- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

RICHMOND — Locking down Virginia Tech’s campus after the first two shooting deaths last week may not have averted the subsequent massacre carried out by a mentally disturbed student, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday.

As a panel appointed by Mr. Kaine prepares to review the shooting spree, he said in a radio interview that no one can know whether the death toll would have been dramatically different had authorities reacted differently to the first two slayings.

“Well, if the campus had been locked down — because the shooter lived on campus — I mean he could have gone into his dorm with 900 people instead of going into a classroom, [and] he could have shot people there,” Mr. Kaine said in his monthly listener-question program on WRVA-AM and the Virginia News Network.

Two students were fatally shot about 7:15 a.m. April 16 in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory. About 21/2 hours later, 30 more students and teachers were slain in their classrooms in Norris Hall, about a half mile from the site of the first slayings on Tech’s expansive Blacksburg campus.

Seung-hui Cho, 23, a Tech senior whom a court had judged mentally ill in December 2005, took responsibility for the massacre in a rambling, profane video and written rant he mailed to NBC News minutes before carrying out the final atrocity.

Mr. Kaine has avoided criticizing the response by campus administrators and police. He said yesterday that the conclusions police reached based on the circumstances of the first two deaths were reasonable.

“I can understand the initial thought was this might be a domestic incident involving somebody who knew the girl who was killed, and there was a focus on finding that individual and kind of taking it that direction,” Mr. Kaine said.

“They had some facts that led them to think, probably briefly, that was the case, but it turned out to be the wrong direction,” he said. “But that fact — the first shooting and the gap before the second shooting — that’s really going to be, I suspect, the focus of most of the panel’s work on the law-enforcement side.”

But the thrust of the review, he said, appears to be Virginia’s handling of people with mental problems. The state’s spending on mental health is among the lowest per capita in the nation.

The system must do better in flagging psychiatric cases that pose a danger to society, Mr. Kaine said.

Cho — remembered as a troubled, sometimes menacing loner — was ordered to undergo outpatient psychiatric counseling by a court that found him a danger to himself. The outpatient designation is critical because only people who are hospitalized for inpatient treatment are entered into the federal database that gun dealers use to do background checks on firearms buyers.

“The determination was made based on the circumstances when this happened in 2005 that outpatient care was appropriate. We’re going to look at the standards for that, the standards for inpatient versus outpatient,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat.

But what states can do is limited by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires that people who need mental health services receive them in the least restrictive way, he said.

“You’ve got to remember that the incident with Cho happened two years ago, so what’s been the pattern since then?” Mr. Kaine said. “That might have been the right decision then, but it wouldn’t have been the right decision a month ago.”

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