In the last decade public schools and universities have been the target for school shootings and massacres, resulting in the loss of innocent children and educational staff. James & Gilliand (2013) believe the students held responsible for the massacres share similar root problems including being at risk and being a bully or have been bullied themselves. Crisis such as these are critical and need immediate response by law enforcement and crisis intervention teams. This paper will review the Virginia Tech shooting that took place in 2007 and discuss how crisis intervention has changed since this event in history. Furthermore, this paper will describe four stages in the development of crisis intervention and illustrate four ways crisis intervention has made an impact in our society.
The Event Details
The Virginia Tech shooting took place on the morning of April 16, 2007 and is considered the deadliest shooting rampage in the United States. The shooter was 23 year old Seung-Hui Cho, an Asian student from South Korea who years earlier was evaluated at a local mental facility for making suicide remarks to his roommate. Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, before taking his own life. This tragedy is responsible for change in crisis intervention and how schools and law enforcement respond to such events. After the event a panel referred to as the Virginia Tech Review Panel appointed by the governor was challenged to examine the shooting, the effectiveness of the response team, and determine if the event could have been prevented. Governor Kaine selected the persons for this panel based on their personal expertise in law enforcement, security, emergency care, mental health, and victim’s services in an effort to prevent future violence on campuses. Crisis intervention takes place from the beginning of the event and continues until the critical incident is over; it is for this reason school officials, communities, and law enforcement must have an effective response plan in place. (James & Gilliland, 2013)
The panel reviewed many key elements that led to the mass shootings. Cho was considered mentally unstable. As a child and through his early adult years, Seung-Hui Cho exhibited signs of suicidal and homicidal intentions. He underwent psychiatric treatment and counseling for depression. There were several incidents that occurred during Cho’s junior year at Virginia Tech that were considered warnings to his mental instability that were ignored. (Panel, 2007) Under Federal law Cho should not have been eligible to purchase a firearm, but because Virginia law did not require clients like Cho who were under going out patient therapies to be reported to the federal database, Cho slipped through the cracks. That morning the Asian student used a Walther P-22 pistol he purchased online and a nine millimeter Glock with 50 rounds of ammunition to carry out the shootings. The first call to 911 came in at 7:15 a.m. after two students were shot and killed in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a dormitory that housed 895 students. The panel (2007) reported “the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police departments responded quickly to the report of shootings at West Ambler Johnston residence hall, as did the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg rescue squads and that they were well coordinated.” Students were not evacuated at this time, nor did the campus notify students and staff throughout the campus of the imminent threat, and law enforcement officials reported that the shooter left campus. Cho had indeed left campus for a short time to mail a package at the Blacksburg Post office. The package was addressed to NBC which included videos and an 1800 word manifesto that declared he wanted to “even the score against individuals who oppressed him.” (Panel, 2007) More than two and a half hours after the firsts shooting, 31 others including staff, students, and the gunman were shot and killed in Norris Hall, where the doors were chained. Many others were injured from jumping out of windows as the shooter entered the classroom. Clearly the victims were in a state of panic and many more students were unaware of the occurrences and were going about their regular routines. School officials were slow to inform students of the shootings and it wasn’t until 10 am more than two hours after the first round of shootings that a mass email was sent out.
Seung Hui Cho had a history of mental illness that dated back to when he was merely nine months old. The panel (2007) released private details about Cho’s medical history, in the report it was discovered that he suffered from an aversion to touch at the early of age and was socially inadequate. Seung Hui Cho was extremely quiet and his social isolation worsened when his parents moved the family to the United States of America. The public school Cho attended as a child took notice of his abrasive shyness and by the time he was in middle school he was labeled a selective mutism and prescribed antidepressants for his suicidal intentions. James & Gilliland (2013) would classify Cho as an Estranged Violent Juvenile Offender or EVJO, as he remains separated from his peers and harbors an immense amount of enmity towards his professors and fellow students.
