Saturday, December 20, 2008

ROANOKE | Archived e-mails and documents given this week to families of victims of last year’s mass shootings at Virginia Tech University have been posted on the student newspaper’s Web site, including correspondence among faculty written about the gunman before the massacre.

Collegiate Times Editor-in-Chief David Grant wouldn’t disclose Friday how staffers gained access to the electronic archive, but said they didn’t hack the site that the university had made available to families Wednesday with protected passwords. He said that so far, students hadn’t uncovered any new information about the mass shootings April 16, 2007.

That day, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a dormitory and classroom building, then took his own life.

The newspaper posted a number of e-mails by English faculty members, both to and about Cho. In them, teachers expressed concern about Cho, an English major whose writings and class behavior were disturbing.

The documents add details that paint a clearer picture of the shooter.

In an e-mail to English professor Lucinda Roy, associate professor Bob Hicok discussed frustration with his inability to get Cho to communicate.

“He can’t or won’t talk. Not when called on in class - this is pretty clearly tough for him - and not even one on one,” Mr. Hicok said.

School officials had planned to make the archive site public Feb. 1, after families had had a chance to review it and make sure nothing was available that should legally be kept private.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said while students were free to post the information, he thought doing so was inconsiderate of the families.

“This is just one more thing that I believe adds to their grief,” he said.

Mr. Grant said newspaper staff members were careful not to post personal information about the victims.

Several family members said this week that they found the archive system difficult to navigate. The newspaper did not post the whole archive, rather grouping documents by subject matter.

Mr. Grant said the staff’s goal was to organize “reams and reams of data.” The archive includes about 13,500 pages of information.

“The real service is to put things together in a way that makes sense,” he said.

In other notes among faculty, instructor Cheryl Ruggiero described a meeting she and Ms. Roy had with Cho. Ms. Ruggiero said Cho wore a baseball cap “pulled very low” and reflective sunglasses. He chose a seat as far away from the faculty members as possible.

“When I’m introduced and shake his hand, his hand is very sweaty and remains straight, does not clasp my hand,” Ms. Ruggiero said.

The archive was set up under terms of a court settlement with the families earlier this year to avoid lawsuits over the shootings. Relatives had sought disclosure of all records related to the shootings and the school’s response to it so others could learn from them.

The archive documents were posted just as Tech students left for a winter break. Mr. Grant said the newspaper had received no reader comments.

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