Jury finds Virginia Tech negligent

The university waited to warn students about a gunman on the loose. Thirty-three people died.

Posted: March 15, 2012

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. - A jury found Virginia Tech negligent on Wednesday for waiting to warn students about a gunman during a 2007 campus massacre that left 33 dead.

Jurors deliberated for 31/2 hours before siding with the parents of two students who were killed April 16, 2007, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Their wrongful-death civil lawsuit argued that lives could have been spared if school officials had moved more quickly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in a dorm. The massacre ended later in the morning with the deaths of 31 more people, including the gunman, at a classroom building.

The state was the lone defendant in the case and argued that the university did all that it could with the information available at the time. President Charles W. Steger and other university officials have said they initially believed the first two shootings were isolated instances of domestic violence.

The jury awarded $4 million each to the families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, but the state immediately filed a motion to reduce the award. State law requires the award to be capped at $100,000.

"The university's contention has been all along, to quote President Steger, 'We did everything we could do,' " said Robert T. Hall, an attorney for the parents. "Obviously the jury didn't buy that."

The verdict was met immediately by sobs from Peterson's mother, Celeste, while the Prydes showed little emotion.

"Today we got what we wanted," Celeste Peterson said afterward. "The truth is out there, and that's all we ever wanted. We came here for the truth."

Circuit Judge William Alexander said it was the hardest case he had been a part of.

"My heart goes out to all of you," he said to the families of victims.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said after the verdict that the school would review the case with the attorney general before deciding on any further options.

"We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007," a statement from Owczarski said.

A state panel that investigated the shootings concluded that officials erred in not sending an alert earlier. The lag in issuing a campus warning also brought Virginia Tech a $55,000 fine from the U.S. Education Department. The school is appealing.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|