Analysis Faults Review Panel And University

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

A representative for seven families of the Virginia Tech shooting victims issued a report yesterday criticizing the work of the Virginia Tech Review Panel and the university's response to the incident, at one point questioning the objectivity of the panel's study and calling some of its findings "outlandish."

In a 43-page analysis, Vincent J. Bove, a security specialist from New Jersey who has spoken on behalf of some of the family members since June, attacked the wording and some of the findings of the panel appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). The panel met for several months over the spring and summer to investigate the April 16 massacre in which a student from Fairfax County, Seung Hui Cho, killed 32 people at two locations before killing himself. The report also tries to expound on some of the panel's findings, seeking to sharpen criticism against the university.

Bove said he was not releasing his report on behalf of the family members but added that he had shown them and others copies of it. Two families declined to comment when contacted.

Bove's report largely focused on the sections of the panel's report that discussed campus safety and security issues as well as crisis management. He did not offer observations on the sections that analyzed Virginia's mental health system, federal and state privacy laws or gun control issues.

In much of his report, Bove said the review panel's report was not critical enough of the school's response to the first shooting, even though the panel concluded that lives could have been saved if officials had issued an alert that a gunman was on campus after the first shooting at a dormitory. This has been a central issue because of the lapse of more than two hours between the shootings at the dorm and those at Norris Hall. Victims' families and others have contended that if Virginia Tech officials had immediately notified the university community of the first incident, students, faculty and others would have been more vigilant.

"This type of leadership crisis deserves to be shown to the public," Bove said in an interview when asked why he put together the report. "We need to know every facet of how leadership was negligent in this tragic event," he said, even as he conceded that the panel recommended some critical areas of improvement.

The analysis dissected the panel's work and the university's response page by page, offering criticisms large and small.

In some cases, Bove chastised the panel for not including names of various committee members in the report; in others, he labels observations by the panel on the campus police's response to the initial incident as "ambiguous." He also contends that the university community should be held accountable for not having secure locks on doors.

W. Gerald Massengill, who was chairman of the panel, had not seen the Bove report but said: "I think our report has been read nationally and worldwide, and the feedback has been described as comprehensive, hard-hitting and very detailed. We went where the facts took us. . . . We stand by the report."

Larry Hincker, spokesman for Virginia Tech, said that he had not seen the Bove report as of yesterday evening but that the university's crisis response as of April 16 was in line with campuses across the country and "that should be the standard we are held to."

A section of the review panel's report concluded: "Many people have raised the question of whether the university should have been locked down. One needs to analyze the feasibility of doing this for a campus of 35,000 people."

Bove's report called that statement "outlandish." He added: "This statement appears to be an attempt to absolve the university's leadership team of any culpability."

Some family members said the review panel report released in August was sufficiently critical of the university's response to the shootings and its treatment of Cho.

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