Second killing at VTech makes for concerns about student safety

February 12, 2009 — by Nandini Ruparel and Brandon Yang

It began as a normal conversation between two students in the Au Bon Pain café at Virginia Tech University. One moment, witnesses only saw a casual meeting between two friends; the next, one student was holding onto the other’s decapitated, blood-dripping head in one hand, and gripping a kitchen knife if the other. Even the police who quickly arrived and arrested the murderer were horrified by the scene.

Another murder incident struck Virginia Tech on Jan. 21, nearly two years after the mass shooting on campus that left 30 people dead and another 30 wounded. Although fewer people died in this latest incident, the horror is that another life was ended on the now infamous campus. This incident shows that despite the improvements in counseling and security for students attending the school, more efforts must be made to prevent violence from occurring here and at other campuses.

In 2007, police dealing with the situation did not issue warnings to those on the Virginia Tech campus about the incident after the two people were killed. Instead of being more cautious, people at the university continued with their daily lives, unknowingly putting themselves in more danger. Having learned from this incident, a campus alert system was organized to warn those on campus of any potentially dangerous situations. When the girl was attacked in the café, subscribers to the system received e-mails, text messages and voicemails, advising them to stay away from the scene to prevent more unnecessary deaths. In more urgent situations, however, such as a bomb threat, a simple text to cell phones may not be enough.

During the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, there was little for the unarmed victims and witnesses to do except protect themselves and others. Yet when a man pulled out a knife in the café and attacked the girl, those nearby sat still, allowing the murderer to not only stab, but decapitate the victim with the kitchen knife. As the man possessed no firearms, witnesses could have done something to restrain the man or halt the attack. Even the slightest action could have resulted in a more peaceful ending.

The school’s faculty members as well as local law enforcement need to be more aware of students’ conditions. Both murderers had shown signs signaling their mental deterioration, as both had sought help from counselors or psychiatrists. The two had also been reported by various students and citizens of Blacksburg, Va., to counseling centers or police—no one, however, paid enough attention to their troubled actions.

When reflecting upon these two disturbing events, it is clear that there were many ways to prevent the violent actions of the two murderers at Virginia Tech. Had students, teachers and bystanders taken action to counsel them or to prevent the deaths, numerous lives could have been saved. Steps as simple as counselors and police taking complaints seriously could have changed the future of mentally troubled students and their victims. The administration of Virginia Tech must alter its policies to create a safer campus environment, and to prevent possible future deaths.

However, Virginia Tech is probably not the only college in the United States with over-stressed or violence-minded students. While their situation calls for drastic action right away, other colleges need to start working on their protection systems to. As in a medicine field, where prevention is the best medicine, it would be best for the colleges to nip this problem in the bud so that these tragedies are never allowed to take place. If violence is prevented, then the community will be safer. It is the highest duty of colleges to ensure the safety of the students; Virginia Tech and other campuses need to do better.

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