On the morning of April 16, 2007, two students — one male and one female — were shot in a West Ambler-Johnston Hall dorm room. As Virginia Tech’s top officials gathered in Burruss Hall, one of the students was dead and the other was mortally wounded.
Now, nearly five years later, a jury is listening to arguments over what those officials knew and whether their decisions put lives at risk on Tech’s campus.
The actions of those officials — known as the policy group — are at the center of the trial that will decide whether Tech took adequate steps to protect the campus in the time between Seung-Hui Cho’s shooting of two students in West AJ and his shooting in Norris Hall two-and-a-half hours later that killed 30 people and injured 17 more.
All but two of the families settled with the state.
However, the families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde — two students who died in the Norris Hall shootings — refused the settlement and filed matching civil suits against the university. The suits originally included many individual university officials, but they have all been dropped, leaving the state to defend the university’s actions.
Last week, the plaintiffs presented their arguments, and this week the defense is making its argument after a motion to dismiss the case was denied by Judge William Alexander Monday morning.
The plaintiffs claim the university was negligent, failing to uphold its duty to protect students by not alerting the campus community to the initial shootings in West Ambler-Johnston Hall.
As the defense team — attorneys from the Virginia attorney general’s office representing the university — called its witnesses Monday, the central assertion was that police and university officials acted responsibly based on the information available to them.
Throughout Monday’s proceedings the plaintiffs’ legal team challenged police and university officials as to whether the appropriate decisions were made based on the information being discovered at the time.
Specifically, the sides battled over whether police had enough information to label the West AJ shootings an isolated incident and whether the policy group’s notification to the campus community was adequately informative and timely.
Among Monday’s witnesses were Tech Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Spencer and Tech General Counsel Kay Heidbreder.