RUTGERS — Five years after his 23-year-old son was among 32 people gunned down by a fellow student at Virgina Tech, Michael Pohle Sr. stepped to a microphone on Monday in Newark and expressed hope regarding newly proposed campus safety legislation.
The Michael Pohle Jr. Campus Emergency Alert Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would significantly increase penalties for colleges and universities that fail to timely and effectively warn students about a campus emergency.
Named for Pohle’s son, the bill also would allocate the fines collected to a special fund within the Department of Education dedicated to campus safety.
“My wife, Teresa, and I hope this bill will help institutions of higher learning to set their compasses, get their priorities straight and ensure that safety is their top concern,” said Pohl, of Flemington, who worked with Menendez on the legislation. “This bill sends a clear message to colleges that they must comply with emergency notification requirements. In honor of our son, Michael Pohle Jr., all of those who died or were wounded on April 16, 2007, and for all victims of campus crime, we will push for passage of this legislation to ensure our campuses are safe for our children.”
Menendez unveiled the legislation at Rutgers University Law Center in Newark, where he also was joined by Harry and Karen Pryde of Middletown, whose daughter, Julia, also was killed at during the Virginia Tech attack.
The parents of the third New Jersey victim, Matthew La Porte of Dumont, were attending the memorial at Virginia Tech.
Five years ago on Monday, Seung Hui-Cho killed two people in a Virginia Tech dorm room at about 7:15 am. More than two hours later, he began a shooting spree across campus. When it was over, he had killed 32 people and himself, and injured at least 17 others, making it the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in history.
In the two-hour gap between the two shootings, the university failed to warn students of the initial shootings, to cancel classes or to alert them that the killer was still at large.
Michael Pohle Jr. was killed during the second round of shootings.
Virginia Tech drew intense criticism after the massacre for its failure to quickly warn students of the initial attack. The U.S. Department of Education fined Virginia Tech $55,000, the highest amount the federal government can levy under The Clery Act, which requires annual campus safety plans and timely notice of crimes committed on campus.
The Michael Pohle Jr. Campus Emergency Alert would increase civil penalties for institutions of higher education that fail to comply with The Clery Act. Currently, schools face a $27,500 fine per violation. This fine would increase to between 2 percent and 10 percent of the school’s Department of Education funding, excluding funds they receive for Direct Loans to students.
“In today’s university system, in which a college’s endowment can exceed a billion dollars, the threat of a meager fine is simply not enough to make some schools comply with the law,” Menedez said.
Also on Monday, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., issued a statement marking the fifth anniversary of the tragedy. He also mentioned his own proposed legislation to close the “Gun Show Loophole,” which allows guns to be sold, even to criminals and terrorists, without background checks at gun shows.
“Today, we remember the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, including three young students from New Jersey,” Lautenberg said in a news release. “These promising lives were taken from us at the hands of a deranged gunman. On this anniversary, we must pledge to do all we can to eliminate senseless violence and save lives. Despite special interests working against even the most commonsense reforms, we can defy the odds and take steps that make our country safer from the scourge of gun violence.”
Lautenberg’s bill would require that sellers at gun shows perform the same background checks that licensed gun dealers are required to perform under the Brady Law.
View the original article at the Asbury Park Press.