- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

Police found 203 live rounds of ammunition in the Virginia Tech building where a student killed 25 students and five faculty members before committing suicide, a state panel investigating the April 16 massacre was told yesterday.

Seung-hui Cho fired 174 shots from two handguns on the second floor of Norris Hall that morning, Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty told the panel.

“He was well-prepared to continue on,” he said.

Col. Flaherty said he is convinced that lives were saved because of a rapid response to the classroom building by Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police with tactical and medical expertise who has been investigating the earlier shootings at a campus dormitory.

Police gave the panel a timeline of events that indicated that Cho fired all his shots in Norris Hall in a span of nine minutes, taking his own life at 9:51 a.m. as police on the stairwell approached the second floor.

Asked to describe Cho’s shooting method, Col. Flaherty said, “I would describe it as very deliberate. There seemed to be nothing panicky at all.”

Col. Flaherty said later that the investigation is continuing and that police have been unable to find a motive or any connection between Cho and his victims.

He said police hadn’t talked to anyone who thought Cho was capable of such violence. Two knives and a claw hammer also were found in his backpack.

“It’s as mind-boggling to me as it is to you,” he told reporters.

Cho was seen at about 6:45 a.m. April 16 outside West Ambler Johnston dormitory. His first victim, Emily Jane Hilscher, went into the dorm about 15 minutes later, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell R. Flinchum said, but she entered a door that wasn’t visible to him.

After shooting Miss Hilscher and a resident adviser, Cho went to Norris Hall about two hours later.

Police met privately with the panel for more than two hours earlier to give them a more in-depth briefing on the events of April 16. Col. Flaherty said such information would not be made public until police meet with families of the victims.

The panel also toured both the classroom building and the dormitory.

The group entered Norris Hall through a door that police had tried to open by shooting through chains Cho had placed on it. When they were unable to get in, they shot open a lock on a lab door next to it, Col. Flaherty said. They then opened another chained door with bolt cutters.

Panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill said it was helpful to hear about the shootings from people who were there and to view the shooting sites.

“I’ve seen and heard a lot in my career,” said Mr. Massengill, a former Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency’s response to the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks. “This is almost undescribable.”

After hearing testimony from a Virginia Tech attorney that privacy laws prohibit release of students’ mental health and other records, panel member Tom Ridge said the group needs to find a way to gain access to Cho’s records.

“We’d be remiss if we didn’t do a real deep dive into this area,” said Mr. Ridge, the former U.S. Homeland Security secretary.

Cho was found “mentally ill and in need of hospitalization” in December 2005, according to court papers. A judge ordered him into involuntary outpatient treatment, but because of privacy laws, Tech police received no notice that he complied, university counsel Kay Heidbreder said.

Even within the university, the records cannot be shared among departments, she said.

In Colorado, the families of Columbine High School shooting victims have pledged to appeal a judge’s decision to seal information about the two killers, saying the information might have helped prevent the Virginia Tech massacre.

Cho’s family, who would have access to the records, has been cooperative so far, Col. Flaherty told reporters.

Mr. Massengill said the panel would be willing to receive the information in closed session if necessary.

The briefing and tour were closed under provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which protect students’ privacy and briefings by law-enforcement agencies. Reporters for several news organizations had objected, saying the grounds for closing the meeting did not appear to be properly applied in this case.

“We want this process to be as public as we can make it,” Mr. Massengill said earlier. “But I hope you understand there are certain sensitive materials that are allowed for within Virginia law.”

During the open part of the meeting, Mr. Massengill asked Tech President Charles W. Steger whether he thought the contents of the first e-mail that the school sent to students and employees should have been more specific. The mass e-mail sent at 9:26 a.m. — more than two hours after the first shooting — said police were investigating a shooting at West Ambler Johnston and warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.

Mr. Massengill asked Mr. Steger whether the e-mail should have stated: “We’ve had a shooting, and the shooter has not been apprehended.”

Said Mr. Steger: “The most prevalent question I get is that question.”

He said university officials were worried about causing panic on campus. Mr. Steger also said that police initially thought the shooting was a domestic dispute and that officers already were questioning a person of interest.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, created the eight-member panel, asking it to gather information about the gunman, how the events unfolded and how the state and other agencies responded.

Additional meetings are set for next month in Northern Virginia and the Charlottesville area. Mr. Kaine had said he hoped the panel could complete its review before the fall semester starts in August.

The university also is doing its own reviews of safety and communications procedures that it expects to complete by late August, Mr. Steger said.

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