04/19/2007

Former police chief to probe Virginia Tech massacre

By BOB LEWIS, Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va. — A state panel's inquest into the Virginia Tech massacre will examine far more than what happened during the two hours between slayings on the campus, an official picked to head the panel said.

Retired State Police Superintendent W. Gerald Massengill said Wednesday that it was premature to judge school officials' decision not to order a campus-wide lockdown after the first shootings.

"I'm not going into it with any preconceived notions of what was proper or what was improper," he said in a telephone interview. "It will be driven by what information they had at the time."

Massengill, who oversaw the state police response to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the Washington-area sniper attacks, is the only person Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has named to the panel thus far.

Authorities say Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major, killed two people in a dormitory around 7:15 a.m., but no campus-wide lockdown was in place when he fatally shot 30 other people two hours later in an academic hall a half-mile away.

Massengill neither defended nor criticized the decision but said it would be one focus of his panel's review after police finish their criminal investigation.

He said the panel must investigate issues as diverse as campus police tactics, academic free speech, the privacy of medical records, the rights of people with behavioral disabilities, the duties and qualifications of professors and administrators in identifying students who pose a risk and how open and free college campuses can be.

Cho's behavior had alarmed instructors and fellow students. He was accused of stalking two female students and was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of fears he was suicidal. His brooding demeanor and his rambling, violent writings frightened his English teacher so much that the chairman of Tech's English department pulled Cho from the class, tutored him herself and urged him to seek counseling. She also alerted police and school administrators.

"There may be barriers that prevent information from flowing to the people it needs to flow to just as we found was the case with 9/11," Massengill said.

"I think it's awfully important that we look as closely as we can from a policy standpoint to the thresholds that have to be considered: When do we keep people out? When do we keep students under a lockdown? All of that has to be discussed," he said.

The size and the duration of the panel has yet to be determined, said Kaine's press secretary, Kevin Hall. Nor is it clear whether the governor, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors or both will appoint its members.

Massengill said he wants to finish the review in time to present the findings to the state House and Senate before they reconvene in January.

State Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, who heads the State Crime Commission, said he hoped lawmakers would be included on the panel.

"We're the prime policymakers. My personal view is — and I hope the governor will do this — is to involve legislators in the panel, at least for the purpose of making recommendations," said Stolle.

He said reforms likely would involve not just crime legislation but gun-control, public health, academic and constitutional issues.

Del. David Albo, who chairs the House Courts Committee, said the thicket of legal and constitutional issues may be so complex it will take more than one year to address it all.

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