Caltech mourns VT tragedy


Caltech mourns VT tragedy


By Yang Yang
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Some found out when they checked the morning news, only to be greeted with horror; others learned about it when concerned parents began calling. The rest discovered the gruesome news when fellow students began discussing it.

By lunchtime Monday, every student at Caltech was well aware of the two shootings which left 33 dead that occurred earlier that day at Virginia Tech.

"I first found out about this when my friend began talking about it at lunch," junior Henna Kermani said. "At first I couldn't believe it."

For Ricketts RA Amy Eastwood, a Virginia native, the shootings struck a little closer to home.

"My initial reaction was shock. I kept checking back [and] the number of casualties kept increasing and increasing. It was so sad, an RA was killed. He was a triple major, member of the band, 4.0 kind of guy. Why?" she asked.

Inevitably, some began to wonder about whether such a massacre could happen at Caltech.

"Obviously, I imagined whether or not it could happen here," sophomore Cliff Chang said. "It's the same as the reaction to Columbine, [you wonder] if any of the other students you don't really talk to is thinking about [shooting everyone]."

To address potential concern, a campus-wide gathering was held on Tuesday. There, chief of security Gregg Henderson and director of counseling Kevin Austin addressed the handful of people who showed.

Security looks to expand immediate notification list

According to Henderson, Caltech is one of the safest schools in the U.S. The campus has rarely seen violence, much less deadly shootings. The last fatal incident on campus occurred in April 1994; no students were involved or harmed in the event.

The Institute has emergency response plans for shooter situations, but Henderson could not disclose any details.

Coincidentally, Caltech emergency dispatchers underwent training two weeks ago for emergency conditions such as a shooter on campus.

"We just went through training with our dispatchers on those exact things, gathering information, making sure proper notifications [are made] to agencies outside of Caltech that we may need to bring in," Henderson said.

New mass notification system being put in place

A major concern raised by the Virginia Tech shootings is timely notification of crimes in hopes of preventing more harm.

The Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, better known as the Clery Act, mandates that universities "shall make timely reports to the campus community on crimes considered to be a threat to other students and employees ... that are reported to campus security or local law police agencies. Such reports shall be provided to students and employees in a manner that is timely and that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences."

In the case of Virginia Tech, mass emails were sent to students two hours after the first shooting, some argue that time gap was too long.

Caltech recently began subscribing to a mass notification system called ConnectEd, which is capable of sending alerts through email, phone and text message.

However, currently the system only sends notifications to members of the crisis management committee, a "representation from across the campus, from student affairs to faculty, to counseling," according to Henderson. Members include Dean John Hall, Assistant VP of student affairs Erica O'Neal, and Assistant VP of Campus Life Tom Mannion.

There has been talk of adding the rest of Caltech to the ConnectEd system.

"We anticipate beginning to populate ConnectEd with the entire campus, students, faculty, and staff in the near future," Henderson said. "[To do so] we will need community members to submit the various methods that ConnectEd uses for communication, including e-mail, home and campus phones, cell phones, and text to us. More information about the system will be provided as we move forward with the project."

The best course of action when one suspects a shooter is to inform security, not trying to intervene, according to Henderson.

"We are a very secure campus, I can provide security," he said. "I can put people out there to patrol the grounds... [but] people need to communicate with us, if you have something that feels suspicious, [if] your initial reaction is [that] something's not right, call us immediately, let us come in and figure out what's going on."

Counseling center emphasizes help, not fear for mentally ill

Austin emphasized prevention at the campus gathering on Tuesday. By identifying troubled individuals and getting them counseling and professional help, he said, violent incidents with trouble individuals can be prevented.

Changes in one's behavior may highlight deeper issues.

"It's easiest [to notice change] when you already have a relationship with a person, because you have a baseline of what's normal for them," Austin said. "Perhaps the person stopped going to class, stopped going to dinner, they seem much more pessimistic, quieter, less responsive [and] less interested than what they used to be."

The counseling center regularly handles students, 20% of the undergraduate population has been seen by the center, according to Austin. Most go to just talk about their issues, but three to 10 students a year are hospitalized for their own safety.

People with mental illnesses are not predisposed to violence and should not be treated like threats, Austin strongly stressed. These individuals need care, not fear.

"If you look at the Virginia Tech shooter, he was a loner and had a mental illness," Austin said. "Those two things alone don't predispose people to violence... [Things which may cause violent tendencies] are extreme trauma: witnessing something horrific, being an object of abuse or [the person is] subjected to violence themselves."

To reach out to someone who may be having trouble, Austin recommended opening a friendly conversation. Rather than trying to evaluate the person's mindset, just describe the changes the person is undergoing and express concern about the shift in behavior. Although one might think it's meddling to do so, the conversation may help immensely.

"The strength of this place is that students look out for one another, they should continue to do so," he said. "But sometimes there is reluctance to draw attention to someone needing help, encourage them to take the next step."


Original Source: <a href="">The California Tech - April 19, 2007</a>


Yang Yang




Sara Hood


Marissa Cevallos <>
editor-in-chief, The California Daily




Yang Yang, “Caltech mourns VT tragedy,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,