Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I've heard a number of people question why officials at Virginia Tech didn't close down the campus immediately following the first shooting. We keep getting more of the story and now know that police followed a bad lead, thinking the first shooting was "domestic" in nature. And with the release of information the shooter mailed to NBC News more pieces of the puzzle are being revealed. But I'd like to explore the failure to close the campus.

I am not attempting to defend what Virginia Tech authorities did or did not do. I am, perhaps, sympathetic to their dilemma having spent time as a student or teacher on six university campuses in my life. Three were small, private, liberal arts institutions. The other three were big state universities. One in particular covered more acres than Virginia Tech. All six have been surrounded by a metropolitan area.

If the Virginia Tech had closed the campus, and nothing else happened, would that have been a wasted class day? Should all the employees be paid for the day even though they had been sent home? What would you do with the 9,000 students living on campus? Many of them likely weren't even awake for the first shooting, some even for the second. College students like to sleep late.

So how long do you remove the residents from campus? Where do they go? You can't really lock them in the dorms because that's where the first shooting took place.

But let's say the university did shut down the campus. Perhaps by noon they would have reopened the campus for classes, thus bringing students, faculty and staff back to campus and to the scene of the second shooting. Who knows if the shooter might not have simply waited until such time and committed the same atrocities? Or, perhaps even worse, the shooter may have gone to another public venue to kill multiple victims. Like a mall. Or a public school.

Virginia Tech is a small city. It doesn't have a fence surrounding it. There are unlimited entry points for someone on foot. When people have guns and don't care if they're going to get caught or killed, if they wish to kill a bunch of people they're going to succeed. I don't believe any security arrangement is going to stop them. There aren't any general security measures a free and open society would want applied which could prevent this kind of thing. You can't prevent it. At most you can divert it.

The shooter was determined to end many lives, including his own. The weapons happened to be handguns and the location happened to be a college campus. It could have been a pipe bomb in a crowded restaurant, or an automobile crashing through a playground during recess. At some point he could not be stopped except by ending his life. And I don't know of anyone who could correctly predict or see when that point happened.