Virginia Tech pays $32,500 for not issuing timely shooting alert

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WJLA) - Virginia Tech has paid federal fines totaling $32,500 for failing to issue a timely alert when a gunman began his killing rampage on campus seven years ago Wednesday, leaving 33 people dead.

The U.S. Department of Education said Tech has paid fines for two violations of the Clery Act, which requires universities to issue timely warnings of campus threats.

In paying the fine, the university decided against appealing the findings "to close this chapter on the tragedy of April 16, 2007," a spokesman wrote in an email.

"While we believe that the department's actions against Virginia Tech are inconsistent with their earlier guidance and policy, further litigation was not prudent in light of the various costs - emotional impact on the community, time lost, as well as financial," spokesman Larry Hincker said.

The Education Department fines stem from the university's actions on the morning of the shootings, when student gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot two people at a dormitory. One died at the scene, the other hours later.

Police investigating the first shootings of a man and a woman concluded that they were likely domestic in nature and that the gunman who remained at large did not pose a threat to the wider Blacksburg campus. University officials said they didn't alert the campus that a gunman was on the loose because of that guidance.

Hours later, Tech officials issued a specific, campus-wide warning that a "gunman is loose on campus." By then, Cho had chained the doors of a classroom building and killed 30 students and faculty members. He then killed himself.

The Education Department fine was the lone possible litigation remaining from the 2007 mass killings. In November, the Virginia Supreme Court tossed a jury's finding that the state was negligent in the shootings. The lawsuit was brought by the families of two students killed in the rampage.

The VTV Family Outreach Foundation, formed by the families of victims and survivors, said it was pleased that the Clery issue had been resolved and that members of the Tech community "can now continue on together in our efforts to make colleges and universities safer."

On the seventh anniversary of the killings, remembrances were held in Blacksburg and Richmond, where a bell in the shadow of the Statehouse was sounded for each victim.

"The first thing I remember and that everyone remembers is her smile -- she had a smile that just lit up the world,” said Peter Read of his daughter Mary Read, who died that day. "It's a hard day and a bittersweet day."

He adds that the pain feels sharper, but so do the memories:

"What I choose to do with them is honor my daughter's life and honor the things she stood for, like forgiving, compassion, and caring."

On Wednesday at Capitol Square in Richmond, mourners comforted one another while listening to the names of the 32 victims in what remains the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Like in years past, the day of remembrance in Blacksburg began this morning at 12:01 a.m. The campus remained somber and quiet during the day.

Like others who lost loved ones at Virginia Tech or Newtown or Aurora, Peter Read is honoring Mary by pushing for tougher gun control restrictions, like universal background checks.

In Richmond and Washington, however, the fight remains a struggle.

"I understand it's gonna take time for that message to get across, but I feel it will get across and we will make progress," said Peter.