LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
In the days since a gunman opened fire at Virginia Tech, the actions of the campus police have come under scrutiny. They've been belted with questions about why they didn't do more to prevent the shooting in the classroom building and didn't warn students earlier about the possible threat.
The criticism frustrates members of the local law enforcement community who say police acted valiantly in a horrific situation. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports from Blacksburg.
ADAM HOCHBERG: If there's one thing Virginia Tech wants people to know about its campus police department is that the agency is indeed a real police department. Not just a group of security guards or people who direct traffic, but a sworn accredited police force, with more than 30 full-time officers.
It was those officers who led the response to Monday's shooting and their chief, Wendell Flinchum, has been defending that response ever since.
Captain WENDELL FLINCHUM (Campus Police Chief, Virginia Tech University): This is a tragic, tragic event. And you could second-guess all the day. We acted on the best information we had at the time.
HOCHBERG: Chief Flinchum has repeated that same answer several times when he's been asked at press conferences about his agency's actions. He said investigators believe the gunman had left campus after Monday's first shooting. He says they had no way to know Seung-hui Cho was planning a second attack.
Chief Flinchum would not speak with NPR but other law enforcement officials in Blacksburg say police did all they could.
Captain KIM CRANNIS (Police Chief, Blacksburg, Virginia): The law enforcement officers in this area are trained to do exactly what we did and it was done the right way, and that was how we responded.
HOCHBERG: Kim Crannis is the chief of the city police department in Blacksburg. Her department has a separate operation from Chief Flinchum's university police force, but she worked closely with him Monday at the scenes of both shootings. And so the criticism is undeserved.
Capt. CRANNIS: It's always difficult when people question what you do. But we know that we did exactly what we needed to do, exactly the way we needed to do it. We are not second-guessing ourselves. We were there. Nobody else was.
HOCHBERG: Crannis confirms police initially believed the first shooting, which was confined to one dorm room, was an isolated crime. And so criminal justice experts say they cannot fault investigators for that judgment.
Former police officer Todd Burke teaches at Radford University, a smaller college a few miles away from Virginia Tech.
Professor TODD BURKE (Criminal Justice, Radford University): Nowhere in the history of the United States at least has there been an incident where a mass murderer has killed, stopped, and re-killed. And so they did not believe they had a mass murderer on this campus.
HOCHBERG: Burke says amid the criticism of local police officers, he worries people have forgotten about the emotional toll the crime has taken on them. He says many are suffering, including one Virginia Tech officer who has a student on a graduate seminar he's teaching.
Prof. BURKE: I could hear in her voice the stress and the lack of sleep that they're getting, and just the idea of the images that she said will never ever come out of her head.
HOCHBERG: Police leaders here say officers have had little opportunity to tend to their own need since Monday's shooting. Some are consumed with the investigation. Others are tending to tasks, like protecting the crime scene or controlling the swarm of reporters who've descended upon Blacksburg.
Counselor Tia Pollen(ph) of the North Carolina Highway Patrol came to Virginia after the shooting to work with officers and their families. She says some are disturbed both by the crime and the criticism.
Ms. TIA POLLEN (Counselor, North Carolina Highway Patrol): I had an opportunity to meet with the spouses of the police officers in this community. And they are outraged because you've had people say some awful things and they were out there and responded and put their life on the line. And so I can understand how their spouses feel.
HOCHBERG: Law enforcement leaders say they welcome Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's decision to appoint a special panel to study among other things the police response to the shooting. Tuesday the governor's top public safety official called the response coordinated, prompt and professional.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.