By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
RICHMOND, June 17 -- A Circuit Court judge approved an $11 million settlement Tuesday for most of the families of victims of last year's Virginia Tech massacre, but some of them remain dissatisfied and angry over the actions of the state and the school.
The settlement, which allows the state to avoid any further legal action, includes $100,000 and medical expenses for each family, as well as meetings between families and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), state police and Virginia Tech officials to discuss administrative and legislative changes made since the shootings.
Thirty-two people were killed in the attack, and the settlement covers the families of 28 of those victims as well as the families of those who were wounded.
After the judge approved the deal, some families said more needs to be done to determine the roles of the state and university in the April 16, 2007, shootings. The families called for further investigation.
"This has nothing to do with money and everything to do with seeking the truth and complete accountability," said Joe Samaha of Centreville, whose daughter Reema was killed.
Seung Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student from Fairfax County with a history of mental problems, killed two students in a dormitory and then, more than two hours later, killed 25 students and five faculty members in an academic building before taking his own life. Two dozen others were wounded.
An investigation by a panel appointed by Kaine said the university should have shut down the campus and issued clearer warnings after the dormitory shootings. The panel also faulted the state's mental health system for not ensuring that Cho received treatment.
Lawyers for 20 of the families released e-mails Tuesday indicating that Virginia Tech warned employees to remain inside after the shootings began but failed to warn students.
"Lives could have and should have been saved," said Peter Grenier, whose firm took the lead in the negotiations.
Still, the families' decision to agree to a taxpayer-financed settlement largely ends a 14-month process by the state to compensate the families of the worst massacre on a college campus in U.S. history. Two families did not file claims against the state, and two others are not satisfied with the settlement and could continue negotiations or file lawsuits. Neither the state nor the university admitted liability.
"I'm glad the settlement is going forward," said state Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke), whose district includes the Blacksburg campus. "It will certainly never replace the loss they suffered."
Kaine (D) was in California Tuesday, and his office referred questions to the attorney general's office. Chief Deputy Attorney General William C. Mims declined to comment on the families' allegations that the state and Virginia Tech have not been truthful.
About a dozen family members attended the hearing in downtown Richmond in a standing-room-only courtroom. Some cried silently during the hearing, while others shook their heads as attorneys read details of the settlement.
"I'm so sorry you have to be here," Circuit Court Judge Theodore J. Markow told Paul and Susan Turner, whose daughter Maxine was killed.
"So are we," Paul Turner replied.
Under the terms of the settlement, the state and Virginia Tech will set aside $3.85 million for one-time payments to families of the dead and wounded victims. The most the families will receive is $100,000, the maximum usually allowed in cases of state negligence, but they also could seek more money from a $1.9 million hardship fund.
Last fall, the families of the dead and surviving victims received one-time payments ranging from $11,500 to $208,000 from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which was created from private donations that poured in after the shooting. The fund will remain open for at least five more years, and funds will go toward scholarships.
The settlement also calls for families to meet with Kaine three times before he leaves office in 2010 and with Virginia Tech officials, campus and state police, and others within the next six months. It also requires that Virginia Tech create an electronic archive of its written records and that the state create a $3.85 million fund to pay for campus safety programs, remembrance activities and tributes, and donations to educational and nonprofit groups.
The settlement came after months of meetings with a mediator, the families, the governor's office, the attorney general's office and Virginia Tech officials.
"We are mothers and fathers, we are sisters and brothers, we are neighbors and friends," Mims said. "Since April 16, 2007, our thoughts and our prayers have been with those whose loss we cannot fully comprehend but which we will never forget.'' The state has almost finished negotiating settlements with 18 other families of the wounded. Mims said the victims with the most severe injuries would receive $100,000, and all of them will receive health insurance for life.
Susan Carney, whose daughter Katelyn was shot, said she welcomes the lifetime of health care.
"Thank goodness she'll have this," she said.
The settlement will be paid by the state, Virginia Tech, New River Valley Community Services Board, the town of Blacksburg and five nearby counties. The state is self-insured, which means any settlement will be paid for with taxpayer funds.
The state also agreed to pay Grenier's firm $750,000 and other lawyers $25,000.