Va. Tech shooting victims' family members demand representation - News, Weather & Sports

Va. Tech shooting victims' family members demand representation

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) -- Relatives of the Virginia Tech shooting victims demanded representation Monday on a gubernatorial panel studying the killings, saying in a letter that they feel "ostracized."

They also questioned the status of a memorial fund that has generated millions of dollars to honor the 32 victims of the student gunman.

"We are angry about being ostracized from a government-chartered panel investigating a government-sponsored university, and about how the university has used the names and images of our loved ones to raise millions of dollars without any consultation," the families said in a statement to be presented to the review board Monday during its third public meeting.

The statement was written on behalf of 13 families, said Holly Sherman, the mother of slain student Leslie Sherman.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine appointed the eight-member panel, which includes former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, psychiatrists, educational specialists and former law enforcement officials, to review the tragedy, the circumstances that led to it and the response.

Kaine received several hundred requests from Virginians and those outside of the state wanting to serve on the panel, including some family members, panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill said as Monday's meeting began.

"Family is important to us. It's also important, I think, to the governor that he have a panel that was viewed as being totally objective and not driven by emotions," said Massengill, a former Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency's response to the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.

The panel's third public meeting was held Monday, when members hoped to get some insight into how the student gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was able to skirt Virginia's mental health system. Cho was ordered to receive outpatient mental health treatment in 2005 but never did.

On the morning of April 16, Cho killed two students in a Virginia Tech dormitory, then went across campus to Norris Hall, chained the doors shut and opened fire inside several classrooms. He later committed suicide there. In all, Cho killed 27 students and five faculty members.

The families also asked for more information on the status of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which has received about $7 million in donations from nearly 20,000 sources since it was set up after the shootings.

Virginia Tech announced last week that it would take $3.2 million of the fund to create 32 $100,000 funds to honor each of the victims.

"We are very concerned about the accountability of the Hokie Spirit Fund," the families wrote.

The families also said it was important that panel members gain access to Cho's immigration and mental health records. Massengill has said that the panel would go to court if necessary to get Cho's medical and mental health records, which Virginia Tech officials have said federal privacy laws bar them from sharing.

"We do not accept that patient privacy is (or should be) the sole overriding criterion in making records available to those charged with public safety and security of our college campuses," the families wrote.

Cho was born in South Korea, and moved with his family to the United States in 1992 at age 8.
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