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Tech, again
The state Supreme Court finds the commonwealth blameless in the Virginia Tech massacre.

Date published: 11/4/2013

THE GRIEF and anger felt by family members of the Virginia Tech shooting victims is quite understandable. So is Thursday's Virginia Supreme Court decision reversing a lower court ruling and holding the commonwealth of Virginia blameless in failing to notify two victims of imminent danger.

Erin Nicole Peterson, 18, and Julia Kathleen Pryde, 23, were killed by Seung-Hui Cho in Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16, 2007. Their families filed wrongful death claims against Cho's estate, the commonwealth, and 18 others, including Tech President Charles Steger. The lawsuits asserted that a "special relationship" existed between the two victims and the university, and that the latter's "failure to warn them" of imminent danger "was the proximate cause of their deaths."

By the time of the lower court trial in 2012, only one defendant remained: the commonwealth. A jury agreed with the families of the victims, awarding each $4 million, an amount that was reduced by the court to the cap required by law, $100,000.

On appeal, however, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed that ruling after establishing the following facts:

At approximately 7:30 a.m. on April 16, 2007, Tech campus police were notified of a shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall. They found two victims, a male and a female, one of whom was dead, in a remote area of the dorm, "kind of hidden in the back." It looked to investigators like a targeted shooting, probably a domestic dispute. When they learned the woman's boyfriend was a gun enthusiast, they put out an alert for him.

Mr. Steger learned of the shooting at about 8 a.m. and promptly called a meeting of a safety team. He also spoke with Campus Police Chief Wendell Flinchum who, based on investigators' theories, thought the shooter was gone and there was no danger to others.

An email blast to students and teachers at 9:26 a.m. repeated what officials knew at that point.

Officers apprehended the boyfriend at 9:45 a.m. and quickly realized he was not the shooter. While they were questioning him, they were alerted to "active shots" at Norris Hall.

Tech administrators sent another email blast at 9:50 saying there was a "gunman loose on campus" and warning students to stay in buildings and away from windows.


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