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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tech release of records omits key materials

Virginia Tech will withhold officials' notes and some details concerning the shooter

BLACKSBURG -- Some of the deepest secrets about Seung-Hui Cho's killing rampage at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, may never be made public.

Disclosure of the essential facts of the tragedy in a public archive was a key part of a settlement last month with victims' families, reached after the university released thousands of pages of internal documents to their lawyers.

But a Richmond Times-Dispatch review of an estimated 20,000 pages of those documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, found almost nothing about key issues the families wanted to be made public. Tech withheld from the newspaper some of the documents it released to the families.

The university will keep secret key material the families wanted to become public, including notes of the university's most senior officials from the emergency meeting of the Policy Group that morning, spokesman Larry Hincker said. Virginia Tech also will not release a cardboard box's worth of records about Cho, including his professors' notes and e-mails expressing concerns about him and seeking help for him.

However, Hincker said e-mails to and from 150 university administrators and faculty will for the first time be disclosed in the archive, giving the public a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how Tech officials responded to the unfolding crisis.

The documents Virginia Tech released to The Times-Dispatch that will eventually be part of its archive on the events of April 16, 2007, include a suggestion of a connection Cho had with West Ambler Johnston Hall, the site of the first two killings. Police have said they knew of no reason why he picked the dorm for his first attack.

The documents also included a report that there were unlocked entrances to Norris Hall on April 16 as Cho carried out his attack. Police were delayed precious minutes trying to break open three doors Cho chained shut. They entered after shooting out the lock of another door.

"The families expect that Virginia Tech will make full disclosure so that people presently and future generations can understand in full the circumstances surrounding what is the largest massacre on a campus in U.S. history," said Douglas Fierberg, one of the lawyers who negotiated the settlement.

The first document on top of the first box of documents released by Tech last week was a letter from Fierberg listing 21 categories of documents to be produced. [Mark Godsey]

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