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The Virginia Tech Massacre Essay

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Updated: Mar 12th, 2020


Numerous incidences of gun attacks in public places raise questions regarding the responsibility of individuals, institutions and law enforcement agencies in mitigating the impacts of gun violence. In 2007, a shooting rampage in Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Virginia Tech) caused the death of 32 people and inflicted injuries on many people after a gunman unleashed terror on unsuspecting students and faculty officials.

Law enforcement officials identified the shooter as Seung-Hui Cho who was a senior student at the institution. The massacre began with Cho shooting two students at a dormitory. Later, Cho went to the classroom building where he shot indiscriminately at students and faculty members. After killing 30 people, Cho killed himself. The Virginia Tech Massacre raised controversies concerning the factors that contributed to the shooting rampage.

The key issue entailed the lack of stringent measures on gun control, which allowed easy access to the guns used in the massacre. Another issue was the extent of the institution’s responsibility concerning the occurrence of the massacre. An analysis of various actions of Virginia Tech in response to Cho’s shooting spree illustrates that the institution contributed to the occurrence of the massacre.

Evaluation of Virginia Tech’s Responsibility in the Massacre

When the shooting started in the dormitory, the institution’s authorities did not embark on an immediate evacuation exercise based on the assumption that the shooting had occurred because of a disagreement between certain individuals. In this regard, rather than securing other areas of the institution, authorities overlooked the probable impacts of the incident.

Delays in responding to the incident at the dormitory arose due to the assumption that whoever had fired the gun must have left the institution’s compound. Thus, once Cho shot students at the dormitory, he had the time to go to the classroom building and continue with his heinous act.

If the institution’s authorities reacted immediately to the first shooting incident, they would have saved the lives of students and faculty officials killed around the classroom building. The institution’s police chief at the time of the incident, Chief Wendell, cited the lack of appropriate and timely information that would have allowed them to alleviate further attacks as the cause of the delayed response (Hagan 212).

Confirmations by the police chief that they had heard the shooting at the dormitory illustrates that the institution acted irresponsibly in its failure to notify students about the first attack. Even though the security officials considered the incident at the dormitory as not warranting an evacuation exercise, notifying students about the first attack would have led them to exercise some level of caution as they went on with their routine activities.

The fact that Cho’s victims were in different locations around the classroom building means that the attacks did not occur simultaneously, but within a time span that could have allowed the authorities to implement proactive measures. There were gunshots first at Johnston Hall and later at Norris Hall.

These were separate events and thus an immediate response to the first shooting incident could have minimized the chances of the occurrence of the other shooting considering that Cho executed all the shootings.

Accounts form witnesses of the shooting incident indicate that the gunman went from one dormitory room to another and thus invalidates the claims by security officials that the shooter had left the campus’ compound. The realization that the shooter was still within the institution’s compound should have triggered an immediate reaction to the security status of students and officials in other locations within the institution.

Rather than solely securing the building in which the first shooting occurred, the security officials would have considered the high probability of the shooter’s presence within the school compound as warranting the attention of the whole institution. Chief Wendell confirmed that although the security officials were investigating the suspected shooter, they did not know the suspect’s whereabouts.

Virgin Tech did not consider the first shooting as an emergency issue. The fact that the institution’s officials were having a meeting to discuss the first shooting when the second shooting occurred is a clear indication that the institution overlooked the need for precautionary measures in response to the first attack.

The security officials had not detained the first shooter despite their awareness that he could have still been within the institution’s compound. Furthermore, the institution’s authorities went on to have a meeting to discuss the first shooting.

The failure to exercise vigilance and deploy security officials throughout the campus’ compound largely contributed to the occurrence of the second shooting that ended before Wendell and his team could respond (Dempsey, John 124).

Responses from some of the survivors of the Virginia Tech Massacre indicate that had the students received timely notifications regarding the first shooting, they would have exercise extra caution. In this regard, any suspicious activity within the institution’s compound would have attracted immediate responses such as notifying the institution’s security officials or reporting to the police.

A committee appointed to review the Virginia Tech Massacre reiterated that the institution’s failure to take precautionary measures after the first shooting was questionable and amplified the number of causalities in the second shooting. The first attempt by Virginia Tech authorities to notify students of the presence of a gunman within the school compound occurred about two hours after the first shooting.

However, the notification was through a bulletin warning sent to students by emails. Thus, students learnt about the Cho’s shooting spree after it had already occurred. Most of the students were attending the second session of classes and thus did not have the time to check their emails and learn about the first shooting. Cho’s attack caught came unexpectedly and thus the great extent of its damage.

During the shootings, students never exercise caution or urgency since they were not aware of an impending danger. The institution’s decision to notify students about the presence of a gunman via email does not reflect a reaction to an issue of emergency. After the meeting to discuss the first shooting, the institution did not consider the importance of canceling classes and embarking on evacuations.

Policies regarding an appropriate response plan in a shooting incident recommend an evacuation once the risk analysis highlights that the process does not expose people to great risk. Between the first and second shooting, there was a period of about two hours characterized by relative calm. Effective risk analysis should have indicated that it was safe for the institution to embark on evacuations.

The failure by Virginia Tech’s authorities to cancel the second session of classes illustrates that the process of risk analysis was ineffective (Behrens 181). At the time of the Virginia Tech Massacre, the institution did not have any emergency response plan relating to a shooting incident.

However, the institution authorities cannot cite the lack of policies on the response to a shooting incident to have caused the delays in security officials’ response to the first shooting. Although the institution had to exercise caution concerning the amount of information released to students to avoid causing panic and confusion, it withheld a lot of information and thus increasingly exposed people within the institution’s compound to security risks.

The security officials’ decision to solely secure the first crime scene and withhold information about the attack until after the meeting to discuss the incident was an inappropriate approach that aggravated the vulnerability of students and faculty officials.


Despite the fact that the lack of stringent laws and regulations on gun possession contributed to the Virginia Tech Massacre, the institution made numerous assumptions on the first shooting incident and thus exposed student and faculty officials to the second attack.

If the institution responded to the first shooting by immediately undertaking proactive measure such as the cancelation of classes and informing students of the presence of a gunman within the institution’s compound, students and faculty officials could have realized the urgency and magnitude of the threat posed by Cho and exercise vigilance. In this regard, the impacts of the second shooting would have been minimal.

Although the institution was observing the recommendations regarding the need to sustain calmness during an emergency crisis, its decision to withhold information from students on the situation at the institution and overlook the first shooting raises questions regarding in institutions’ responsibility.

A risk analysis on the first shooting incident should have provided enough information for the institution to cancel classes and deploy security officials to areas under risk.

Works Cited

Behrens, Laurence , and Leonard J. Rosen. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 11th ed. London: Longman Publishing Group, 2011. Print.

Dempsey, John S.. Introduction to private security. 2nd ed. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Hagan, Frank E.. Introduction to criminology: theories, methods, and criminal behavior. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2010. Print.

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