Va. Tech and school security

I have spent enough time at Virginia Tech in years past to feel particularly saddened by the nightmare that unfolded there yesterday. I’ve read about the dead, learned the disturbing details we are gradually finding out about the killer, and contemplated what anyone could, or should, have done to prevent it.

I’m afraid the answer is no different than it was after Columbine or any of the other shootings in recent years: not much. We can try harder to identify outcasts with delusions of murderous grandeur. We can work to keep guns out of the hands of potential madmen. We can implement emergency lockdowns, and use them when called for.

But in the end, there is nothing to be done except for each and every one of us to reach out to the forlorn — and to fight back in any way we can if danger looms. I’d rather die trying to stop a shooter than die cowering behind a desk. And I’m sure some of the dead in Blacksburg did just that.



Filed under crime, education, Public safety, school security, school shootings, Schools, Va. Tech, Virginia Tech

17 responses to “Va. Tech and school security

  1. Kevin Sullivan

    Thanks for one of the most thoughtful (and heartfelt) comments I’ve seen to date. There is, however, one part of the equation where more vigilence and less reluctance is required. When, of when, will we take signs of emotional distress and mental illness more seriously and be more insistent on treatment? Truth is, as it was with the killer at Virginia Tech, the signs are almost always there but we are society still slow to take it seriously and get involved. If that young man had come to class with a gaping wound, someone would have made him get care. Yet he comes to class with essays that suggest a gaping psychic wound and little happens or happens to slowly. Sorry to get on my mental health care reform soapboax, but we can do better.

  2. Kevin, The shooter was already under the care of school counseling, and had even been taking psychotropic drugs. Apparently the people who had strong feelings that this kid was troubled still did little to prevent this tragedy. A troubled kid was made more troubled by indifference and probably medication screwed up his mind even more. The campus even had a policy that prohibited guns on campus!
    None of this helped.
    No amount of money thrown at mental health would have prevented this!

    The school should have locked the campus down after the morning shootings, period.

    I hope other campuses across the nation heed this lesson. I am sickened that our children in our high schools and our colleges are living in fear because the grownups fail to do their jobs, and they have nothing in their classrooms to use to protect themselves against these attacks. At the very least teachers should have tasers available to them in case something like this happens. It is clear that waiting for the SWAT teams to come is no longer an option.

    My heart and prayers go out to these families and students who were in the midst of this heinous crime. Whdad thanks for your post.

  3. turtle

    The NYT reports that psychiatric drugs were found among Mr. Cho’s effects. What might have been more fateful, more therapy or less ease in obtaining weapons.

    Then again, you never know when the State of Virginia might need to call out the militia in self-defense, say, against another invasion from the North.

  4. Pingback: Undercurrents » Why We Protest

  5. Mike

    Kevin – You are spot on with your concerns. I know it was an issue you really pushed during your years of service, and it is an issue that remains very misunderstood by the majority of us. I’m not sure if it’s a desire not to get involved in a messy situation with a psychologically impaired person, a belief that it’s no one elses’ business, or a misunderstanding of the symptoms and warning signs, but society tends to leave such sick people alone. Better gun laws (absent maybe a complete ban) wouldn’t have prevented this. He waited as long as he had to in order to purchase guns. And if he didn’t want to wait, or was unable to purchase a legal weapon, too often there is an illegal alternative out there. People who want them get them. People who want to use them, will always find a reason or an excuse to do so. You are correct in stating that we need to better identify and treat those with mental illness. Maybe that is the only way to prevent such tragedies in the future.

  6. turtle

    Um, from what the Times reports Cho’s very own department head was so willing to get involved in a messy situation that, although Cho made her “nervous”, she agreed to tutor him three times a week rather than drop him from his class. The Times also reports that “prescription medications related to the treatment of psychological problems had been found among Mr. Cho’s effects”. If true, that supposes that an M.D. wrote a prescription for him.

    No one would argue that better handling of the mentally ill would not be a good thing. Of course it would. But the fact is this guy walked into a gun shop, bought a Glock and ammo, and set to work. “Better gun laws (absent maybe a complete ban) wouldn’t have prevented this.” You know this how?

  7. This seems like a particularly nightmarish scenario: doctors and professors recognized the young man was severely troubled, and tried to help. It didn’t matter in the end. I’m not sure if anyone could have done more. It’s scary to think someone could snap like this and devastate so many lives, to snuff out so many talented and wonderful people in a few minutes of mayhem.

  8. Mike

    Turtle – If the guy was on meds (having them and taking them are very different..) his Dr. is precluded to disclose that fact. So no one would know, unless the shooter admitted as much in his gun application – apparently, there is a question in Virginia where potential buyers are asked about prescriptions and mental illness. But until we eliminate a Dr.-patient confidentiality, there is no reporting of treatment for mental illness to the police or anyone else who might create a data-base of mentally ill persons NOT permitted to buy a gun. Granted, the self-policing on the application is B.S., but I for one do not want my Dr. giving my personal info out to anyone.
    The concerns of the teacher are more troubling – but again, are we going to be in a society where everytime someone “suspects” irrational behavior, they must report it so that person can’t buy a gun? Who would store all this data, who would have access to it, how do you substantiate claims?
    As for the gun laws – the guy bought the guns legally. He lied on his application about meds he was taking, but absent real intrusions into personal privacy, there is no way to check that. He waited the proscribed amount of time to get the gun. And waited the time period for buying the second one. This is the “cooling off” period designed to stop or limit crimes of passion. This was not passion – this was cold-blooded, calculated killing by a madman. And if someone is this determined to kill, they will do it – even without a gun. Granted, the carnage wouldn’t have been so great if he went into the classrooms with a sword, a knife, a scythe, or anything else capable of killing, but he would have killed anyway.
    The Constitution specifically permits gun ownership – until and unless that is amended, the nation allows guns in the hands of private individuals. Controls on them are great, but even with all the controls we can dream up, people will still get guns. We also have a right under the Constitution to privacy – a right not to be reported by our neighbors as being “crazy”.

