Virginia Governor Appointing Review Panel

With questions persisting about Virginia Tech's security policies in the wake of Monday's shootings, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is appointing an independent panel to review the shootings and their aftermath. Melissa Block talks with Kaine.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech will be investigated by an independent panel established by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine at the request of the university. Our co-host, Melissa Block, is in Blacksburg, where she spoke this morning with Governor Kaine.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Governor Kaine, thanks for being with us.

Governor TIM KAINE: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about the after-action panel that you're planning to name. What do you see the purview of that panel be? And what questions do what answered?

Gov. KAINE: Sort of three things, Melissa. And the way it came about, I spoke with the university president Charlie Steger yesterday and said it's really important that there be a review in the aftermath of this, of all the questions that people are naturally asking. And Charlie was ahead of me. He said, you're right, we've already decided in discussions with the board that that is a very important thing.

He asked me to appoint independent law enforcement expertise to that panel. And so I'd asked Gerald Massengill, who's the retired colonel, who is in charge in the Virginia state police - thirty-seven years as a state trooper - he led the state police during both the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the sniper incidents in northern Virginia and the D.C. area and has a great deal of expertise.

So I've asked Gerry and he's agreed to do it. The purview would be, basically, I think three things. Everything that was known about this youngster, the shooter, who had been here at Tech for four years - a couple of weeks away from graduation. What was known? You know there were warning signs about this young man's mental health. He was treated on occasion. Was the treatment sufficient?

All of those circumstances about him need to be examined. Second, the circumstances of the shooting itself, you know. How did it start? What about this gap between the first incident and the second incident? And then, third, the law enforcement response to the shooting, and how the response took place and is there anything we can learn.

BLOCK: You mentioned the university's response. Obviously, a lot of questions have been raised about the time it took. Do you share some of the concerns that been voiced by students and parents, that it did take as long as it did for the university to send out an e-mail warning that something had happened?

Gov. KIANE: I think the questions and concerns that these folks raised are very natural ones. You know - just remember though, we are now looking in the aftermath. We know everything that happened. We have the benefits of hindsight. But again, that's something that is a fair question to ask and that has to be part of the review.

BLOCK: Who names the other members? And how many will be...

Gov. KEANE: We'll be in dialogue with the university about that today. Obviously, yesterday and today, the primary focus of my effort is dealing with family members. I spend a lot of time with, you know - three separate occasions yesterday - my wife Anne and I talked to parents who shared with, you know, pride and sadness, their youngsters' accomplishments. And then I asked the question, well, do you have other children. I was told, no, this was our only child.

And today, we're going to be spending some time at the hospital, where some of the students were injured and recovering. That's the most important thing right now.

BLOCK: What else can you share with us about what you heard from the parents that you met with yesterday?

Gov. KAINE: Oh, it's just, you know, it's just heart breaking. I mean, one of the couples I just mentioned to you - this is their only son who was killed. He was a sixth year student in a masters program in engineering. He was in his last semester, doing job interviews. His last semester was just pure research. He didn't have to go to class. He went to audit a class, just to sit in because he wanted to hear what the lecture was that day. It wasn't even a class he was taking, and he was killed.

The faculty member on the engineering department, who was going to get the undergraduate teaching award - Indian American; had been here at the university for about 20 years. So many of his colleagues and students and advisees and people were there in the room, talking about how much he had touched their life.

BLOCK: Of course, you're there to listen. Are you also, as governor, trying to think of the proper thing to say? What...

Gov. KAINE: Yeah. Well, there isn't - yeah, there isn't anything, you know, proper to say. In some ways, I think just being there and, you know, we shed tears with these family members, and hey, we have kids. You know, I can't imagine what it would be like to lose children in this way. But, you know, we're listening as parents tell the stories of their children and the wonderful things that they've done and how much they loved the school.

BLOCK: When you were speaking yesterday, you said you had loathing for those who use this strategy as a political hobbyhorse or some sort of little crusade.

Gov. KAINE: Yeah.

BLOCK: Who are those people, and what's that crusade your talking about?

Gov. KAINE: Well, Melissa, the - I want to make sure that we have the right priorities. Yesterday, right after the convocation, somebody asked me the question of, well, you know, there are those who say that if students were allowed to carry arms on campus, they could have open fire in this person. And what do you think about that. You know, I let my Irish temper get the best of me. I just feel like in the moment, where the primary purpose has to be dealing with these family members and helping them deal with their loss and praying for the recovery of those still in the hospital.

You know, people want to jump out right away and say hey, you know, this means the acts about gun control laws, or that gun should be more available. You know, I just get the feeling like there are people who apply an incident like this for their own particular organizational advantage, rather than deal with a real human pain that is being experienced here. There is an appropriate role for discussion about what are the policies we have about guns and should they be different?

I think that's an appropriate question that will be raised by this. But I would just ask that that discussion occur, you know, a little bit later.

BLOCK: At the risk of getting your Irish up again...

Gov. KAINE: Yeah.

BLOCK: ...we want to ask you about guns.

Gov. KAINE: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: Virginia is a state that has no waiting period for purchase of a handgun. The shooter didn't need a permit to get the guns he got - he apparently got them legally.

Are you thinking as governor - and this was an issue in your campaign that gun laws need to be revisited. Maybe they are too loose?

Gov. KAINE: I think that's certainly going to be one of the aftermaths of this. As again, as this review team looks at everything, including the whitest young gun who got his gun, it is the case that there are states that have stricter rules in Virginia. We also have some rules that have been models for other states. We have the limitation of one-handgun-a-month purchases, which was put in place in Virginia before virtually any other state. But the mixture of those laws will be something that will be talked about. I just want us to talk about it after we have gone through what we need to with these family members.

BLOCK: You have been governor for just a little over a year now. Obviously, nothing you could've ever dreamed of would've prepared you for something like this. But I'm curious for how you are getting through this and for how you taking a...

Gov. KAINE: Well, Melissa, I wish - you know, in some ways, I have had something that prepared me for this. I was a mayor of Richmond, and Richmond was the second highest homicide city in the United States from the time I was in local office. And, you know, I have been to too many crime scenes and I've dealt with too many victims' families in 13 years of public life. You know, way too many.

This is an event unlike any other. But I legend the third world - and human grief - in Blacksburg, Virginia any different than human grief in El Progresso, Honduras or in Richmond. It is a, you know, deep and mysterious and powerful thing. And there's nothing right to say. It's just, you know, you just try to be there for people.

BLOCK: Governor Kaine, thanks for talking with us today.

Gov. KAINE: Thanks.

NORRIS: That's our colleague, Melissa Block, speaking with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

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