Posted by: L | April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech – Video Footage and Police Response, 4/16

Here is a link to some video footage shot by Martin Arvebro and Carl Nordin, two Swedish students who were visiting the campus:

(it’s also in my earlier post profiling Cho)

From Wired Blog comes this cell phone footage of the V-Tech campus with the sound of multiple gun shots in the background. Jamal Albarghouti is the V-Tech student who shot the cellphone video. He mentioned on CNN that he shot the footage on a Nokia N70.

This is also from Wired Blog. It’s the V. Tech websmaster’s account of the police response following the shootings. He talks about the police response after 11 am on the 16th, I presume, by when the massacre had ended. Even while applauding police cooperation, he mentions this (my emphasis):

“This was a multiple-agency response and there is little interoperability — but the police still got the job done.”

Question: Hmm..does that mean that there was no setup allowing these different teams to coordinate readily? More information and explanation needed here.

Here are the teams involved:

Virginia Tech Police Department was (and is) the lead

Blacksburg PD ( not clear whether they had joint jurisdiction)

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department

Virginia State Police.

This is a map of the area showing the distance between West Ambler Johnston Hall where the first two killings took place at 7:15 AM on 4/16/2007 and Norris Hall where the other 30 victims were shot at between 9: 15 and 9: 30 AM (approximately – needs further verifications) and where the killer eventually shot himself.

Apparently, the police paradigm that was operative was that of the active shooter, which is

“… an armed person who has used deadly physical force on other persons and continues to do so while having unrestricted access to additional victims.”

(This includes snipers, but not usually bombers).

Question: Why would the police not believe they had a bomber around with the previous bomb threats on April 3 and April 13 (only 3 days earlier, that is, on Friday before the Monday on which the shootings took place)?

Why wouldn’t they also have a bomb threat plan in place — in addition to the sniper response?

‘Active shooter’ often entails a specialized response that has been developed in recent years called the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment. Here, the normal tactic of police to delay a confrontation to keep their casualties down is altered to allow the first police responder to get past casualties on the scene, make contact with the shoote and, often, to confront him and take control of the environment.

IARD is appropriate for armed intruders into school areas, attacks with edged weapons, attacks by shooters, attacks or carrying of explosives, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons attacks. It’s also appropriate in certain locations, where victims are confined while in imminent danger, like schools, day-care centers, high-rise structures, sporting events, hospitals, office complexes.

IARD is said to have been developed in response to the increasing presence of suicide/killer threats, including the proliferation of school shootings.

According to wiki, IARD is only properly used when there’s been appropriate training and ballistic shields and tactical armor are also available, which let the police get into close gun battles with the sniper/shooter. The difference with established police practice is that in the active shooter cases, the usual practice of containment and negotiation do not work, as the shooter is prepared to commit suicide.

As this article, “Patrolling the New Homeland,” Law and Order Magazine, May, 2005″ indicates, IARD allows patrol and/or SWAT personnel to initiate a response after a firearm is fired and the killing spree has begun.

Question: I am not clear from this whether the IARD is the only response to the ‘active shooter’ paradigm or whether it is only one specialized response.

The Columbine High School shooting (April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado) was formative in SWAT tactics and police response, in that street officers were trained to take immediate action without waiting for the SWAT team to arrive.

This Christian Science Monitor article quotes David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, on the “profound shift” nationwide to the new escalated tactics. IARD wasn’t really new – it had been offered in police training during the 1990s, but Columbine created the psychological shock necessary for police everywhere to feel the need for it, says the CSM piece (cf. “The Copy-Cat Effect” – see prior post on this). Could this psychological shock have been created unintentionally (and there is always the possibility, intentionally) by media replaying of the crime?

IARD was controversial not least for its expense ($5000 per police officer) and so was not uniformly adopted.

Question: Was IARD operational at V Tech or not? If so, what caused the delay of two hours, a delay IARD is specifically intended to circumvent?

Here is a student account of police reponse:

9:50 A.M.

We started hearing sirens outside of our building. We took it as nothing, [because] we hear police sirens around campus all the time. It was just slightly strange that we heard them during the day. Soon, the 13 of us heard an ambulance in front of our building. We took it as another bomb threat — we had been getting bomb threats in April that ended up being hoaxes.

We started getting concerned when the sirens increased in volume. The professor looked out the window with us, and we saw police cars and ambulances out on the Drillfield. Students were walking away from our building. Police officers were assembling on the sidewalk. Large black vans appeared.

