University of Virginia Shooting

Image of Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr.

Image Credit: CNN

On November 13, 2022 Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. shot and killed three people and injured two returning to the university campus on a charter bus after it was returning from a class trip to Washington D.C.. Four victims involved in the incident were on the University of Virginia football team, including the three who died and one who was injured. The three victims who passed were Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry, and Lavel Davis Jr.. Following an over 12 hour search for Jones he was taken into custody just before noon the following day.

Following the events there was information found out about Jones that was concerning the escalation up to his horrible actions. Starting already in September a fellow peer reported that Jones had made the statement of owning a gun, however, it was not made in the form of a threat. In October the Threat Assessment Team for the university brought the case for disciplinary action. This highlights one of the changes that was seen in the Virginia Tech shooting with the governor requiring all public schools to implement this Threat Assessment Team. While there is still more information to be confirmed about the weapon that Jones used, it is known that he was denied multiple times when attempting to purchase firearms for both being underage and then failing a background check. This is further evidence to the change of the Virginia Tech shooting since there was a more comprehensive program to provide background checks on individuals.1

When looking into this tragic event, while it hit especially close to home since I was in Charlottesville, Virginia when this occurred, it was informative to learn about the safety measures that the university had in place. There were multiple instances where improved safety measures, that were a direct result of the Virginia Tech shooting, had attempted to prevent this incident. While the incredibly saddening fact that students were still murdered on a college campus it highlights the important changes that have started to occur to better protect students on campuses.

  1. Almasy et al., “What We Know about the Suspect in the University of Virginia Shooting Rampage That Left 3 Football Players Dead.” ↩︎

Bridgewater College Shooting

Image of J.J. Jefferson (left) and John Painter (right)

Image Credit: ABC News

On February 1, 2022 Alexander Wyatt Campbell shot and killed Campus Police Officer John Painter and Campus Safety Officer J.J. Jefferson at Bridgewater College in Virginia. The pair were responding to “reports of a ‘suspicious’ person on campus.” Following a short interaction on campus at Memorial Hall Campbell open fired hitting the two officers, who eventually died from their injuries. Less than an hour following the incident Campbell was found and arrested.

While there is not much known about the shooting themselves and their motive there is information about the university and how they handled the incident. Since the incident occurred a little after 1:00 p.m. there were students in classes. The university sent a message to students and staff to stay in buildings and not to go outside. The college eventually canceled classes the following day and offered students mental health support.1 This shows a correlation to the Virginia Tech shooting and how the pair of students in the psychology doctoral program had to learn how to effectively help those suffering from the effects of the shooting.

  1. Caldwell and Selva, “Suspect Who Allegedly Killed 2 Officers in Shooting at Virginia College Was Former Student Athlete.” ↩︎

Gun Control Reform

The Virginia Tech shooting became a driving force in those petitioning for gun control reform, especially in Virginia. As previously mentioned from the immediate review the VTRP found that Cho, had his mental health issue been reported to CCRE, should never have been able to legally have the firearms he did. As a result the Virginia Governor, Timothy Kaine, made an executive order that anyone who is determined to be “a danger to himself or others, regardless of whether designated for inpatient or outpatient treatment, be immediately reported to all relevant databases, including the CCRE.” Moving into the federal level President George W. Bush, in 2008, signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act which was created and intended to improve the NICS by promoting faster reporting, keeping updated records, and more collaboration between State and Federal agencies.1 This will allow for these to be a more reliable form of checks and balances on those who are looking into obtaining a firearm.

Not only were there legal shifts but there were more discussions about opinion and ideas involving gun control following a school shooting, like the one at Virginia Tech. While there was little evidence that there was a large shift in actual opinion the resulting discussions allowed people to share their concerns. There was a growing concern that despite the increased regulation on guns that people who wanted to use them in a horrible and illegal way would always find a way. Many used the argument that gun rights protection is important because it is embedded into our Constitution, however, others pull on the changing atmosphere of the nation and why current events should be able to change previous understandings. For some it was clear that while regulation would be helpful there needed to be a greater emphasis on improving mental health help since this was more likely to help someone who was in distress and at risk of causing these horrible actions. (How to go about improving this mental health help from professionals at university help centers can be found in the mental health concern tab of the website.) While others still argued on the impact of the stricter gun regulation and how it could possibly deter someone who had bad intentions when getting a firearm. Unfortunately, it becomes more clear that as time goes on sometimes the only way to learn about the effectiveness of these changes is to see the long-term benefits it has or does not have. This requires patience and time but also the initiative to begin the research so the information that is uncovered can become of value.2

Image Credit: The Washington Post

  1. Schildkruat and Hernandez, “Laws That Bit The Bullet”, 367. ↩︎
  2. Schildkruat and Hernandez, “Laws That Bit The Bullet”, 369-371. ↩︎

Threat Assessment

Many reports and assessments followed once information was published about what occurred at the university of April 16, 2007. A specific one, written by Chris Rasmussen and Gina Johnson, dove into not only the immediate concerns arising from the Virginia Tech shooting but how governments and campuses would move forward to improve the safety of their campuses for students and staff. The Virginia Tech incident had a “ripple-effect” causing a majority of campuses to reflect on their safety and what they could do to improve this for their community. One of the main concerns moving forward was how the university could more efficiently inform the campus of a dangerous situation. As seen in the Virginia Tech shooting the first email was not sent out until over two hours after the first shooting occurred. Text messaging became a clear effective route to communicate important information in a timely manner. This caused many universities to implement a system where if there was a situation they could easily send out a message campus wide.1

