- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech will have an increased number of police officers and mental health counselors on campus when classes resume Monday to help students and faculty heal from the mass shootings last spring, university president Charles W. Steger said yesterday.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Steger said he remains comfortable with the university’s handling of the events on April 16, when a mentally disturbed student killed two persons in a dormitory and then two hours later killed 30 and wounded 23 in a classroom building before taking his own life.

Some victims’ parents question why the campus wasn’t shut down after the first shootings, shortly after 7 a.m. Police initially thought the killings were a domestic case.

Virginia Tech is like a small city,” Mr. Steger said. “You just can’t do it.”

At that time, he said, about 22,000 people were en route to the 2,600-acre campus.

The president said he consulted authorities who agree that “it’s just not an operable concept” to shut down a campus such as Tech‘s.

Between the time Seung-hui Cho shot two students in West Ambler Johnston dormitory and went on a killing spree in Norris Hall, Mr. Steger said, university officials were actively involved in the investigation.

“There were a number of things under way during that period,” he said. He and other members of the campus security committee “were getting communications from the police every two minutes,” he said.

On April 16, the campus transmitted warnings via e-mail and sirens about two hours after the first shootings. Tech has instituted a new system to alert students and staff of emergencies by text messages to cell phones, e-mails and online instant messages. Mr. Steger said about 12,000 people have signed up to receive them.

Virginia State Police will have extra officers on campus for “as long as needed,” but at least a week, the president said, and the campus police force is in the process of hiring 11 more officers. The university is also hiring four additional counselors, but Mr. Steger said even more have been brought in for the beginning of school, especially to help students who were injured.

The hires are an example of the university’s policy to spend whatever is needed to help the campus recover, Mr. Steger said. So far, Virginia Tech has spent $10 million that it doesn’t have in the budget, he said.

Mr. Steger has found it challenging to provide leadership to the many different groups affected by the shootings, including grieving families, faculty members and the police.

“There are hundreds of problems,” he said. “It keeps you awake at night.”

He also is trying to balance the needs of a campus still in mourning, and at the same time, help it move forward.

Mr. Steger said students he’s talked to are eager for the start of the semester. And he has been buoyed by numerous messages of support, including one from a stranger who stopped his van when he spotted Mr. Steger on a Richmond street recently.

“He gets out and says, ‘Mr. President, we’re behind you,’ ” Mr. Steger said with a smile.

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