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Victims' Families Push to Reconvene Va. Tech Review Panel

By Brigid Schulte and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre and relatives of Seung Hui Cho's victims called on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Tuesday to reconvene the special panel he appointed to investigate the 2007 shootings.

"While we appreciate the hard work of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, the report issued by the panel contains grave errors, misinformation, and glaring omissions," said the statement, signed by 65 survivors and family members. "We cannot accept that the Commonwealth allows it to stand with errors of any kind."

Many family members of students who were killed or wounded by Cho said too many questions were raised about the report's accuracy after it was revealed last week that his mental health records, which Virginia Tech had long claimed were lost, had turned up in the home of the former director of the university's counseling center.

Suzanne Grimes, whose son, Kevin Sterne, was seriously wounded in the shootings, said family members want to be on the panel this time.

"We want to be on the panel to make sure the facts are correct," she said. "Because of the recent discoveries of Cho's records . . . it just gives us a clearer belief that there is other information that is either being hidden for a reason, or a clear coverup that we don't know about."

Col. Gerald Massengill, the former state police chief who chaired the review panel, said he would be willing to serve if Kaine reconvened it.

"These are documents that the panel, in a very loud fashion, asked for," Massengill said. "They are, as I understand it, triage forms -- the kind that you fill out in an emergency room or when you go see the doctor. I don't anticipate they'll be giving us a lot of background into Cho's mental history. But it's the loose end, the unknown."

Kaine said on WTOP radio that he made a commitment to Virginia Tech families last year that the narrative in the report would be reviewed based on their suggestions.

He said the original report was put together quickly, in four months, to collect recommendations for legal changes -- many of which were enacted -- but he said the findings should be amended as new information emerges.

The newly discovered Cho file, when made public, will play a role in that process, Kaine said. A separate state police investigation is underway into why Robert Miller, the former director of the Cook Counseling Center, who told university officials two years ago that he did not have the records, discovered the file after he was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the families of two of Cho's victims. Miller said he took the file "inadvertently."

"The contents of this file are going to be examined very carefully to see if . . . the report needs to be corrected," the governor said.

Kaine (D) said the state is "in dialogue" with the administrator of Cho's estate about release of the file. "No one who's a health professional should be able to leave the employment of a counseling center and take records with them," he said. "I am sure that is not lawfully permitted."

In a letter sent Tuesday to university employees, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said Miller's removal of the records was "troubling," "unauthorized" and against university policy.

"All of us in the Virginia Tech community are hopeful that the discovery of these long-missing records might fill an important hole in the investigation and panel review and provide greater understanding of this horrible and tragic loss of life," Steger wrote.

Grimes, whose son still carries one of the bullets Cho shot, said she and many other relatives of victims found numerous errors after combing through e-mails and other data that Virginia Tech disclosed as a result of the $11 million settlement most families accepted from the university.

"I personally submitted a three-inch stack of corrections" to the governor, she said. "And I know other family members did. Our corrections were three times the size of the original report."

Massengill said he has yet to hear new information that would change recommendations in the report, which faulted the university for failing to notify students early enough about the first two shootings and criticized university and mental health officials for failing to monitor Cho.

Grimes and other family members said it was crucial to know the full truth.

"An accurate, complete and thorough accounting of what happened before, during and after April 16th, 2007 is the legacy we seek," the statement read, "on behalf of those who died and those who survived."

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