Virginia Code of Law

Threat assessment teams were also required for every single public school in Virginia following this incident. The tented of these teams was to provide a designated group to create complex and thorough discussions about what could be improved to better the campus safety for their specific school. The team was also adding individuals to help manage the requirements from some directors at universities. This would allow a more in-depth and consistent watching eye over the students who might need extra help or attention. In some universities, like Virginia Tech, there are tens of thousands of students and to keep track of each individual one can be time consuming and resource demanding. Adding more staff to manage this weight was the clear solution. The development of these teams also wanted to improve the communication structures within the universities to make sure that no information slipped through the crack, like it had with Cho. The hope was that while it is almost impossible to guarantee a perfectly safe campus that the addition of these measures would help universities manage the growing weight of creating a safer campus.2

  1. Rasmussen and Johnson, The Ripple Effect of Virginia Tech, 15-17. ↩︎
  2. Deisinger and Scalora, “Threat Assessment and Management in Higher Education in the United States”, 187. ↩︎

Mental Health Concern

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Cho had a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, and selective mutism in secondary school.1 Once information about the mental health struggles that Cho was going through became known, many questioned the policies of universities. Some were wondering why there was no trail of evidence that was shared with one organization and another, Cho’s troubling obsession with the Columbine shooters in middle school and mental health issues through secondary school and college. There was a question if the proper officials would have relayed this information for future administration or counseling if this situation would have never boiled past the point it did. While the past can not be undone there is a hope that in the future if there is someone struggling that the right people are going to be informed before something terrible like this can happen. There were also changes made after assessments had been done on university to better inform those on campus of how to report suspicious or concerning behavior. This would allow those who are aware of someone struggling the information on how to handle the situation properly.2

Looking into how universities could better their mental health services for students was one of the top concerns following the Virginia Tech shooting since it was apparent that there was an increase in the amount of students coming to college with troubling psychological and behavior issues.3 During the 2000s and since there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of getting mental health care rather than ignoring issues that have persisted, especially in younger people. Previously conceptions of mental struggles have made some people feel like they are less than or “damaged” for requiring professional help. However, this stance was evolving once the real consequences of untreated psychological issues were being seen, such as the events on April 16, 2007. There was a push for more research to be done to better help the mental health professions determine someone who is needing more help or someone who is vulnerable to these unsettling behaviors. Understanding the developmental struggles for adolescents was incredibly important to this research since this would help those understand what these issues could be routed in. Through this research there was better resources for the professionals to help those on campus handled “difficulties with relationships, homesickness, time management, increased academic demands, and identity concerns, these students present with anxiety, depression, impulse control disorders, learning difficulties, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal ideation.”4

Not only were the mental health issues of Cho of concern but those affected by the shooting were as well. Two graduate students enrolled in Virginia Tech’s psychology doctoral program wrote an article discussing some of their thoughts and concerns about the event and the aftermath. Immediately following the event there were mental health professionals there to assist those who were struggling with the event of the day and were attempting to help those in need process what had occurred. It was eye opening for the students to learn about this situation firsthand where the victims and their families were struggling to cope but also the community as well. While it was a tragedy this event was able to help inform not only these two students themselves but future mental health professions in how to manage strong emotionally affective events and what they could do better in the future.5

  1. Hemphill and Brandi Hephner, Enough Is Enough a Student Affairs Perspective on Preparedness and Response to a Campus Shooting, 17. ↩︎
  2. Rasmussen and Johnson, The Ripple Effect of Virginia Tech, 11-14. ↩︎
  3. Sood and Cohen, The Virginia Tech Massacre, 65. ↩︎
  4. Sood and Cohen, The Virginia Tech Massacre, 71. ↩︎
  5. Immel and Hadder, “A Narrative of Personal Experiences and Recovery Efforts Carried Out in the Wake of the Virginia Tech Shootings”. ↩︎

Immediate Review Panel

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The Virginia Tech Review Panel (VTRP) brought together to determine how well the university responded to the incident and what emergency protocols they had in place for it. They wanted to figure out ways to better the emergency responses, broad outreach to campus community, mental health awareness, and more. There were also a wide variety of committees to help the university understand misunderstandings about legal practices that could have prevented the incident. These committees were made up of a variety of people, usually across campus, that could provide insight and understanding to the everyday working of the university.1

Not only was the VTRP intent to look into failures and misunderstandings from the university, police department, and community but it also dove into Seung-Hui Cho’s mental health history. Following this investigation it became clear that during Cho’s widespread history struggling with mental illness there was a series of events, including his involuntary admittance to a facility, that should have been reported to the Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) and never was. Had this knowledge been transferred based on Virginia law Cho would never have been able to legally purchase, possess, or transport a firearm like he had.2

  1. Deisinger and Scalora, “Threat Assessment and Management in Higher Education in the United States”, 187. ↩︎
  2. Schildkruat and Hernandez, “Laws That Bit The Bullet”, 365-367. ↩︎