Complaint: Va. Tech didn't provide 'timely warning' after initial shootings

Advocacy group says school violated federal Clery Act

VIRGINIA -- Virginia Tech violated federal law by failing to provide "timely warning" to students after campus police found the first two victims of the April 16 shootings, a complaint filed Monday by a campus safety watchdog organization alleges.

Campus police found the bodies of the first two victims in West Ambler Johnston Hall shortly before 7:30 a.m., but the first e-mail notifying the campus community of the shootings was not sent until about two hours later. Within minutes the gunman, later identified as student Seung-Hui Cho, began his shooting spree in Norris Hall; police received the first call about the Norris Hall shootings at 9:42 a.m. The shootings left 33 people dead, including the gunman.

Security on Campus Inc. alleges in its complaint to the U.S. Department of Education that the two-hour delay between the first shootings and the school's first e-mail violated the federal Jeanne Clery Act's requirement for schools to provide "timely warning" about ongoing threats.

"The Virginia Tech campus community was not adequately warned about a potential threat to their safety and as a result were unable to take steps to protect themselves," the complaint states.

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum, testifying in May before a review panel appointed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), said none of the evidence in West Ambler Johnston suggested there would be additional shootings. But the complaint argues that, with an unknown gunman at large, the shootings constituted an ongoing threat that should have immediately been brought to the public's attention.

No one in the school's University Relations office was available Monday to comment on the complaint.

The Clery Act, which applies to all schools that participate in federal financial aid programs, was first passed in 1990 as the Campus Security Act. It was strengthened in 1998 and renamed for Jeanne Clery, who in 1986 was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room. Clery's parents, Connie and Howard, founded Security on Campus in 1987 and lobbied for the law.

The Department of Education enforces the Clery Act; schools found to have violated the law can be fined or barred from federal financial aid programs.

Security on Campus submitted its complaint the same day fall classes began at Virginia Tech.

"We are outraged that, as the new school year begins, there has been no acknowledgement that the campus should have been warned faster, and that nothing should have been handled differently or will be in the future," Connie and Howard Clery wrote in a cover letter sent with the formal complaint.

The panel reviewing the school's response to the shootings is scheduled to present its report to the governor on Friday.

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