Richmond, Va. With anguished parents demanding his firing, Virginia Tech's president bristled at suggestions Thursday that he bears responsibility for the bloodbath on campus, calling it a crime "unprecedented in its cunning and murderous results."
At a news conference where he was grilled about an independent panel's conclusion that lives could have been saved had the school warned the campus sooner that a killer was on the loose, Charles Steger suggested there may have been nothing anyone could have done to stop the April 16 rampage by gunman Seung-Hui Cho that left 33 people dead.
"No plausible scenario was made for how this horror could have been prevented once he began that morning," Steger said.
He said he will neither resign nor ask the Virginia Tech police chief to quit, despite demands by some of the victims' families that he and others be held accountable for the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
"In my view of the world, the buck stops at the top," said William O'Neil, whose son Daniel was among the students slain. "I think that in this case, his lack of leadership and his lack of compassion for the families is just astounding."
It took administrators more than two hours to get the first e-mail warning out after Cho killed two people in a dormitory. In the interim, Cho mailed off a video confession to NBC and then made his way across the Blacksburg campus to a classroom building, where he killed 30 more victims and committed suicide.
Steger said that during those two hours, administrators carefully considered how to deal with the first burst of gunfire, including a warning or a complete campus lockdown.
In the end, according to the report, administrators concluded that the shooting was a boyfriend-girlfriend dispute and that the gunman had probably left the campus. Also, the report noted, they were afraid of causing panic, as happened at the start of the school year, when the first day of classes was called off because an escaped murder suspect was on the loose near campus.
Asked whether he would have done anything differently that day, Steger said no.
"I am not aware of anything the police learned that would have indicated that a mass murder was imminent," he said. "The panel researched reports of multiple shootings on campuses for the past 40 years and no scenario was found in which the first murder was followed by a second elsewhere on campus. Nowhere."
The panel, appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, released its report late Wednesday, and Kaine said he was standing by Steger and other top administrators and not pressing for their firing because they have suffered enough.
"This is not something where the university officials, faculty, administrators have just been very blithe," Kaine said. "There has been deep grieving about this, and it's torn the campus up."
Instead, he said he would focus on preventive measures, such as better communication between the parents of troubled children and the colleges they are planning to attend.