Crisis intervention during an event of such magnitude as the Virginia Tech shootings must be planned for ahead of time. Virginia Tech had policies in place, but did not follow the protocol during the shooting. According to the Hauser & O’Connor (2007) it had been over 41 years since the last shooting massacre when Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people before being gunned down by police at the University of Texas. When creating a crisis intervention plan there are four steps that are crucial to the development. The steps to developing a crisis intervention plan include: prevention and intervention, preparedness, response, and recovery. “Knowing how to respond quickly and efficiently in a crisis is critical to ensuring the safety of our schools and students. The midst of a crisis is not the time to start figuring out who ought to do what. At that moment, everyone involved from top to bottom should know the drill and know each other.” (Spellings,2009) During the first step of intervention and prevention the school focuses on what it can to reduce or eliminate life threatening risks on campus. Setting policies in place, prevention programs, and initiate steps that improve student culture and awareness on campus are ways in which the school and community can prevent crisis situations on campus. Universities can practice communication and lockdown procedures in the event of a shooter or other on campus threat. To prevent such events from occurring administration can encourage students to participate in programs that help identify harmful behaviors and troubled students or anti-bullying programs. Ensuring all school staff is familiar with the layout of the campus and all entry points of the buildings will be helpful if students need to be evacuated to ensure safety during a crisis situation, such as the Virginia Tech shootings. Preparedness focuses on the process of planning for the worst case scenario, such as a school intruder, or in this event an unpredictable student turning on his classmates and shooting to kill. Having a well-developed plan will reduce injury and save lives. Delegating specific roles for individuals during a crisis and working closely with city and county emergency planners and response team during the planning stage will be useful. The university should collect equipment that will be vital to the response of the emergency team such as: radios, first aid kits, and contact information for families of staff and students. Plans should be developed for where students will be evacuated during a crisis and how to move them off campus if there is such a need. The response is the steps the staff and emergency responders will take during a crisis. It is critical to decide how to respond immediately when experiencing a crisis. The delegated individual will need to contact emergency personnel and follow through with communicated the plan of action to students and staff, established code words are used, and lock down or evacuation is executed. Emergency responders provide first aid to injured persons and the lines of communication are open to deliver messages to students, staff, family members, emergency response teams, and the media. The recovery phase consists of restoring the students, teachers and the learning environment after the crisis. During this stage the buildings are repaired, students are counseled, families are informed, and stress management and emotional support is offered in order to recover the state of the campus to a safe learning environment. Crisis management is a process in which all phases are tested, reviewed, and revised to ensure effective intervention. They are continuously updated after experience, research, and ever changing trends.
How Crisis Intervention Improvements Have Impacted Society
The impact of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus forced the world to realize that we need to be prepared and protect our kids from the growing number of mental illness patients that are living among us in our communities. Citizens are more aware of how to respond to the needs of unstable individuals and how to read the warning signs. Since the shootings at Virginia Tech new policies that ensure students and staff are aware of safety risks and prevention methods are in affect. Universities restrict firearms and weapons to resource officers and patrols, which are visible and remain present on University campuses. Universities are utilizing surveillance cameras on and around campus and many school are utilizing automated card access for classrooms and buildings to keep intruders from entering. Since the shootings other college campuses have formed panels much like the panel of specialists at Virginia Tech to ensure protection and safety of all persons on campus.
Virginia Tech staff, teachers, and administration should have recognized the signs that led Cho to brutally shoot and kill so many people on the morning of April 16, 2007. Unfortunately, the response team wasn’t prepared to intervene properly during the event. Tragedies like this one, have been used to develop and change current crisis intervention plans and ensure that all staff is aware of the procedures. Ensuring the safety of all individuals is a key focus when developing crisis intervention plans.
James, R. & Gilliland, K. (2013). Crisis Intervention Strategies (7th ed). Cengage Learning Inc. Obtained from https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781285404714/pages/56707132
Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech – Report of the Review Panel. (2007, April 16). Retrieved August 2, 2015, from https://governor.virginia.gov/media/3772/fullreport.pdf
Hauser, C., & O’connor, A. (2007, April 16). Virginia Tech Shooting Leaves 33 Dead. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/16/us/16cnd-shooting.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
Spellings, M. (2009, April 20). Crisis Intervention Plans. Retrieved August 3, 2015, from http://blackhawkemg.org/10230-Educational_Institutions