Skip to main content
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

Warnings could have saved lives at Virginia Tech, report says

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine says, "Dots were not connected"
  • Report: Timely and specific information might have saved lives
  • Quicker action still may not have prevented the tragedy, probe says
  • Recommendations include better, faster communications
  • Next Article in U.S. »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- Better information by officials might have saved lives in the Virginia Tech massacre, an investigation into the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history found.


A man pauses after the dedication of a memorial to the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Thursday that university officials did not know about gunman Seung-Hui Cho's violent tendencies until it was too late.

"That was a huge missed opportunity," he said at a press conference to announce the investigation's findings, which were released late Wednesday.

On April 16, Cho, 23, killed 32 students and staff before taking his own life. Seventeen others were wounded in the shootings.

Although Cho's fixation on violence and the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado was well-documented and addressed while he was in high school, Kaine said, no relevant information was passed along to the university.

Moreover, college officials failed to follow up on signs of trouble, he added.

"Dots were not connected and signals were missed at Virginia Tech," Kaine said. Video Watch Kaine acknowledge problems with response »

An independent group formed by Kaine issued the several-hundred-page report.

The Virginia Tech review panel interviewed more than 200 people and examined thousands of documents, said Col. Gerald Massengill, the panel's chairman.

"We're not going to say we turned over every stone, but we turned over every one we found," said Massengill, a retired Virginia State Police superintendent.

The panel looked at the shootings and police response as well as the mental health system that failed to identify Cho as a threat before his rampage.

"We listened, we learned, we challenged, we questioned, and we judged," said former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, another panel member.

The report criticized the university's failure to warn people on campus of the imminent danger.

"Warning the students, faculty and staff might have made a difference," the report said. "So the earlier and clearer the warning, the more chance an individual had of surviving."

The university has been criticized for not giving students and staff proper warning after two students were found dead in West Ambler Johnston dormitory around 7 a.m. the day of the killings. The campus remained open and was not locked down after those bodies were found.

It was almost 9:30 a.m. before Virginia Tech authorities sent an e-mail to students and staff, warning of a shooting on campus and telling the "university community" to be cautious and to report any suspicious activity.

Police initially believed that the first two deaths may have been a case of domestic violence, which delayed transmission of the warning.

About 20 minutes after the e-mail went out, Cho opened fire in an engineering building across campus.

"The university administration failed to notify students and staff of a dangerous situation in a timely manner," the report said. "The first message sent by the university to students could have been sent at least an hour earlier and been more specific."

Even with the criticism of the university, the panel acknowledged that quicker action by Virginia Tech officials may not have made much of a difference.

"Despite the ... findings, there does not seem to be a plausible scenario of university response to the double homicide that could have prevented a tragedy of considerable magnitude on April 16."

Panel member Roger Depue, a 20-year FBI veteran, sought to dampen criticism of campus police Chief Wendell Finchum, noting that the department had an "active shooter" response plan and implemented it.

"Finchum was on top of this thing," Depue said.

The report made five recommendations on safety:

  • Police should resist focusing on a single theory in the early stages of an investigation and should communicate the information to "decision makers."
  • In an "alerting message," all key facts should be included and distributed as quickly as possible.
  • Those receiving the emergency messages should be urged to spread the information to others.
  • Multiple communication systems should be established to disseminate the information.
  • advertisement

  • Plans to cancel classes or close the campus should be part of the university's emergency plan.
  • Wednesday's report follows on the heels of two other published reports -- a federal report and an internal review by university officials. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    CNN's Ed Payne contributed to this report

    All About Virginia Tech Police DepartmentCho Seung-Hui

    • E-mail
    • Save
    • Print