Retired colonel on mass shootings: ‘Sometimes we put our heads in the sand’

Posted at 7:44 PM, Sep 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-16 19:48:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Col. Gerald Massengill led Virginia State Police through the September 11th terrorist attacks, the D.C. sniper attacks and he headed a review panel in the aftermath of the mass shootings at Virginia Tech at the request of Governor Tim Kaine.

The April 2007 massacre claimed the lives of 33 people on campus, including gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

Massengill says Monday’s mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C., brings up sensitive memories and many parallels to Virginia Tech.

“Right away, you think of the people inside the building and what they were facing,” Massengill says.

D.C. Navy Yard shootings -- complete coverage


Shots were fired Monday morning at the U.S. Navy Yard building in Washington, killing at least 12 people and injuring several others.

Investigators say the suspect, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, was also killed.  Alexis was a military contractor and former Navy enlistee from Texas.

Massengill says while the investigation is in its preliminary stages, he says a majority of mass shootings can be linked to people with mental illness or suspects who are fighting for an emotional cause.   Massengill says the threat of domestic terrorism has become a harsh reality for Americans this day in age.

Records show that Alexis was previously charged on two separate accounts, one in Washington state and one in Texas, involving discharge of a firearm.

“Sometimes as Americans, we put our heads in the sand,” Massengill says. “We think we are in areas in our lives that are safe but we should have learned from Ft. Hood, that’s not the truth.”

Massengill says The Virginia Tech Review Panel, which carefully studied the causes and response to the massacre, made 70 recommendations to law enforcement and government agencies.

While it’s unclear whether any recommendations were followed by law enforcement Monday in Washington, Massengill says Connecticut State Police followed several recommendations in response to the Newtown school shootings last December, including assigning a state trooper to family members of the victims.

Massengill says opening up the line of communication was one of the most important recommendations that was adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country.

“So many times in law enforcement, we’re focused on the perpetrator and trying to solve this thing that we forget about the true victims and I think that was a lesson learned from Virginia Tech,” Massengill says.

Massengill says preserving the integrity of the crime scene will be a huge and meticulous undertaking for investigators in Washington, including the FBI, the ATF, and the Metropolitan Police Department.

Massengill says at Virginia Tech, investigators were tasked with gathering large amounts forensic evidence in Norris Hall, where 30 of the 32 victims died.

Having worked several government agencies in the past, including military personnel,  Massengill says he has complete confidence that the investigation will be handled carefully and professionally.

“The integrity of this crime scene, making sure nothing is contaminated and leaving it pure so it can speak for itself in a court of law, is extremely important,” Massengill says.

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