Va. Tech Families Demand Voice on Panel

The Associated Press
Monday, June 11, 2007; 7:01 PM

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Relatives of Virginia Tech shooting victims said Monday they felt "ostracized" from a governor's panel studying the killings, and they questioned the use of their loved ones' names to raise millions of dollars for a memorial fund.

Peter Read, whose daughter Mary Karen Read was killed, thanked the eight-member panel for its work and told members that the victims' families could remain objective if included.

"We bring a qualification to the table that we don't feel any of you can match _ which is an intimate knowledge of what Seung-Hui Cho took from us," Read said as his wife Cathy stood by his side.

He then read a statement that was written on behalf of 13 families.

"We are angry about being ostracized from a government-chartered panel investigating a government-sponsored university, and about how the university has used the names and images of our loved ones to raise millions of dollars without any consultation," the families said.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's spokesman said the governor wanted "specialized expertise" when he named the eight-member panel, which includes former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, psychiatrists, educational specialists and former law enforcement officials. The panel was charged to review the tragedy, the circumstances that led to it and the response.

"Family is important to us. It's also important, I think, to the governor that he have a panel that was viewed as being totally objective and not driven by emotions," said panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill. He is a former Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency's response to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.

The panel's third meeting was meant to get some insight into how the student gunman, Cho, was able to skirt Virginia's mental health system from December 2005, when he was ordered to undergo outpatient mental health treatment, until April 16, when he gunned down 27 students and five faculty members on campus and then committed suicide. It was unclear whether he ever received treatment.

Panel members appeared frustrated throughout Monday's testimony as James Stewart, the state's inspector general for mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse services, repeatedly cited patient privacy laws when asked pointed questions about Cho's mental health treatment.

"It's really rather remarkable we're talking about a deceased individual responsible for all kinds of carnage and you as an individual are still encumbered by law," Ridge told Stewart.

Panel member Diane Strickland, who once served as a Circuit Court judge in Roanoke and Salem, echoed Ridge's frustration.

"We are really operating with our hands tied, blindfolds, and maybe even gag orders here, and it's becoming increasingly frustrating for the members of this investigative body, for them to do their work," she said.

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