Lessons to be learned from the Virginia Tech shooting

Virginia Tech shooting: How to stop the next campus killing in America

Column LAST UPDATED AT 21:39 ON Thu 19 Apr 2007
Alexander Cockburn

Since there undoubtedly will be a next time, what useful counsel on preventative measures can we offer faculties across America?

Arm teachers and students. There have been the usual howls from the anti-gun lobby, but it's all hot air. America is not about to dump the Second Amendment giving people the right to bear arms.

A better idea would be for appropriately screened teachers and maybe student monitors to carry weapons. This is not as outre as it may sound to European ears. A quarter of a century ago students doing military ROTC training regularly carried rifles around campus.

Five years ago Peter Odighizuwa, a 43-year-old Nigerian student, killed three faculty members at Appalachian Law School with a handgun, but before he could wreak further carnage two students fetched weapons from their cars, challenged the murderer with guns levelled, and disarmed him.

Ban anti-depressants. What should be banned from campuses are not weapons but prescriptions for anti-depressants. Eric Harris, co-slayer (with Dylan Klebold) of 12 students and a teacher in the Columbine school shootings in 1999, was on Luvox, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) of the same class as Prozac and Zoloft. Initially Harris had been prescribed Zoloft, but told his doctor he was having suicidal and homicidal fantasies. So the doc shifted him to Luvox.

Sixteen-year-old Jeff Weise, who killed 10 schoolmates at Red Lake High School on an Indian Reservation in 2005, was on Prozac. The manufacturer said four per cent of children in one of its tests of Luvox developed short-term mania. Other studies of the SSRI anti-depressants have claimed they have a 15 per cent chance of prompting suicidal or homicidal reactions.

Cho Seung-hui was on a prescription drug. The likelihood of it being an anti-depressant is high, since campus doctors dispense prescriptions for them like confetti.

Replace campus police with student volunteers. The stupidity of the campus cops at Virginia Tech will undoubtedly cost the college hefty damages.

There was plenty of evidence that Cho Seung-hui was a time bomb waiting to explode. Students talked about him as a possible shooter and refused to take classes with him. His essays so disturbed one of his teachers with their violent ravings that she arranged a secret signal in case she needed security during her tutorials.

When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers until Cho Seung-hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in and started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatised students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot.

Make laxity in supervision grounds for termination. More than one teacher felt Cho was scarily nuts. They recommended counselling, then didn't bother to review the conclusions. And it has emerged that Cho was actually institutionalised as a psychotic and suicide risk in 2005. Yet when he returned to campus the administrators didn't even tip off his roommate.

College administrators live in constant fear of declining students enrollment. At the first sign of trouble they cover up. So, there's a double killing in a Virginia Tech dorm at 7.15am, after which Cho has time to go home, make his final home video, walk to the post office, mail his package to NBC and then head off to the engineering building with his guns.

The college's first email to students goes out more than two hours after the first killings were discovered. The ineffable Warren Steger, college president, says later: "You can only make decisions based on the information you have on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it." Two dead bodies, a killer somewhere on campus, and Steger makes his big decision to do nothing. Don't hire stupid administrators. ·