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VA Tech brings campus safety into question at JCU

April 19th, 2007

Once the dust finally settled over the Virginia Tech campus shootings, there seemed to be several mixed feelings of shock and agony. But, more than anything, the situation left some very important questions.

“These are times that defy our ability to reason or understand,” said President the Rev. Father Niehoff. “It is in times like these that we learn to lean on and take comfort in our faith and in one another.”

While families and friends of those victimized by the shooting have been trying to cope with the shocking murders, schools across the nation have turned a lot of attention towards campus safety officials to help ensure that they can prevent future tragic disasters.

Sergeant Goffos, interim Director of Campus Safety Services, explained the circumstances.

“There is no real way to prevent that,” he said. “If someone has that mindset and has their mind made – the police that we have right now – they’re excellent,” said Rombalski. “At the next level, there will be a serious conversation about firearms,” he said.

Along with equipping officers with guns, Rombalski brought up other means of security that could better secure the campus. Things such as video surveillance, mass communication between officials and students and card access to buildings have been hot topics since Monday’s massacre.

Rombalski noted that the murders began in the residence halls of Virginia Tech, even though the murderer was not a resident.

“You know as well as I do, all you need to do is follow someone going into a building and you’re in,” he said. By swiping a card to gain access to the dorms, it would help prevent intruders without cards from gaining access to particular buildings.

In hindsight, Cho Seung-Hui showed indicative behavior of someone capable of mass murder. Among disturbing and violent creative writings, he also had purchased a 9mm handgun in March. The school also had received bomb threats in the past month, but they are believed to be unrelated to the murders.

“The things that we’re concerned about most of all are the things that happen on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Those are the things we need to focus most on,” said Rombalski.

Every Monday morning, a team of campus officials gather to discuss issues from the weekend, but more importantly ongoing issues. Delegates from ResLife, school counselors, health service officials, campus police and maintenance each bring forth persistent problems.

If a student shows tendencies towards malicious or destructive behavior, the committee can notice recurring problems and hopefully prevent that student from escalating to a more serious danger to the school.

Sergeant Goffos and Patrick Rombalski both agree that students must be able to communicate between administrations if a problem is to occur.

“What we’re looking to do is requiring to get [each student’s] cell phone number,” said Rombalski. “That’s a policy change we’re actually considering.”

Sergeant Goffos said, “People need to be educated. [Students] need to notice indicators for potential – for something of violent nature. That is and of itself is the best way to prevent this in the future.”

Security must respond with the information they’ve received. Before a criminal can be apprehended, police are required to run a full investigation searching for evidence and witnesses and then draft a plan. The more information they know, the faster the process goes.

Goffos also said that, according to newspaper reports, surviving students handled the situation following proper protocol.

As soon as the gunman began shooting, students barricaded themselves behind desks and tried to hide. Some of those that survived played dead. When Heung-Sui fell dead, they waited for police to secure the area.

Campus Safety Services and the Division of Student Affairs have posted an “Armed Intruder” policy, describing how to handle a situation facing an armed and dangerous person. The policy can be accessed by visiting John Carroll’s Web site.