In Wake Of Virginia Tech Massacre, NJ Senator Unveils Campus Alert Bill [AUDIO]
Five years ago 32 people were killed in the Virginia Tech shootings, including three students from New Jersey. A bill unveiled by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) aims to better protect students from harm on college campuses.
Virginia Tech drew intense criticism after the massacre for its failure to quickly warn students of the initial attack, which could have saved lives. The University was later fined only $55,000 for failing to provide timely warning of the emergency.
"We must redouble our efforts to make sure our children are protected when we send them off to college," said Menendez. "In today's university system, in which a college's endowment can exceed a billion dollars, the threat of a meager fine is simply not enough to make some schools comply with the law. The Michael Pohle Jr. Campus Emergency Alert Act says simply: ensuring the safety of our children is not optional."
Named for 23-year-old victim Michael Pohle Jr. of Flemington, the Michael Pohle Jr. Campus Emergency Alert Act will significantly increase penalties for colleges and universities that fail to timely and effectively warn students about a campus emergency. It would also allocate the fines collected to a special fund within the Department of Education dedicated to campus safety.
Michael and Teresa Pohle, the parents of Michael Jr, joined Menendez for the announcement and had asked Senator Menendez to work to see these changes put in place for safer campuses.
"My wife Teresa and I hope this bill will help institutions of higher learning to set their compasses, get their priorities straight and ensure that safety is their top concern," said Michael Pohle Sr. who worked with Menendez on the legislation.
"This bill sends a clear message to colleges that they must comply with emergency notification requirements. In honor of our son, Michael Pohle Jr., all of those who died or were wounded on April 16, 2007, and for all victims of campus crime we will push for passage of this legislation to ensure our campuses are safe for our children."
Menendez was also joined by Harry and Karen Pryde of Middletown, whose daughter Julia was killed during the attack at the University. The parents of the third New Jersey victim, Matthew La Porte of Dumont, were attending the memorial at Virginia Tech.
"We are confident that if the proper alert had been in place, our daughter would be alive today" said Harry Pryde.
"Kids like Julia and Mike nonchalantly walked to their morning classes in Norris Hall and were basically butchered" said Pohle, Sr.
Five years ago, Seung Hui-Cho killed two individuals in a Virginia Tech dorm room at approximately 7:15 am. More than two hours later, he began a shooting spree across campus. When it was over, he had killed 32 people and himself, and injured at least 17 others, making it the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in history. In the two hour gap between the two shootings, the university failed to warn students of the initial shootings, to cancel classes, or to alert them that the killer was still at large. Michael Pohle Jr. was killed during the second round of shootings.
Virginia Tech did not follow their then-existing Emergency Response Plan requirement to issue a timely warning of a threat on campus. It was also out of date. The Dept. of Education fined Virginia Tech $55,000 for two violations.
"Looking back, Virginia Tech could have and should have done much more to ensure the safety of the students and the faculty" said Menendez.
Michael Pohle Jr, Campus Emergency Alert Act
The bill increases civil penalties for institutions of higher education that fail to comply with the Clery Act which requires annual campus safety plans and timely notice of crimes committed on campus. Currently, schools face a $27,500 fine per violation. This fine would increase to between 2% and 10% of the school's Department of Education funding, excluding funds they receive for Direct Loans to students.
The bill would allocate the funds raised through the collection of the fines to a special fund within the Department of Ed dedicated to assisting with promotion of campus safety.
"How many more dead and wounded bodies are we going to see before the talk ends and additional actions are taken" Pohle said.