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Two Virginia Tech victims' families file wrongful death lawsuits

By Matthew Ward

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (Reuters) - The families of two students slain in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre are seeking to hold the university accountable in a wrongful death lawsuit which got underway on Monday.

Jury selection was scheduled for day one of the expected week-long trial at Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg, Virginia, according to the office of plaintiff attorney Robert T. Hall.

In April 2007, a mentally deranged student shot dead 32 people and wounded 25 at Virginia Tech, before committing suicide. It was the deadliest attack by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The suit has been brought by the parents of Julia K. Pryde and Erin N. Peterson. According to memorial pages on the Virginia Tech website, Pryde, of Middletown, New Jersey, was studying biological systems engineering, while Peterson, of Chantilly, Virginia, was taking a course in international studies.

In a joint statement, the parents said their daughters and the 30 other students shot dead in the rampage, would still be alive today if the university had made them aware of the unfolding tragedy earlier.

"The morning of April 16, 2007 a university vice-president alerted the governor at 8.52 a.m., that the university had 'one dead, one wounded and a gunman on the loose.' Our daughters and the other students ... would be alive today if the information had been shared," it said.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said the litigation is "simply without merit."

Exhaustive investigations have failed to produce any evidence in support of the plaintiffs' assertion, he said. He predicted the outcome of the suit would affirm that the university's leaders had acted appropriately.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor)

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