Parents of a Virginia Tech student expressed outrage Monday at what they call an inadequate response by college brass to the worst mass-murder shooting in American history.
John and Jennifer Shourds of Lovettsville, Va. demanded the immediate firings of University President Charles Steger and Virginia Tech Campus Police Chief W.R. Flinchum who he said "screwed up" the handling of separate shooting incidents that left 33 students dead, including the shooter.
“My God, if someone shoots somebody there should be an immediate lockdown of the campus,” said John Shourds. “They totally blew it. The president blew it, campus police blew it.”
The Shourds said they received a phone call from their daughter, Alexandra, a freshman at the college in Blacksburg, who was unsure of how to handle a vague university e-mail received around 9:20 a.m. regarding the first shooting incident that happened at the West Ambler Johnston Hall around 7:15 a.m. Later, it was learned that a lone gunman entered that hall, two buildings away from Alexandra’s dorm, and opened fire, killing two people.
Shourds said the e-mail left no detailed information of how the students should proceed and didn’t call for a campus lockdown. There were no public safety announcements or warnings before the second shooting at Norris Hall that killed 30 people.
John Shourd said he told his daughter to stay put and avoid her 10 a.m. class until the university sent more information.
At about 9:50 a.m., Alexandra Shourds told her father a subsequent e-mail was sent to students instructed them to stay put and not go anywhere. An e-mail announcing the cancellation of classes for the day didn’t come until 10:16 a.m., said John Shourds.
He said many lives could have been saved had the school locked down the campus immediately after the first shooting.
“A lockdown may have not have stopped the killing but it could have lessened the tragedy,” said Shourds.
At a press conference, Steger said authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus and defended the university’s handling of the tragedy.
"We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur," Steger said. "We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it."
Shourds said he believes the school delayed the call to lock down the school because there was only approximately two weeks left until the end of the semester.
John Shourds was at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles airport dropping another daughter off for her flight back to college at Michigan State University when he got the first call from Alexandra.
Since that call, Shourds said he and his family have felt anger, fear and indignation over the day’s events. The Shourds have been trying to contact their daughter as much as possible and John Shourds said they would have been on their way to see Alexandra had they had any success in booking hotels in the Blacksburg area.
He said no apology or excuse will meet his satisfaction without the ouster of the university’s top officials. He wasn’t pleased with the Steger’s comments after the incident, either.
“I hold this president completely accountable,” said Shourds. “They are cowards. They can’t come out and say they made a mistake.”
Shourds said he is second-guessing his decision to push his daughter towards Virginia Tech, where several of his nieces and nephews have attended. Many of those relatives have called to offer support to the family and Shourds said many are equally displeased with the university’s initial response.
He said he initially expected the university to respond as it did to an incident last August, during Alexandra’s first day of class, where the campus was locked down due to a manhunt over an escaped inmate who allegedly killed a hospital guard and a sheriff’s deputy.
His daughter told him she received an e-mail warning while in class of a lockdown of all academic buildings that day. Each Virginia Tech student carries a laptop.
“There are also loudspeaker systems attached to poles along the campus,” said Shourds. “The warning system worked.”
However, John Shourds said he had doubts about the effectiveness of Virginia Tech’s campus police from the start. He called the force, “an Andy Griffith and Barney Fife” operation.
"They are really small police force for 20,000 students and they are not the best and the brightest,” said Shourds.
He said he’s leaning towards keeping his daughter at the school after this semester due to positive feedback about the school’s academic program and a learning abroad trip to Spain this summer. He said he trusts the school will do the right thing in his opinion and fire Steger and Flinchum immediately.