A year after she lost her son Ross in the Virginia Tech shootings, Lynnette Alameddine is fighting for legislation that would require universities to issue campus emergency notifications in 30 minutes or less. She is also advocating sensible gun control laws.
A year after she lost her son Ross in the Virginia Tech shootings, Lynnette Alameddine is fighting for legislation that would require universities to issue campus emergency notifications in 30 minutes or less.
Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech. One of the 33 victims of the deadliest school shooting in this country’s history was Ross Alameddine, 20, a Saugus resident and college sophomore known for his sharp wit and uncanny ability to make people laugh.
In a recent interview, Lynnette Alameddine declined to reflect upon Ross’s death and its affect on her family for personal reasons.
But she found the courage during an emotionally draining week to talk about the causes she is championing so other parents do not have to experience the same heartbreak.
Over the last few months Alameddine has been working closely with Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to improving student safety at institutions of higher learning.
Security on Campus wants to strengthen the Jeanne Clery Act that requires colleges to warn their campuses about crimes that present ongoing threats in a “timely” manner.
The problem with the federal legislation, Alameddine explained, is the act fails to define what “timely” means. As a result, warnings are sometimes issued many hours after a university becomes aware of an emergency, or even the next day.
History shows that colleges do not always follow the guidelines of the Clery Act. Alameddine mentioned one particularly troublesome case at Eastern Michigan University when a coed was found raped and murdered in a residence hall, but officials issued a statement that no foul play was suspected in her death.
Alameddine and Security on Campus hope Congress revises the Clery Act so universities must initiate a warning process within 30 minutes of an emergency being confirmed.
Thus far Alameddine said a bill has been introduced at the House to include the 30-minute time limit in the renewed Higher Education Amendments of 2008, but no such clause exists in the legislation being worked on at the Senate level.
“There has been a lot of resistance from university presidents who don’t feel they can complete the notifications in that amount of time,” Alameddine said.
Mere minutes can mean the difference between life and death when a threat of a shooter surfaces on a college campus, Alameddine pointed out. In the case of the Virginia Tech Tragedy, two hours passed between the discovery of the shooter’s first two victims in a dormitory and when the university sent out its alert.
Alameddine traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to share her concerns with an advisor on Sen. Edward Kennedy’s staff and the vice president of Security on Campus. Her daughter, Yvonne, has become the president on Facebook for the Students for Emergency Warnings in 30 Minutes or Less.
A decision on the specific language included in the Higher Education Amendments is expected by the end of the month.
With this looming deadline in mind, the Alameddines are encouraging the public to call or e-mail their senators to request they support the mandatory campus warning provision of 30 minutes or less. For more information on this cause, log on to www.securityoncampus.org.
“I think this has the potential to prevent tragedies from happening,” Alameddine said. “It is shocking that colleges and universities don’t notify people about emergencies on campus.”Advocating gun control
Another concern of Alameddine’s is how easy it can be to secure a firearm. Earlier this month she attended a gala in the nation’s capital sponsored by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that strives to enact and enforce sensible gun laws.
The gala featured a special tribute to the survivors and families affected by the Virginia Tech shooting. Also honored was Abby Spangler, a Virginia native and staunch gun control supporter affiliated with the Web site www.protesteasyguns.com.
After the Virginia Tech shootings, Spangler took it upon herself to hold a silent protest expressing outrage over the senseless loss of human life. The movement eventually evolved into a phenomenon culminating with the National Lie-In.
On April 16, the grassroots group organized 80 lie-ins in 31 states. To honor the memory of the Virginia Tech victims, Alameddine said each protest involved 32 people — signifying the number of students and teachers killed by shooter Cho Seung-Hui — who dressed in black with Virginia Tech colors and laid down for three minutes.
“That’s how long it takes someone to get a gun in this country,” Alameddine said.
Several lie-ins were held in the Boston area, including a silent protest organized at Simmons College by Katie McKendrey, a close friend of Ross Alameddine’s.
From the research she has conducted, Alameddine said it is alarming how effortless it is for people to purchase guns. She hopes to close the existing loophole that allows private dealers at gun shows to sell firearms to customers without conducting a background check.
According to statistics collected by www.protesteasyguns.com, approximately 40 percent of sales at the 5,000 gun shows held every year in this country are made by unlicensed sellers who aren’t required to perform background checks.
At last count 35 states had yet to close this loophole. Alameddine is convinced the time has come to take action and close the loophole so the guns used in crimes no longer find their way into the wrong hands.
Although Alameddine acknowledged the need to respect the rights of the National Rifle Association, she said precautions should be taken so firearms are kept away from dangerous individuals and off college campuses.
Gun control laws differ considerably from state to state, which Alameddine noted can lead to troubling circumstances where common sense isn’t always taken into account. For example, she expressed concern over finding out some universities allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus.