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Virginia Tech victims divided on settlement

The families of the 32 killed have mixed reactions on the monetary proposal.

.RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Those close to the victims of the Virginia Tech mass shootings offered mixed reactions Tuesday to a proposed multimillion-dollar state settlement and whether it will properly honor their loved ones.

Families of the victims have until Monday to say whether they’ll accept the settlement, which would give $100,000 to representatives of each of the 32 killed and ensures that families will have the chance to talk to the governor and university officials about the shootings.

Under the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, $800,000 would be available to injured victims. They and the families of those killed could seek additional money from a $1.75 million hardship fund.

Roger O’Dell, whose son Derek was among two dozen wounded April 16, said while he considers the proposal a very reasonable offer, he is concerned about how the money would be split among the survivors. The proposal only states that the money would be distributed “based on a matrix acceptable to the commonwealth, with a maximum payment of $100,000 to any individual.”

“I’m inclined to believe this will not be settled by April 15,” O’Dell said. “I think there are too many question marks in the proposed offer.”

Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally disturbed student, killed two people in a dormitory just after 7 a.m. University officials did not send an e-mail alert until more than two hours later – just before Cho killed 30 others in a classroom building across campus and then committed suicide.

Twenty-two families have filed notice with the state that they may sue. They have until April 16 to file. Families of all deceased victims and the survivors would be eligible for a payout under the settlement.

By accepting the proposal, family members would give up the right to sue the state government; Virginia Tech; the town of Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech is located; Montgomery County; and the New River Valley Community Services Board, which provides mental-health services in the area.

Cho had been ruled a danger to himself during a court commitment hearing in 2005 and was ordered to receive outpatient mental health care. He never received the treatment.

Diane Strollo, whose daughter Hilary was shot three times but is back at Virginia Tech, said she believed the negotiations were ongoing.

“The families want accountability, justice and change,” she said. “We have yet to see it.”

O’Dell said there is no consensus among the families regarding the offer, though many feel it’s “good in a number of respects.”

“It’s totally across the board as to how people feel. Some people feel that there is no wrongdoing and therefore there’s no obligation by the state or the university to be paying anybody anything,” O’Dell said. “At the other end, there’s some who feel that this agreement – proposed settlement agreement – doesn’t go nearly far enough and there needs to be much more money put into it.”

The total cost of the proposed settlement, including attorneys’ fees and a $1.75 million fund for charities, comes to about $8.5 million, plus the cost of reimbursing and paying for medical and psychological treatment for victims’ families and survivors.

In October, the families and surviving victims received payments ranging from $11,500 to $208,000 from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, set up in the days after the shootings to handle donations that poured into the school.

In contrast to the Virginia Tech shootings, attorneys say there is little to indicate lawsuits might be pending against Northern Illinois University over its response to a Feb. 14 attack on campus. In that case, former student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall, killing five people before killing himself.

Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner, who has won several high-profile lawsuits, said the school might avoid being sued because there’s no indication of glaring shortcomings in its security response.

Police entered the NIU lecture hall just minutes after the shooting began, and the school launched its emergency alert system – sending out e-mails and posting messages on Web sites to notify students a possible gunman was on campus – before authorities could confirm the gunman acted alone and was dead.

Attorney Michael Helfand, who monitors Chicago’s legal scene for an online lawyers referral service, said attorneys would have been hotly pursing NIU lawsuits weeks ago if they thought they could win one.

There doesn’t appear to be talk about a settlement in NIU’s case similar to the one being offered in the Virginia Tech case.

“We have not had any such discussions,” NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said Tuesday.

She referred other questions to the school’s legal department. Messages left at the office were not returned Tuesday afternoon.

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