When Virginia Tech Police officer Deriek Crouse was shot on Dec. 8, 2011, a police dispatch officer notified the campus community of the incident within 10 minutes.
As students and faculty remained locked in place for several hours, memories of the April 16, 2007, campus shootings rushed back. But while the feelings of fear and loss may have been similar, the university’s safety procedures during the incident were not. Tech’s reaction during the Dec. 8 shooting reflected a worldwide revolution in campus safety.
“April 16, 2007, was a transformative event — not only for the families of the victims, not only for Virginia Tech, but for campus public safety nationally,” said S. Daniel Carter, a campus safety advocate who starts today as a staff member of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.
The shift that began five years ago with the tragedy at Tech, and continues with the university on the leading edge, put the spotlight on the safety of university students.
“It became a priority for institutions across the country,” Carter said. “It became a priority for Congress. It became a priority for state legislative bodies. It was something that profoundly transformed the national dialogue on campus safety. And, as a result, the attention focused on campus safety issues. Following April 16, campuses across the country have taken significant steps to become safer.”
Early on the morning of April 16 five years ago, Seung-Hui Cho shot two students in West Ambler-Johnston Hall. The university, after convening a meeting of top officials in Burruss Hall, notified the campus community of the shootings just minutes before Cho began firing his handguns next door, in Norris Hall. Cho killed 30 more students and faculty members on the second floor of that building before taking his own life.
The time that passed between the initial shootings and the university’s warning sparked a federal investigation and civil suits against Tech.
On the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, neither legal battle is settled.
The Department of Education’s investigation was based upon the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities to provide students timely notifications of crimes on campus. The investigation found that Tech did not comply with two provisions of the law on April 16 and fined the university the maximum $27,500 for each violation.
However, the university appealed, arguing it was being held to a more strict standard that wasn’t clearly defined in April 2007. Earlier this month, a judge ruled the university did not have to pay the fines. Still, the process is expected to continue with an appeal from the department.