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Virginia Tech found negligent in 2007 shootings

March 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A jury found Virginia Tech negligent for delaying a campus warning after the first shootings in the 2007 campus massacre.

Jurors returned the verdict on Wednesday in a wrongful death civil suit brought by parents of two students killed on April 16, 2007. A total of 33 people died in the shooting, the most deadly in modern U.S. history.

Deliberations took 3 1/2 hours, and $4 million was awarded to each family. The state immediately filed a motion to reduce the award. State law requires the award to be capped at $100,000.

The families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde said the two might be alive today if Virginia Tech police and administrators warned the campus of two shootings in a dorm 2 1/2 hours before Seung-Hui Cho ended his killing spree.

During the trial, the attorneys for the Prydes and Petersons portrayed campus police as jumping to the conclusion that the first two victims in the dorm were shot by a jealous boyfriend, and that the gunman was not a threat to others.

Attorneys presented evidence that campus leaders heeded the police's conclusion without question, then waited 2 1/2 hours before sending a campus-wide warning that a "shooting incident" had occurred. It did not say a gunman was still at large.

Police were pursuing the boyfriend of one of the dorm shooting victims as a "person of interest" at the expense of a campus-wide alert, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.

Police stopped the boyfriend as he approached the Blacksburg campus and were questioning him as shots rang out at Norris Hall, where Cho chained shut the doors to the building and killed the students and faculty. He then killed himself.

Tech officials issued a specific warning that a "gunman is loose on campus" through emails to 37,000 at 9:50 a.m., nearly 10 minutes after Cho began the Norris slaughter.

Virginia Tech officials said they believed the first shootings were isolated. The state presented witnesses, including experts in campus security, who said Tech police and administrators acted properly when they concluded the dorm shootings were domestic. The shootings occurred in an isolated area of the dorm, and the victims were a man and a woman clad in their undergarments and sleepwear.

In a statement sent to media Wednesday afternoon, school spokesman Mark Owczarski said school officials did everything they could, and did their best with the information they had:

"We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007. We do not believe that evidence presented at trial relative to the murders in West Ambler Johnston created an increased danger to the campus that day. We will discuss this matter with the attorney general, carefully review the case, and explore all of the options available."

In addition to the jury's decision, ABC News reports that the Virginia State Panel and the Federal Department of Education have found that the administration of Virginia Tech erred or failed in their responsibilities to the campus community on the day of the shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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