RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — Virginia’s public university and community college presidents are standing by Virginia Tech’s president, arguing he should have immunity from a civil action stemming from the April 2007 massacre on his Blacksburg campus.
The 24 higher education leaders have filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the state Supreme Court. The court is expected to hear arguments this summer in a case that seeks to put Tech President Charles Steger on trial for his actions on the day 32 students and faculty were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Attorneys for the families of two of the deceased students, Erin Nicole Peterson and Julian K. Pryde, are seeking a full state Supreme Court hearing on their quest to bring Steger to trial for negligence.
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According to a Virginia Tech remembrance page for the victims of the shootings, Peterson was from Fairfax County and Pryde was from Blacksburg.
The attorneys argue both women might have survived the slaughter by Seung-Hui Cho if Steger and other officials didn’t delay a campus-wide alert about the first two shootings in a dormitory, even though he remained at large.
Police investigators at the scene concluded the first shootings had all the signs of a domestic dispute and advised Steger that the gunman did not pose a threat to the larger campus.
Pryde and Peterson were killed hours later after Cho chained the doors of a classroom building and killed 30 more people before killing himself.
In the court filing, the university and college presidents argue that Steger is entitled to sovereign immunity and should be shielded from personal liability for Cho’s actions.
Steger, 65, announced his retirement in May.
An attorney for the Peterson and Pryde families criticized his parting statement.
“His university suffered the greatest loss of human life on any college campus during his tenure, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to recognize and honor the 30 dead students and faculty … who might be with us today had he shared with them the alert he sent the governor after the first two shootings: ‘We have one dead and one wounded, gunman on loose,’” Robert T. Hall said in a statement.
Steger defended his actions, saying investigators at the scene of the first shootings believed the victims were specifically targeted.
“We did the best we could knowing what we knew at the time,” he said.
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