Former Homeland Security chief on massacre review panel

Associated Press • Apr 19, 2007 at 11:12 AM

RICHMOND - An eight-member panel reviewing Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech includes the nation's first homeland security czar and will look critically at how information that could have reduced the carnage was shared.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Thursday appointed Tom Ridge and five other people to an independent commission headed by retired State Police Superintendent W. Gerald Massengill.

At a news conference, neither Kaine nor Massengill would discuss Virginia Tech's decision not to order a campus lockdown Monday after the first two people were shot to death in a dormitory. Police say Cho Seung-Hui killed two people in the dorm around 7:15, but no campus-wide lockdown was in place when he fatally shot 30 other people and then himself two hours later in an academic hall a half-mile away.

"The primary purpose is not blame, it's not recrimination, it's not pointing fingers. The primary purpose is a looking-forward purpose," Kaine said.

In August, on the first day of classes at Tech, the campus was locked down, workers sent home and classes canceled while police searched for a jail escapee they said killed a hospital security guard and fled. A sheriff's deputy was killed during the 37-hour manhunt.

On Monday, a general e-mail alerting students of the first slayings at the West Ambler-Johnston dormitory was sent at 9:26 a.m., minutes before the Norris Hall shootings.

Some students have questioned and criticized the decision not to order another immediate lockdown on Monday.

Massengill, 64, who oversaw the state police response to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks, said those questions and criticisms are at the heart of the unanswered questions about the massacre.

"To get into speculation without all the facts, we don't want to speak to that (two-hour) gap," he said. "But let me just say this: when it comes to notification and lockdown and those kind of issues, I don't know how ... you can go through the comprehensive study that I envision without addressing those two issues with detail."

After the first two deaths, authorities were following leads that the boyfriend of the woman slain in the dorm had driven away from campus in his pickup truck. As police were learning that the man had dropped the 19-year-old off at her dorm and was not the killer, the second attack began. "It would be OK, I guess, to speculate that had campus police put out a lookout for a white male driving a black pickup truck, it wouldn't have helped very much," Massengill said. "On the other hand, to lock the college down because of the fact that a murder weapon had not been located, maybe it's deserving of conversation." Kaine said there are other questions about how information that might have averted the disaster was handled. The panel will explore whether information about Cho's deteriorating mental condition was too closely held and whether policies such as the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act got in the way. "If we find that there was critical information that was held in a silo because of any regulation, state or federal, that if it had been shared could have protected human life, then yes, we are going to try to explore appropriate ways to get better about the sharing of that information," Kaine said. Another federal law the panel will examine is the Clery Act, which requires that college campuses provide students timely warnings of crimes committed on campus. Alison Kiss, program director for Security On Campus, a group formed 20 years ago to promote safe and lawful colleges, said the definition of timely notice can be murky. "If it's an ongoing series of muggings on campus, then there's not such a sense of urgency. But if there is a shooter who may be loose on campus, then that would require a more immediate response," Kiss said. The panel is not expected to meet at least until next week. Besides Ridge and Massengill, other panel members include: Gordon Davies, who headed boards that oversaw state college systems in Virginia and Kentucky; Roger Depue, who oversaw the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime; Aradhana "Bela" Sood, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center; and the assistant dean of University of Virginia medical school, Dr. Marcus L. Martin. Kaine said he will appoint two more members to the panel: someone who has worked in services for crime victims and a retired judge.

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