  9. turtle

    Excuse me, Mike, but I never made the argument you are attributing to me: that if it’s true that Cho was taking psychotropic drugs prescribed by a doctor, then the doctor should have notified the authorities, and that a whole gun-control scheme should be designed around such privacy-invading alerts. (I trust you decried the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program.)

    The suggestion was made that the means of addressing violent, disaffected people are inadequate. I mentioned the medication simply to point out that Cho may have been under psychiatric care. The media is in a frenzy right now, and these reports may turn out to be mistaken, but so far it appears that Cho’s mental illness had been recognized and responded to in some way.

    I have heard of the 2nd amendment and am aware of how politicians quail before the mighty NRA. Meanwhile, I don’t think a handgun a month is gun control worthy of the name.

  10. Mike

    Sorry to put words into your mouth, Turtle. My point is that a gun a month, or two, or once a year, or one per person, or whatever might be proposed as a solution is not going to stop someone intent on killing – He would have waited as long as necessary to buy his gun. And absent an ability to buy a legal one, there is always going to be a blackmarket for guns. Someone who wants to kill will find a way to get one. And as i wrote, if it’s not a gun, it will be something else – driving a car into a crowd, making a bomb out of fertilizer. Someone with murder in their head will find a way to carry it out. A gun makes it easier, bu there are other methods.
    My point is that as long as there is a provision in the Constitution expressly permitting it, guns are legal. I do not own one, am not an NRA shill, and am actually afraid of even the accidental damage a gun can cause. But until we amend the Constitution, we can’t ban them. Taking reasonable actions will only do so much. So with our hands tied on the gun issue, I believe the approach is to better identify and treat those who may have a psychiatric condition that predisposes them to commit such acts. Identify the person as early as possible, get them treatment as early as possible, and hope we can avoid this type of tragedy.
    I am afraid that there is really no way to stop this type of senseless killing. As WHDad wrote, we have to fight it when it happens.

  11. turtle

    (That’s OK.) I’m not as fatalistic as you are about gun control, but I do see your point and of course agree with you and whdad that effective psychiatric intervention would be a good thing.

    I have to go now. Good day!

  12. turtle

    Oh, and my apologies to Virginia–not just a State, but a Commonwealth.

  13. Judy Aron

    The issue here is neither mental illness or gun control entirely. The prime issue here is a failure of campus policy. The campus should have been evacuated and locked down immediately after the first shooting at the dorm. Instead, everything was treated as business as usual. Va Tech has a “No Gun policy” that clearly was not or could not be enforced. That being said, no one in the immediate vicinity had anything with which to protect themselves. They were all sitting ducks until a SWAT Team arrived.
    Furthermore – this unfortunate sick individual was already being counseled and possibly was on medication, to no avail. There are many questions about his “counseling and treatment” which need to be answered, but bottom line the campus failed to protect their students after the first shooting occurred.

  14. Ben

    Liviu Librescu, 76, a survivor of the holocaust, shielded the doorway to his classroom at Virginia Tech with his body as he urged students to escape out other exits. He was fatally wounded. Is he a hero? Some people would think that this was a stupid thing to do, suicidal even. We cannot judge these situations from the outside, it is a tragedy whenever a life is lost, no matter how it was lost.

  15. turtle

    So upon discovery of two murders somewhere in Farmington, and despite the fact that the police believed they had their man and were in the process of interrogating him, you’d expect the police to lock down and evacuate the town.

    By the way, Virginia Tech’s population is higher than Farmington’s, and the university is spread over 2,600 acres.

  16. Turtle – a campus of students is far different than a town especially in the sense that it has quite a different police force than Farmington, and the population on campus is variable based on time of day and even day of the week. I would hope that a town’s police force has much more resources than that of a campus security force otherwise we are in deep trouble. Plus there are people in Farmington who have resources to protect themselves in case of an attack, which is less the case on that college campus, especially with its “no gun policy” (which we see how effective that was) . Your suggestion and comparison is really unreasonable. VA Tech is not Farmington, and to compare it by size or population misses the point because they really are two different entities which also serve different purposes. People do not have to be on campus and classes do not have to be in session at all times.

    It would have been much easier and made much more sense to cancel classes for the day and put on radio and TV requests for people to clear the campus, after the morning dorm shooting. Instead they acted like business as usual. If there was misinformation about the status of the shooting then they really have a huge problem of communication (or lack thereof) that they will now have to answer to.

    I feel for all family who lost loved ones, yet I have to say that the family who lost loved ones in the second round of carnage should be outraged that campus communication and policy allowed the shooter to continue his rampage quite easily. That is an incredible shame.

  17. interested

    Seriously… We need to raise taxes and use the money to psychologically evaluate each child on a weekly basis. What’s few billion dollars when 30 lives are at stake.

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