Preliminary Observations about Blacksburg
While the tragedy of the mass murders at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia is still being absorbed, the enormity of the event goes beyond almost anything we can imagine. In the wake of the shootings, 32 students plus the shooter are dead and dozens more are injured. Why is this an issue for a homeland security article?
Let us start with the immediate speculation on some of the “less rational” blogs that the shooter was a Muslim. Will it now always be the first inclination to blame Muslims and terrorism for acts of violence like this one? In fact, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a senior from South Korea has been identified as the shooter. No one can ask him why he did what he did, and law enforcement authorities at this point seemingly have no motive. That among the first victims was Emily Hilscher, some early reports suggested that she was Seung-Hui’s girlfriend, pointed to a jealous rage, but that remains to be seen. Newer reports pointed toward a disenchentment with “American rich kids and debauchery.” Even later reports revealed that Seung-Hui may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.
Other questions have been raised about gun control in this country. But clearly, that and the 2nd Amendment arguments should not trascend the issue of whether anyone who knew Seung-Hui was aware of anything affecting his mental outlook and stability. The same article suggests that Seung-Hui alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids. If someone close to him knew of anything that was wrong with him, then it remains society’s fault, not that of the 2nd Amendment.
But the real question is how come we seem to have learned nothing from other events. If you then add in the fact that counterterrorism funding has nearly tripled since 2001, the lack of preparedness or a response plan presents a contradiction. The following is not intended to be a criticism of the Virginia Tech administration, but rather, raises questions of safety, preparedness and response on our college campuses.
- The President of Virginia Tech had to make a decision on when, or even IF he should send out notices to students that a shooting had occurred. By the time he made that decision, more people were being shot. Why was there no procedure in place? This raises the question of communications on a campus like Virginia Tech. It has been reported that many students were angry that they were not warned of any danger until more than two hours after the first attack at a dormitory - and then only in an e-mail from the university. Clearly that wasn’t enough. A number of multi-node communications capabilities exist. This incident may prove a windfall for some of the disaster response and recovery companies.
- The President of VT stated evacuating the campus was nearly impossible in the time it would have taken to prevent this from happening. How long does it really take to evacuate a building? It seems unreasonable that students were not evacuated, and instead left to huddle in corners.
- Why, two hours after the first shooting, were no police in Norris Hall where Seung-Hui was allowed to barricade himself and shoot at will. This delay in response is hard to understand. If nothing else, it can be concluded that the administration at Virginia Tech was reacting but not responding and following a plan. At least one teacher (possibly more) died trying to keep the classroom door closed while the gunman was shooting his way inside. Given that this was the second incident in a year involving Virginia Tech (in August 2006, opening day classes were cancelled and the campus closed when an escaped prisoner allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the area around the campus), why was there no plan?
Like it or not, this incident, while isolated for now, is indicative of the nature of college campuses. Colleges are soft targets in the truest sense. Whatever precautions and actions we plan and take when it comes to large buildings or shopping malls or other public places, should reasonably be put in place when it comes to our institutions of higher learning. Have we learned nothing?