It's still too early to dwell on what Virginia Tech security officials could have done to prevent a troubled student from going on a killing rampage on Monday.
That's what U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said yesterday, after speaking to college law enforcement officials from around the country who are meeting in Philadelphia this week.
"We still have to allow these victims and their families time to deal with this trauma," Meehan said.
Soon enough, it will be time for law enforcement to focus on how to improve public warning systems to alert college communities of emergencies, he said.
Meehan didn't focus on the Virginia Tech shootings in his talk to more than 200 campus police and public-safety officials attending the training conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City.
He only noted that the coincidence of having the seminar take place the same week of the nation's worst college mass killing spree made the purpose for the conference "dramatically more resonant."
The conference was sponsored by Security on Campus, Inc. and the U.S. Justice Department.
Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 others before killing himself on Monday.
College law enforcement officials are here to learn more about complying with the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law requiring university and college officials to keep statistics about crime on campus and to make those stats known to students, prospective students and their families.
Steven J. Healy, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said that "in an ideal world" perhaps some of the Virginia Tech murders could have been prevented.
But Healy, who also is director of public safety at Princeton University, said that in an ideal world all of the systems would be in place to identify students suffering from a mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others and to place those students in an appropriate hospital setting.
At the same time, he said, security officials have to weigh the best ways to keep a campus safe while also allowing "an open campus where people can move about with freedom."
"It's a challenge," Healy said.
One of the participants, William Ferguson, associate director of the Office of Public Safety at Ithaca College, in Ithaca, N.Y., said security officials there immediately began talking about how to improve campus warnings if a shooter were on the loose.
He said some are talking about implementing a "reverse 911" notification system to alert students of an emergency by cell phones.
"But there's no law requiring students to give the administration their cell phone numbers," he said.
Only one person was outright critical of Virginia Tech security.
Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, said Virginia Tech should have cancelled classes immediately after the dormitory homicides.
Bath said she is doing the work she does because her 20-year-old son died in a drinking-related incident at Duke University in 1999.