Lawsuits Possible in Wake of Virginia Tech Massacre

As the sixth-month anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre approaches, a lawyer representing 20 people killed or injured in the April shootings has began notifying the town and the state about possible lawsuits.

Blacksburg Town Attorney Larry Spencer said he received notices Friday from Peter Grenier, a personal injury lawyer in Washington, D.C., of possible lawsuits claiming negligence by the town and its employees.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office said it received notice Friday from Grenier's law firm of a possible lawsuit on behalf of injured student Kevin Sterne. Tucker Martin said he could not say whether it was a possible lawsuit against Virginia Tech or the state itself.

No lawsuits have yet been filed stemming from the shootings on the university's Blacksburg campus, where mentally disturbed student Seung-Hui Cho killed two people in a dormitory and 30 in a classroom building before taking his own life.

The notice does not necessarily mean lawsuits will be filed, but such notification is needed by Tuesday, six months after the shootings, if lawsuits against a locality are to be filed in state court. A notice of a claim against Virginia Tech or the state must be filed within a year.

More than two hours elapsed between the dormitory slayings and Cho's rampage at Norris Hall, and police initially thought the first shootings were an act of domestic violence. Grenier's notices to the town alleged that Blacksburg police, who were among officers who responded, "failed to conduct a reasonably thorough and professionally appropriate investigation."

Grenier also contended that town officials failed to take steps to protect Virginia Tech students.

University students and employees were not notified of the first shootings for more than two hours, and Grenier said the e-mail notice sent by school officials "was inaccurate and incomplete" and "unlikely to sufficiently advise students of the serious risks posed to their safety."

Greg Gwaltney, whose son Matthew Gregory Gwaltney was killed, said he and the other families represented by Grenier's firm have been advised not to comment regarding the potential lawsuits. But he said many of the families planned to go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to speak regarding the Brady Act, which requires a background check for anyone buying a gun.

Grenier represents the families of 12 people killed and eight who were injured in the shootings. A phone message seeking comment from Grenier was not immediately returned.

A second lawyer who is representing a family of one of the slain students also did not immediately return a phone message, but Spencer said he had received no other notices that lawsuits may be filed.

The town attorney said he was not surprised by the notices from Grenier. "The law firm had informed me to expect this," he said.