My Comment:

9:50 is when the sirens went off…after the second shooting (which were apparently nothing out of the ordinary and thus not a very effective tool for alerting the campus )

Apparently, the police also thought the bomb threats were hoaxes although on the 16th obviously something did place. This part seems very odd to me. How could they not have connected the bomb threats with the killing?

Here is the University response:

“Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed the shooting at the West Ambler Johnston dorm, first reported about 7:15 a.m., was a domestic dispute and thought the gunman had fled the campus after killing two people. (My note: earlier notes mentioned that they thought that the RA was the boyfriend and had died with the victim and that was why they hadn’t bothered to alert the campus)

“We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,” he said.

(They took the word of a friend of Emily Hilscher who was the one who sent them off hunting Enily’s gun owning boyfriend, who turned out to be a red herring)

“The dormitory was locked down immediately after the shooting, Steger said, and a phone bank was activated to alert the resident advisers there so they could go door-to-door warning the 900 students in the dorm. Security guards surrounded the dorm, he said, and others began a sweep across campus.”

Door to door alert, when a murder has taken place seems rather neolithic to me! Why not a an announcement over the PA system?

“Asked why he didn’t order a lockdown of the entire campus, Steger noted that thousands of nonresident students were arriving for 8 a.m. classes, fanning out across the sprawling campus from their parking spots.“Where do you lock them down?” Steger asked.”

LR: Why not a siren and a PA announcement (or one over the local radio) telling people to leave?

“He said security on campus will be tightened now, but offered no details.

“We obviously can’t have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the year,” he said.

(LR: Again, a strawman. Why not cameras and a security guard who monitors doors from a central location? Done in stores all across the country and in many schools. Or a patrol car that moves around, again done on many campuses. Especially after the Morva episode, how could they not think about that?)

“Overall, Steger defended the university’s response, saying: “You can only make a decision based on the information you know at that moment in time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it.”

(My Comment: That’s why you prepare!!! What is with these people! Not a word of self-recrimination).

“Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said there were no surveillance cameras in place that recorded the gunman entering Norris Hall, the classroom building where 31 people were killed. Among the dead was the gunman, who killed himself before police could break through a chained door and reach the second-floor room where the massacre occurred.

“Some students were upset that the gunman was able to strike a second time, saying the first notification they got of the shootings came in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m. The e-mail mentioned a “shooting incident” at West Ambler Johnston, said police were investigating, and asked students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious.”

(LR: the language is very puzzling; sounded like their main concern was NOT to alarm people).

Student Maurice Hiller said he went to a 9 a.m. class two buildings away from the engineering building, and no warnings were coming over the outdoor public address system on campus at the time.

(Unbelievable. They had a PA system and DIDN’T USE IT)

“I was troubled with the fact that two hours elapsed from the first shooting,” said Brant Martel, 23, a junior.

(You’re not the only one, Brant).

The blog Mirror on America makes the same point I make about rapid deployment and the lack of coorindation.

“Even for those places where a rapid response plan is in place, there has not been uniformity regarding procedures. For instance, in St. Louis County Missouri, only patrol Sergeants are allowed to have the assualt rifles….while in other departments, any trained officer can have the extra firepower. In my opinion, the more the merrier, because it’s all about decreasing the response time, so that suspects can be killed or cornered before they are allowed to murder more people. Rapid response plans will not prevent all deaths and are not designed to. The aim of rapid response units is to reduce the number of people killed in these kinds of events.

“I don’t know what the plan was for Virginia Tech or for the Blacksburg Virginia Police Department or Montgomery County Sheriff. But from what I can tell, the response appeared confused and may have been botched. It doesn’t appear that any rapid response plan was effectively used. But the large size of the campus should be taken into account. This kind of confusion is common when you have various police agencies (probably well over half a dozen in this case) attempting to respond to this kind of call, and trying to communicate and plan on the fly as the situation evolves.”

And here is Alexander Cockburn’s article on the same subject in Counterpunch (4/23), which agrees with my assessment:

“When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers till Cho Seung-Hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in, started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatized students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot. Similar timidity was on display in Columbine, where Harris and Klebold killed students in the library over a period of 15 minutes and then committed suicide. The police finally mustered up the nerve to enter the library over two hours later.”

Ban psychiatric drugs from campus, he says. And bring back the posse.



  1. Good R&D LR. Take a look at this EQ Gateway and see what you can dig out of it. Pertinent links and legalogistics to wit! Perhaps some answers may be provided there too:

    Happy Researching!
    The EQ Team.

  2. Thanks.
    I’ll take a look

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