by David S. Cariens

The tragedy at the Appalachian School of Law on January 16, 2002, far exceeds the death of three decent, innocent people and the wounding of three others.  The tragedy has brought home the extent to which elected officials, as well as members of the law enforcement and legal professions, are willing to avoid facing their failures and shortcomings; are willing to engage in disingenuous expressions of sympathy; and are willing to distort the truth in order to protect their careers and mask their lack of moral ethics and courage.  
Death is death, no matter where it occurs.   Lies are lies no matter where they occur.  The survivors of a calamity share a pain and agony that defies description.  The survivors have every right to hold people accountable for their actions or inactions; to hold politicians and law enforcement officials accountable for what they do and equally important—what they do not do. 

“The natural bureaucratic response is to be defensive.  Officials hide behind the veil of secrecy or national security, or executive privilege.  They fear embarrassment, personal or institutional.  Elected officials fear retribution from the electorate.  Yet demanding accountability from elected and appointed officials of the government, and insisting on revealing and correcting their shortcomings, are the most basic rights and duties of citizens in democracy.”
Craig R. Whitney, New York Times, Introduction to
The 9/11 Investigations, Public Affairs, New York, 2004

Mr. Whitney’s words concerning accountability are painful and poignant.  The truth is that all Americans believe they have “the right” to demand accountability, but in fact, the distance between “having the right” and “exercising that right” is nearly insurmountable.  
When put to the test, numerous elected officials and far too many members of the legal and law enforcement professions show that our beliefs and values mean little or nothing to them.  Values such as honesty, courage, integrity—and justice—frequently disappear in a fog of deceit, treachery, and bureaucratic incompetence.  The sad truth is that for many in positions of authority, spouting high ideals and swearing an oath to uphold these values is nothing more than a hollow and meaningless exercise.    
Our sense of pain and loss is just as great as that of every single family that lost a relative on September 11, 2001, yet we were and are on our own to find answers. The families of the victims of January 16, 2002, did not have a 9/11 Commission to force the truth, or force law school and government officials to admit their shortcomings. 
Many people in positions of authority in Virginia apparently believe that if they say something long enough, it will become the truth.  Worse yet, when their words fail them, when the facts are too overwhelming, they fall back on the most hurtful deception of them all—silence.
The true magnitude of the horrors of January 16, 2002 unfolded only gradually.  As Angela Dales’ family began struggling to get through the terrible aftermath of her murder—to ask questions—we were met with deceit, anger, and blatant covering up of incompetence. We received everything but answers. Everywhere we were confronted with disingenuous expressions of sympathy and support; half-truths; hypocritical offers of help; and worst of all—callous disregard for our feelings and the depth of our pain.
When the words of law enforcement and elected officials took on a pejorative, even a disparaging tone—our pain deepened.  These are the individuals we are supposed to hold in high regard, the individuals we turn to the find answers, to find “justice.”  We found neither.  We found intellectual fraud and deceit.
Our story is not unique; we are not the exception—we are the rule.  Whether one is survivor of Columbine, September 11, the Appalachian School of Law murders, or any senseless crime, the one thing a survivor asks for is something one rarely find—a modicum of honesty and truth.      
People in positions of authority, people we put our faith and trust in to protect us and to protect our civil rights—have misled and deceived us.  They play with words and demonstrate an unlimited capacity to rationalize the worst behavior.     
The intellectual bankruptcy and ethical cowardice that marked the period before 9/11, as well as through and beyond the decision to invade Iraq, are the same flawed characteristics that underscored the actions by school, local, and state officials in Virginia before and after the Appalachian School of Law shootings on January 16, 2002.  
No one is willing to admit that he or she made errors in judgment, certainly not the President of the Appalachian School of Law nor the school’s faculty and staff.  This stubborn clinging to fallacy in the face of overwhelming evidence of bad judgment and bad decisions—is a horrifying exercise in self-serving deception.
Some members of the power elite in Virginia want our questions to stop.  Perhaps this book will be nothing more than therapy for a man whose granddaughter has lost her mother in a school shooting.  On the other hand, if this book gets into print, it will be a wake-up call for every Virginian, every American who labors under the delusion that not all those who are sworn to uphold the law and who purportedly hold the public’s best interests at heart— in fact they do neither.  Some do, but unfortunately a large number do not.  
If anything good is to come from this tragic loss of life, it is to prevent other families from going through this agony, to prevent another life from being needlessly snuffed out. In some small way, I hope this book is a wake-up call to all readers.  A wake-up call to what is happening in Virginia specifically, and in this country in general.
When I told a friend I was writing the book, he said I had better hurry up because at least one other book is in the works.  That is not the point, I am not in a race with anyone else—this book is for Rebecca.  Hopefully, she will read this and find some solace, some comfort in knowing how deeply all of us feel her mother’s loss.  Perhaps my words can help in preventing the types of shootings that took her mother.  But realistically, it will be a long time before Virginians will adopt laws that prevent those who are mentally ill and those prone to violence from buying guns.  Generations may pass before Virginians realize they have been sold a bill of goods.  It may be an eternity before they realize that their lack of thought has put the lives of their children; their loved ones in jeopardy.   
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In the words of a mother who lost her marine son in Iraq:  “I don’t want this story to go away the next day….   It’s something we can’t forget.”mailto:dcariens@gmail.com?subject=About%20A%20Question%20of%20Accountabilityshapeimage_3_link_0