EDUCATION

Virginia Tech lawsuit: School officials defend actions

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) - Virginia Tech officials spent the last four days defending their actions during the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, telling opposing lawyers who peppered them with difficult questions that they did what they could under the grim circumstances.

Yet the father of one of the students slain in the April 16, 2007 campus attack tearfully explained how much of a difference a quicker response would have made.

"If they told the truth in the beginning, I wouldn't be here," Grafton W. Peterson, the father of Erin N. Peterson, told jurors. "Tell the truth."

Attorneys for the parents of slain students Julia K. Pryde and Erin N. Peterson concluded their presentation Friday to jurors in a wrongful death lawsuit against the state.

The suit seeks $100,000 for each family; a full official accounting of events on that day in which 33 people - including the gunman - died; and an apology from university President Charles Steger.

They said if Virginia Tech responded immediately after two students - Emily Hilscher and Ryan Clark - initially were shot in a dorm, others on campus - including the plaintiff's children - might have survived the killing spree of Seung-Hui Cho.

On Monday, attorneys representing the state are expected to begin their presentation in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The jury will weigh the arguments under a lower standard of proof than in a criminal trial.

During testimony on Friday, Steger denied that he erred on that tragic day.

"That's not my conclusion," he told attorneys for the parents. "We did the best we could ... based upon the information we had at the time."

Officials delayed sending a warning to avoid panic on campus and allow the university to identify the first two victims and contact their families, Steger said Friday.

Cho shot and killed those students in a dormitory before continuing his attack hours later at a classroom building.

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