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Judge overturns fine against Virginia Tech over 2007 shooting

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:27 PM EDT, Fri March 30, 2012
Virginia Tech's $55,000 fine, for two alleged violations of the Clery Act, was dismissed on Thursday.
Virginia Tech's $55,000 fine, for two alleged violations of the Clery Act, was dismissed on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The $55,000 fine was for two alleged violations of the Clery Act
  • Law requires schools to notify students in a "timely manner" about threats
  • A student shot and killed 32 people before killing himself in the 2007 rampage

(CNN) -- A judge has sided with Virginia Tech and overturned a $55,000 fine, ruling that the school did not violate a law requiring it to notify students in a "timely manner" about threats during a 2007 campus rampage.

The shooting, which left 33 people including the gunman dead, started at West Ambler Johnston dormitory with the death of two students. They were the first victims of Seung-Hui Cho, who went on to kill 30 more people at Norris Hall -- home to the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department -- after chaining the doors closed. He also wounded 17 people before killing himself.

At question was whether the school gave appropriate warning to students after the dormitory shooting.

According to a Department of Education report, police went to the dormitory at 7:24 a.m. The university notified students, faculty and staff of the shooting in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m., the report said. About 15 minutes after the e-mail was sent, Cho began his rampage.

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"This was not an unreasonable amount of time in which to issue a warning. Yes, the warning could have gone out sooner, and in hindsight, it is beyond regretful that it did not. However, if the later shooting at Norris Hall had not occurred, it is doubtful that the timing of the e-mail would have been perceived as too late," read the decision, issued Thursday.

Administrative Judge Ernest Canellos dismissed the $55,000 fine, levied for two alleged violations of the Clery Act, a federal law related to campus safety. The school had been fined for failing to provide a "timely" warning and for failing to follow policy.

Virginia Tech welcomed the decision Friday.

"While we are satisfied with the ruling that overturns the department's finding, there is no glee. A horrendous event happened on this campus almost five years ago. Profound sadness remains. We continue to grieve for the families of victims killed or injured by a deranged young man," associate vice president for university relations Lawrence Hincker said in a statement.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, said it would consider its options and continue to work with Virginia Tech and other schools to improve safety. The decision could be appealed to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"We are aware of the ruling, and the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid is considering its options. At the end of the day, we all agree that the most important thing we can do as a country is to put safeguards and protections in place that will help prevent a tragedy like this from occurring again," spokesman Justin Hamilton said.

CNN's Sara Pratley contributed to this report.

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