to affix blame for Monday's catastrophe but to understand its causes and put in place safeguards to reduce the chances of a recurrence.
"This is a case study," said Massengill, 64, who led the state's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington area. "We're not trying to second-guess anyone."
Kaine was asked whether the panel will tell the public if it concludes that mistakes or misjudgments occurred bef ore, during or after the violence. He said that the aim is "not to point fingers" but that "knowing Col. Massengill, he's not going to spare asking any hard questions."
After Cho killed two students at West Ambler Johnston Hall about 7:15 a.m. Monday, it took campus police more than two hours to inform Virginia Tech students. A number of law enforcement experts have speculated that the school's failure to lock down the campus after the initial killings might have contributed to the carnage later at Norris Hall, where the gunman from Fairfax County killed 30 people and himself.
Kaine said the panel would focus on three areas:
· Cho and his mental health before the shootings. This part of the review will include warning signs that might have gone unheeded, legal or administrative barriers that might have kept critical information from school administrators, and the circumstances surrounding his purchase of the two handguns he used.
· A minute-by-minute deconstruction of the shootings.
· An analysis of law enforcement and emergency medical responses to the calamity.
The governor said he hoped to have an initial report from the panel, including any recommendations for changes in laws or policies, by the beginning of the coming school year.
The other panelists are Gordon Davies, former director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; Roger L. Depue, former administrator of the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime; Aradhana A. "Bela" Sood, an expert in child psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center; and Marcus L. Martin, assistant dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Kaine said if the panel found that state or federal privacy laws covering medical records need to be changed to give school administrators more information about troubled students, then he would press lawmakers for reforms.
At a gathering Thursday in Tipp City, Ohio, President Bush said he did not want to draw conclusions from the Virginia case because "they're still digging out the facts." But he suggested that concerns about privacy, while understandable, might be preventing people from taking needed action.
In Blacksburg on Thursday, questions about Cho's medical care persisted.
Christopher Flynn, director of the Thomas E. Cook Counseling Center on campus, said officials were not notified of Cho's release from a hospital in December 2005 with a court order to seek mental health counseling. He said he was "not sure of who got notified under that court order." Flynn added that Cho was referred to a public facility off campus.
The hospitalization would not have been grounds to dismiss Cho from the university, said Flynn, who emphasized the 15-month interval between Cho's commitment in late 2005 and Monday's rampage. Another school administrator, Ed Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs, said that Cho's five suitemates did not file any formal complaints during that period. Nor were there further complaints from the two female students who had notified the school about Cho's electronic contact with them in the fall of 2005, officials said.
New information emerged Thursday about Cho's actions leading up to Monday's rampage and during the two hours between the initial shootings and the bloodshed at Norris Hall.
· Two sources confirmed for The Washington Post that Cho purchased his Walther P22 from an Internet company called TGSCOM Inc. He practiced shooting at a Roanoke range, the sources said.
· Cho rented a room for one night on April 8 at the Hampton Inn in Christiansburg. Investigators think that while he was in the hotel room, Cho recorded some of the video that he made of himself with his guns and sent to NBC.
· David Mcginnis, a U.S. Postal Service inspector, said the Express Mail package that Cho sent to NBC was handled by a postal clerk in Blacksburg at 9:01 a.m. Monday. He said the station was busy at the time because many people were mailing their income tax returns.
· Investigators were searching the cellphone and laptop computer owned by one of the victims of the dormitory shootings, according to papers filed in Montgomery County, Va., Circuit Court. Police are trying to rule out any connection between the victim, Emily Hilscher, and Cho. Both devices "would be one way the suspect could have communicated with the victim," Virginia Tech police Detective Stephanie J. Henley said in an affidavit filed in court.
Authorities also corrected some inaccuracies in news coverage. They said, for instance, that Cho did not have a tattoo on his arm; the still mysterious "Ismael Ax" was written in pen.
Eight shooting victims still hospitalized Thursday were reported in stable condition. Four were in intensive care, three in an orthopedics ward and one in a step-down unit from intensive care. A spokesman said three patients might be discharged later Thursday or on Friday.
Hospital officials would not comment or identify specific patients, but the brother of shooting victim Katelyn Carney of Sterling said his sister would be home in time to serve as maid of honor at their sister's wedding Saturday. Danny Carney said Katelyn was shot in the hand when the gunman attacked students in her German class.
"She helped block the door even though she was injured when the shooter came back," Danny Carney said, adding that Katelyn and a few other survivors in the classroom crouched down and pressed their bodies against the door even as the gunman tried to shoot his way back in. "Bullets were flying a few inches above her head," he said.
Horwitz reported from Washington. Staff writers Susan Levine and Tamara Jones contributed to this report from Blacksburg.