A Report With Few Answers
The Virginia Tech Review Panel says more could have been done
When Beverly Bluhm heard that the report on the Virginia Tech shootings had been leaked to the press and a copy was available on the Internet, she rushed to read it for herself. She wanted answers, anything that might help her understand why her son, Brian Bluhm, a civil engineering teaching assistant, and 31 other students and faculty members were fatally shot by a fellow student on April 16.
The long-awaited report by the Virginia Tech Review Panel offered many conclusions—including stinging criticisms of the university—but, in the end, nothing that lessened the Bluhms' pain. "There is no healing from this," she says. "There is no comfort. For the rest of our lives, my son is dead. He was murdered in a situation that should not have happened. But it happened."
New gun laws? While families like the Bluhms may have found little or no comfort in the report, the 249-page study of the massacre at Virginia Tech could have far-reaching consequences, including changes in gun and privacy laws. Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine has promised to review the report's findings and make legislative recommendations. Charles Steger, Virginia Tech's president, said in a statement last week it was "painful" but "necessary" to hear the report's findings, and he acknowledged that the university must do a better job of protecting students and improving its counseling and mental health services.
The report suggests that fewer lives might have been lost if the university and local agencies had "connected all the dots" sooner and determined that 23-year-old Seung Hui Cho was a danger to himself and the campus community. Cho killed 32 people and wounded dozens more before turning a gun on himself. In its interviews with Cho's relatives and school officials, the panel found that Cho had a history of mental illness dating back to middle school, when he wrote about wanting to "repeat Columbine." His parents, worried that their son had become too withdrawn, took him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with a severe social anxiety disorder. None of this information reached university administrators, even when Cho visited the university's mental health center.
The report also faults the university and campus police for not issuing an alert after Cho killed two students in a dormitory, more than an hour before his even deadlier rampage through a class building. Even though the report also makes it clear that it was unlikely Cho could have been stopped once he started, there is a message in its tale of tragedy, says Beverly Bluhm. "If we don't get that message soon, we're going to pay a big price."
This story appears in the September 10, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.