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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?

Notes

5 Comments

It will be in the immediate days and weeks that more (I DOUBT) will be learned of the true background of the shooter.

The fact that this man was showing clearly signs of a growing mental imbalance,and while the PC professors sounded an alarm at his increasingly violent writing styles NO ONE intervened on the facilty level to see just what was going on in this kid's head. My question is, Who is are the PROFFESOR who twisted his mind in the first place. Who is responsible for turning him to the evil he wrought. What Pseudo WARDS are teaching on this campus. Thats what I'd like to know

There is an issue that is important to look into to understand what might have caused such deranged behavior. This will seem strange but when I heard that Cho's parents were dry cleaners I remembered a recent study I found during my research on advancing paternal age and problems in offspring.

Schizophr Res. 2007 Feb;90(1-3):251-4. Epub 2006 Nov 17. Links
Tetrachloroethylene exposure and risk of schizophrenia: offspring of dry cleaners in a population birth cohort, preliminary findings.Perrin MC, Opler MG, Harlap S, Harkavy-Friedman J, Kleinhaus K, Nahon D, Fennig S, Susser ES, Malaspina D.
Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, 10032, USA. mcp20@columbia.edu

Tetrachloroethylene is a solvent used in dry cleaning with reported neurotoxic effects. Using proportional hazard methods, we examined the relationship between parental occupation as a dry cleaner and risk for schizophrenia in a prospective population-based cohort of 88,829 offspring born in Jerusalem from 1964 through 1976, followed from birth to age 21-33 years. Of 144 offspring whose parents were dry cleaners, 4 developed schizophrenia. We observed an increased incidence of schizophrenia in offspring of parents who were dry cleaners (RR=3.4, 95% CI, 1.3-9.2, p=0.01). Tetrachloroethylene exposure warrants further investigation as a risk factor for schizophrenia.

PMID: 17113267 [PubMed - in process]

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=17113267&query_hl=4&itool=pubmed_docsum

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts18.html#bookmark03

http://www.grinningplanet.com/2004/02-10/dry-cleaning-alternatives-eco.htm

Gun control, islam, what happens next?
Looking at european/australian bulletin boards attached to major newspapers, you can't help but notice the gleeful schardenfruede of the postings, basically that the USA got what it deserved, followed by political opportunism about gun control or disarmament.
You add "will we always blame islam?".
I want to start by adding some context. On 7-7 some "young men"
with no access to guns, built bombs out of nail polish remover and hair bleach and committed suicide/murder on the subway trains of London. The bombs were "effective". Over fifty people were killed and nearly a thousand wounded, some severely.
This attack was worse, by victim count, than Virginia Tech but the world did not respond by calling for the banning of hair bleach. Some news orgs suggested that the bombers "had a point".
That was disgusting but not unexpected. The people of London responded in a few days by putting up signs saying "we are not afraid".
Two points here, firstly that insane and committed individuals can find a way to committ mass murder using WHATEVER is at hand.
Secondly, Londoners eventually gave a brave response, and the future bombers realised that this course, at least, was counter-productive to their cause.
The opposite is happening here.
Not including any of the grieving in this categorization, I am saying that the media response will guarantee escalating repeats of this tragedy.
Whatever the motives of the Korean assasin were, there will be those who note that by the murder of students in a US school, the advancement of a disarmed populace can be brought closer. And for that reason alone, I am confident that the enemies of the USA, those that have the long view of history, will engineer repeats of this event. The logic is simple. If a few cheaply made roadside bombs can be exploded per week in Iraq, and if that is enough to make the Americans run for the door marked surrender, then it follows that a few college campus killings per month can make the Americans vote to disarm themselves. And in the long battle that is being waged, from the perspective of our islamist enemies, that is a good thing.
The only brave response that will deter this is to bury our dead and install robust security at our schools. No apologies. Apologies will get people killed - and time is short.

To all: Perhaps it is easiest to say that the purpose of the post was to start to look at the policy issues (preparedness and response), more than to look at the reasons why Cho did what he did.

Whether or not breathing dry cleaning fluid drove him to kill his classmates, while maybe scientifically or environmentally interesting, doesn't address the homeland security questions.

As for the response(s) to the "event," just reading the interplay between my colleague Mr. Schippert and I in the subsequent post will illustrate the debate.

On the 16th of April the University of Hawaii at Hilo was issued a bomb threat, however most of the staff and students were unaware of this until the 17th of April. Furthermore, the University of Hawaii does not issue every member of faculty with evacuation and emergency plans. In fact, two people in the entire Humanities Department have access to evacuation plans and neither of them were present on campus yesterday. Living overseas all my life, I have lived with threats of terrorism and all of them have been taken seriously. It looks to me like Terrorists may have found the weakest and easiest target for chaos.

My thoughts in the link below:

http://www.thericebowl.net/2007/04/reality_too_lat.html