Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Tech panel to travel Virginia
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RICHMOND -- An independent commission examining the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech will hold a series of public meetings around the state in the coming months, at least one of them in Blacksburg, the panel's chairman said Tuesday.
The eight-member commission appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine will have its first public meeting May 10 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond. The panel's chairman, retired Virginia State Police Superintendent Gerald Massengill, said at least one meeting will take place near the site of the shootings that left 33 Tech students and faculty dead, including the gunman.
"I feel very strongly, and I think the other panel members do too, that we have to have some meetings in Blacksburg, and we'll do that," Massengill said at a news conference following a private meeting with Kaine.
The governor has asked the panel to examine all aspects of the shootings, including how university and law enforcement officials responded to the emergency and how troubled student gunman Seung-Hui Cho was handled by the university, the courts and the mental health system.
Kaine expects the panel to deliver preliminary findings and recommendations by August, before state colleges begin their fall semesters. Massengill indicated the commission's work could continue into the fall, if necessary.
"This has to be done in a thoughtful and deliberate way," Massengill said.
Massengill said the panel will have regular public meetings, but acknowledged that some issues must be examined in private because of their sensitive nature.
"We want to have public meetings around the state to gain the public trust in what we're about," Massengill said. "It's awfully important, I think, that the people of Virginia understand that this is their process."
Kaine will address the commission at next week's meeting. The panel also will hear from state police officials who will brief members on "the processes for obtaining a firearm," Massengill said.
TriData Corp., an Arlington-based management consulting firm, will provide research and staff support to the panel. The firm has conducted 60 post-incident studies of major emergencies, including examinations of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado and Virginia's response to Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
Philip Schaenman, TriData's president, said the firm's previous work may have no application to the Tech shooting probe.
"We really think you have to look at the incidents uniquely and not to carry over lessons from one to another," Schaenman said, explaining that his firm's role is to examine the Tech incident "calmly" and "systematically."
A Kaine spokesman said the study will cost at least $150,000.
The governor's commission does not have subpoena power, but Massengill and Kaine have said that should not hamper its ability to access records and information about the shootings and Cho. Both said they expect cooperation from the university, courts, state agencies and others with information about the shootings.
"If, at points along the way, there's information they need that they have trouble getting, we'll deal with it as it comes," Kaine said Monday. "But I do not go into this process with a great deal of anxiety about that."
Massengill said it is too soon to determine whether the panel would seek information from the family of Cho The 23-year-old gunman was an English major at Tech.
"There has been some indication that the Cho family might want to do what they can to help us, and when we get to that point, we'll make that decision," Massengill said.