CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. — The parents of two Virginia Tech students killed in a 2007 campus massacre worked for years to prove university officials were negligent for waiting to warn students of a gunman on campus, and a jury agreed with them on Wednesday.
After the verdict, the parents said their persistence is what their daughters would have wanted. They were the only eligible families to reject their share of an $11 million dollar settlement in 2008, instead taking the state to court in a wrongful death lawsuit. The move all but guaranteed less money and more of a legal struggle, but the families said that getting answers mattered the most.
"When you know that something is right you're not deterred from your course," said Celeste Peterson, whose daughter Erin died in the mass shooting that was the deadliest in modern U.S. history. "We wanted the truth from the very beginning and we got it. All I know is today we got what we wanted."
The civil lawsuit that Peterson and her husband filed along with the parents of Julia Pryde was the last pending litigation over the mass shootings. The state is expected to appeal the verdict, as it did a separate fine handed down by federal education officials. No criminal charges were brought in the shootings. It's not clear if any more civil lawsuits will be filed.
It took jurors 3½ hours on Wednesday to find that university officials botched their response to the massacre on April 16, 2007, that left 33 people including the gunman dead. The jury determined that the Prydes and Petersons each deserved $4 million, but the award is likely to be sharply reduced. State law requires it to be capped at $100,000.
Still, the amount of the award mattered little to the two families.
"We were looking for truth for a long time," Harry Pryde said outside the courthouse that's less than 10 miles from Tech's Blacksburg campus. "We persevered and we got some truth today."
The parents' lawsuit argued that lives could have been spared if school officials had moved more quickly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in a dorm. The massacre ended later in the morning with the deaths 31 more people, including the gunman, at a classroom building.