Va. Tech Accused of Massacre Cover Up, Negligence

Families of two slain students seek $10 million in damages

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Two families whose daughters were killed during the shootings at Virginia Tech two years ago have sued the state, the school and its counseling center, several top university officials, and a local mental health agency, the Virginia attorney general's office said.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Fairfax County Court, relatives of Julie Pryde and Erin Peterson claim that Virginia Tech failed to protect its students and is directly liable for gross negligence. They also claim the university is liable for a few of its officers and employees "who were deliberately indifferent to the safety needs of its students."

The lawsuits further accuse Virginia Tech of trying to cover up the start of the killing spree at a dormitory that morning rather than warning students that an armed man was on campus.

The families of the two slain students were the only ones who did not agree to an $11 million settlement with the state last June. They said they couldn't accept the settlement without knowing the truth.

Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people before fatally shooting himself on April 16, 2007. The gunman's estate also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed the last day before the statute of limitations had expired.

Some families have lingering animosity toward administrators and feel they've never received an adequate explanation of officials' actions that day. President Charles Steger convened a meeting with top administrators after Cho killed two students in the dorm, but more than two hours passed before an e-mail informed the campus.

By then, Cho was chaining the doors of Norris Hall shut in preparation for a bloodbath that had students cowering under desks and jumping from windows. Officials still don't know why Cho, a loner who had attracted little attention, killed so many people.

The lawsuits also claim a local health center where Cho had gone to say he felt suicidal did not adequately treat or monitor him.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker, who is named as a defendant along with Steger, would only confirm the lawsuits had been filed.

Read the statement from the parents of Erin Peterson and Karen Pryde.

"We raised our daughters with a sense of integrity, a desire to seek the truth and a belief in keeping their word," the victims' parents said in a statement released Thurday. "Virginia Tech did not keep its word to us."

They accuse university officials of not being forthright enough to the governor's review panel of the massacre, leading to an inaccurate report. Their statement offered the following examples of mistatements of fact:

  • The contention by the university’s public relations office to the Governor’s review panel that at 9:26 a.m. on April 16, 2007, the campus was notified of “a homicide” at West Ambler Johnston Hall is a false statement.
  • The contention by the director of the Cook Counseling Center that Seung Hui Cho, the shooter, had been diagnosed and treated by the New River Valley Community Services Board, and not returned to the student population until it was convinced he was no longer a danger to himself or others is a false statement.
  • The contention by Virginia Tech’s vice president of student affairs that Mr. Cho had been evaluated for dangerousness three times by three different therapists at the Cook Counseling Center, and certified nondangerous is a false statement.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us