The Virginia Tech Tragedy: 10 Years Later

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — This week, 10 On Your Side is remembering the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, and looking at what has changed and hasn’t changed when it comes to gun laws and mental health care.

The man who was governor of Virginia on that tragic day still continues to fight to change the law.

Ten years later, the memories are still fresh for former Governor Tim Kaine, who had just left the country on an economic mission trip with Virginia business leaders. He still recalls his chief of staff knocking on the door of his hotel room in Japan at midnight.

“He told me there’s a shooting underway, some people have been killed, we don’t know too much about it,” said Kaine. “And I said to my state police, ‘Find the next flight back home.’”

So many lives were changed by one unforgettable, undeniably tragic event. Thirty-two innocent lives lost and within 48 hours, Kaine had put together an eight-person panel to try to figure out how something like this could happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

“The hospitals were just overflowing with people who had been injured and so we tried to visit everyone we could who was in the hospital,” said Kaine. “It was the worst day of my life. I had people telling me, ‘If you put together a panel and they come up with a report, it’s just going to be a blueprint for a lawyer to sue the university.’ I said, ‘I don’t care about that. I don’t care about that at all.  The only way to get something out of this is to try to learn every lesson we can and then make our campuses safer.’”

The panel was tasked with presenting their findings before the next legislative session. In this completed report from August of 2007, they detailed red flags and room for improvement to things like mental health protocols, emergency medical services response and campus policies such as notification systems — immediate issues that could be addressed and what would take time. While they were working, Governor Kaine did what he could by executive order.

“What’s it going to take?” said Kaine. “When are we going to learn? As I look back on it 10 years later, we made some advances in mental health. We made some advances in campus safety protocols. The one area where we haven’t made advances is a really comprehensive background record check system.”

A still bitterly divisive issue as most of now Senator Kaine’s colleagues in Washington admit it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of violence. But supporters believe a reduction in incidents is a good start. The report by the Virginia Tech Review panel has been used at schools across the country since 2007 to create their own active shooter emergency protocols modeled after it.

“I still have a feeling of a huge amount of unfinished business,” said Kaine.

Senator Kaine will return to Virginia Tech this weekend for an observance. He says he’s kept in close contact with many of the families of the victims who died and he’s seen many of the survivors go on to become advocates still fighting for change.