Shooting at Virginia Tech following hearing

Kimberly Hefling

Read first reports here.

Soon after Virginia Tech officials at a hearing defended actions taken to notify the campus as a 2007 shooting rampage unfolded, the university on Thursday issued a series of warnings about gunfire on its campus.

See student reactions here.

Following the 2007 shootings that left 33 people dead, Virginia Tech expanded its emergency notification systems. Alerts now go out by electronic message boards in classrooms, by text messages and other methods. Other colleges and universities have put in place similar systems.

Virginia Tech officials said a police officer and another person were shot and killed on campus Thursday, and a suspect remained on the loose. During about a one-hour period, the university issued four separate alerts, followed by additional notifications.

Renee Romine, training and development associate in Kent State’s human resources department, teamed up with Sgt. Joseph Hendry of the Kent State University Police Department in Spring 2010 to teach several workshops on how to respond in the case of an active gunman on campus.

The workshop emphasized the use of Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate, or ALICE, which is the same system outlined in university emergency response procedures.

Romine said some things to consider doing in the case of an active shooter:

  • Most gunmen in these situations aren’t skilled shooters and the best way to survive may just be to constantly move and keep distanced from the gunman.
  • First look for a nearby exit. If none are reasonably nearby, enter a room full of other students, lock the door and barricade it with as many items as possible.

    Romine advised four things to avoid doing in these cases:

  • Don’t negotiate with the gunman. The gunman typically has thought the incident through and wants to take as many lives as possible before taking his or her own life.
  • Don’t target the weapon when attacking the gunman. Attacking may save you and your peers’ lives, but people often focus too much attention to the weapon, Romine explained. The most effective way to distract and/or neutralize the gunman is to attack or throw items at his or her head.
  • Once the gunman has dropped his or her weapon, do not pick it up. Holding it may cause a dangerous and misleading picture when authorities arrive. To eliminate the threat of the weapon, Romine advised to keep it under or in a trashcan.
  • Don’t sit on the ground with your back facing the door. Incidents involving a gunman can happen very abruptly. Attention must be focused on the door.

    “If you’re in lockdown, you want to be in planning mode,” Romine said. “If the gunman gets in here, you want to be up, ready and moving. You want to be in a position so you can take action if need be.”

    – Simon Husted contributed to reporting.

The alerts went out even as university officials, including the university’s police chief, were in Washington, D.C. for the administrative hearing about 260 miles from the campus in Blacksburg, Va. The hearing ended less than an hour before the first alert went out. Ernest C. Canellos, an Education Department administrative judge, said he would later issue a ruling on the hearing about Virginia Tech’s handling of the shootings more than four years ago.

Universities are required under the Clery Act to provide warnings in a timely manner and to report the number of crimes on campus.

Virginia Tech has appealed a $55,000 fine levied after the 2007 shootings because it said it acted appropriately based on protocols on campuses at that time.

The Education Department says the university violated the law in the 2007 shootings by waiting more than two hours after two students were shot in a residence hall on campus in the 2007 shootings before sending an email warning.

Wendell Flinchum, the police chief, testified that there were no immediate signs in the residence hall at that time to indicate a threat to the campus. He said the shootings were believed to be an isolated domestic incident and that the shooter had fled.

Flinchum said that conclusion was based on the isolated nature of the residence hall room, the lack of forced entry and what the victims were wearing — the woman in pajamas, the man in boxer shorts.

He said the dead woman’s boyfriend initially was identified as a “person of interest.” Police were shown a social networking site with the boyfriend holding guns, Flinchum said, and were told he usually dropped her off on Mondays. The shootings took place on a Monday.

James Moore, a department official, testified that even if it had been a domestic incident, there were enough signs that a gunman was on the loose to warrant quicker campus alerts by the school.

The 1990 Clery Act was named after Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her residence hall room by another student in 1986.

The maximum fine per violation under the law is $27,500. Institutions also can lose their ability to offer federal student loans, but that has never happened.

An appeals hearing in Clery Act cases is rare. Experts say institutions typically agree to fines and take corrective action or reach an agreement with the Education Department.

Here’s what do do if something like this happens on Kent’s Campus.

Written by Kimberly Hefling, courtesy of the Associated Press.