- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

RICHMOND — A former counseling center director at Virginia Tech inadvertently took home mental health records of a student gunman when he left his job a year before the country’s worst mass shooting, the director’s attorney said Thursday.

In a statement given to the Associated Press, attorney Ed McNelis said Dr. Robert Miller accidentally placed Seung-hui Cho’s records in a box he packed with his personal documents when he was leaving his job at the center in February 2006.

He said Dr. Miller opened the box for the first time last week while searching for any material that could be relevant to a lawsuit filed by families for two of the victims who were slain April 16, 2007.

The attorney said Dr. Miller was surprised to find Cho’s records that evening and returned them to the center the next morning. The file has not yet been released to the public.

“Dr. Miller deeply regrets that his inadvertence has caused so much distress for the families of the victims as well as his former colleagues at Virginia Tech,” Mr. McNelis said. “Dr. Miller’s candor and diligence in returning these records to the Cook Counseling Center dispels any inference of ill intent.”

Wednesday’s news that the records had been found at Dr. Miller’s home prompted questions from victims’ families and attorneys about why they were discovered there after eluding authorities, a state commission and an internal university search.

Virginia State Police are investigating whether a crime was committed when the records were removed from the center. If criminal charges are filed, they would be the first in the mass murders.

Gov. Tim Kaine said the investigation would determine whether Dr. Miller’s assertion was accurate.

“I think the other critical piece is, How could he remove those records? These are confidential records that, by my understanding, cannot be legally removed, certainly not by anybody who’s a former employee,” Mr. Kaine said.

State officials have said they would release Cho’s records publicly as soon as possible, either with consent from his estate or through a subpoena.

Robert T. Hall, attorney for the two families who have filed suit over the slayings, said he did not expect the file to produce much new information.

Cho, who was a senior when he killed two people in a dormitory and 30 more in a classroom building before committing suicide, had only three encounters with the counseling center over his four years at the Blacksburg school. Officials have said he was triaged twice over the phone and had one court-ordered counseling session in person.

Most families of those killed and injured agreed last year not to sue in exchange for an $11 million state settlement. Their attorney, Peter Grenier, said the records discovery would not affect the agreement because his case focused on the university’s response to the shootings.

The lawsuits on behalf of slain students Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson are seeking damages of $10 million, but their parents have said they decided to sue in order to learn more details about the shootings.

Associated Press writers Sue Lindsey in Roanoke and Dena Potter in Richmond contributed to this report.

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