Cho Seung-Hui had been previously investigated for hostile behavior, but any action was private and was not disclosed due to confidentiality issues ("Killer's Manifesto"). The University was faulted for a slow and inadequate response and the state was criticized for failing to deal with the shooter's mental health problems.
Politicians, educators and editorialists lost no time in commenting on the tragedy, but they arrived at radically different conclusions when it came to addressing many of the basic questions arising from an act of this nature. Among them were the following: Why did University officials allow the killing to continue without evacuating the campus Why did the state not take action and force Cho Seung-Hui to seek treatment for his mental disorders How did the suspect obtain high-powered weapons with a history of mental health issues In this review of the initial reactions to the shootings at Virginia Tech, I intend to examine how those three questions were answered, while at the same time indicating my own critical response to the conclusions that they were based on. The killings could have been prevented by a quicker University response, mandatory mental health treatment, and stricter gun control.
The formal investigation into the shootings criticized the University for failing to act in a prompt and proper manner. Timothy Kaine, the governor of Virginia, commented, "It was very clear in the immediate aftermath [of the first shootings] that the community should have been notified that the perpetrator or perpetrators were still at large" (qtd. in Tran). The initial students were killed shortly after 7:00 AM, but a lockdown did not occur and students were not warned of the potential danger until 9:26 AM (Tran). The deadlier second wave of killings took place approximately 20 minutes later.
The two and a half hour delay in warning students was unacceptable and the e-mail notification should have occurred immediately. An early warning and word of mouth may have been able to identify and prevent the additional killings at 9:45 AM. Locking down the campus may have stopped the killer from entering the classrooms and dormitories.
The report into the killings said, "During Cho's junior year at Virginia Tech, numerous incidents occurred that were clear warnings of mental instability" (Tran). Administrators and students are culturally conditioned to respect privacy and students are reluctant to "turn in bad actors to adult authority" (Henninger). In the wake of the shootings there has been a call for reforming the mental health laws. University officials are considering forced removal of hostile students and lawmakers are considering the suspension of students' privacy rights (Bower). With his extensive history of trouble, Cho only received sporadic counseling and infrequent medication to treat his disorder.
It is a sensitive issue to force a person to seek mental health treatment when there is only the potential for violence. Our cultural tradition values freedom and privacy. These values will sometimes limit the action that a state or educational institution can take against someone they suspect may be of danger to themselves or others.
According to a report on CNN, "Virginia law disqualifies a person from buying firearms only if they have