Feds: Va. Tech broke law in ’07 shooting response

Virginia Tech's alert eMail was not clear enough, officials said.

Federal education officials have found Virginia Tech broke the law when it waited two hours to warn the campus that a gunman was on the loose, too late to save 30 students and faculty who went to class and were killed in the 2007 rampage.

The U.S. Department of Education issued a report Thursday rejecting the university’s defense of its conduct and confirming that the school violated the Clery Act, which requires that students and employees be notified of on-campus threats.

The report concludes that the university failed to issue a timely warning to the Blacksburg campus after student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two students in a dormitory early on the morning of April 16, 2007.

“Virginia Tech’s failure to issue timely warnings about the serious and ongoing threat deprived its students and employees of vital, time-sensitive information and denied them the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety,” the report stated.

Virginia Tech officials did not send an eMail to the campus community about the shootings until two hours later, about the time Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty, then himself.

The federal department first found that Tech broke the law in January, but the university had its chance to respond to the allegations.

That response was soundly rejected in Thursday’s report, which brought satisfaction for some victims’ family members who have repeatedly called for more accountability from school officials for their actions on the day of the shootings.

The university could lose some or all of the $98 million in student financial aid it receives from the federal government, and could be fined up to $55,000 for two violations — failing to issue a timely warning and not following its own emergency notification policy.

Any sanctions will be decided by a Department of Education panel and federal officials have not provided a timeline for when sanctions might be announced.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said the school likely will appeal any sanctions. University president Charles Steger was traveling and unavailable for comment, Hincker said.

Some of the arguments in Tech’s defense centered around the definition of a “timely” warning. The university argued there was no definition of “timely” until two years after the shooting, when the DOE required schools to immediately notify people on campus upon confirmation of a dangerous situation or an immediate threat.