GUEST: Lessons learned from VT tragedy

Christopher Lisi

While what happened at Virginia Tech Monday morning is sad and tragic, I could not help but be reminded of the situation that Villanova encountered last December when a gunman found his way on to South Campus just moments after firing at Radnor Police.

The controversy at VT is that after the first set of shootings were reported to police at 7:15 a.m. it took the administration over two hours to send out an e-mail notifying students and staff of what had happened. It was reported on network television that at least one student who had heard about the 7:15 a.m. shooting called the school administration and was allegedly instructed to “proceed to class with caution.” Why weren’t students instructed to remain in dorms? Even though administrators claimed they acted appropriately with the best information available at the time, is it not prudent to err on the side of caution and promptly cancel classes until the gunman has been apprehended? Had the administration cancelled classes and sent notifications in a timely manner, more senseless deaths could have been prevented when a second shooting spree occurred at about 9:45 a.m., leading to 31 additional deaths. The administration and police deemed the first incident as “isolated and domestic in nature.” Can someone tell me how a double murder on a campus doesn’t immediately impact the rest of the university community?

I don’t think I was the only person at Villanova who questioned the administration of our school for not promptly notifying the Villanova community that a gunman had hidden himself on our campus. School officials knew he was on campus at about 4:30 a.m., which means they had ample time to send an e-mail to students before 8:30 a.m. classes. An e-mail attempt was made at 8:10 a.m. – four hours after the shooting had occurred -to notify students about the events and to tell them that 8:30 and 9:30 classes would be cancelled. How many of us check our e-mail just 20 minutes before heading to class? The e-mail should have been sent far in advance. We had heard nothing from University officials until hours after the fugitive had taken cover on our tranquil campus.

Had the situation been different and the gunman shot someone, would the administration have acted more quickly and locked down the entire campus? Hours before Radnor Police called off the manhunt at 10:20 a.m. and deemed it safe to enter campus, students were arriving for morning classes, completely unaware of the potential presence of an armed fugitive. I personally witnessed – I was in Mendel at the time – oblivious students walking from West Campus to Main Campus at about 8:15 a.m., hours before the campus was deemed safe. Neither school officials nor Radnor Police had any concrete information that the “armed and dangerous” gunman wasn’t somewhere on Main Campus; students could have been unwittingly walking into a death trap.

If a double murder at VT could just hours later turn into a bloodbath, why couldn’t the Villanova gunman have done the same? This was a possibility that was apparently overlooked by our administration. In response to allegations of slow administrative action, Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president for Student Life, told The Villanovan, “In this case, we would’ve rather have been slow with information than offering bad security.” First, I ask, how could the quick release of information possibly lead to bad security? Second, isn’t quickly releasing the information the most obvious method of offering good security if it will help prevent a run-in with an on-campus gunman?

I am not directly blaming individuals for the lack of administrative communication with the university communities; I am merely calling much-needed attention to the state of emergency communication methods currently in place at institutions like Villanova and VT. How many more gun-toting criminals wandering on to our quiet campus will it take before someone decides to fix the system? For me, it’s already been too many.


Chris Lisi a sophomore biology major from Dix Hills, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected]