The families who sued the state, however, said getting answers mattered the most. They argued that lives could have been spared if school officials had moved more quickly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in a dorm. The massacre ended later in the morning with the deaths 31 more people, including the gunman, in a classroom building.
"When you know that something is right you're not deterred from your course," said Celeste Peterson, whose daughter Erin died in the mass shooting that was the deadliest in modern U.S. history. "We wanted the truth from the very beginning and we got it. All I know is today we got what we wanted."
The state, which was the lone defendant in the case, argued the university did all that it could with the information available at the time. President Charles W. Steger and other university officials said they initially believed the first two shootings were isolated instances of domestic violence, based on what police investigators told them.
"The university's contention has been all along, to quote president Steger, 'We did everything we could do,'" said Robert T. Hall, an attorney for the parents. "Obviously the jury didn't buy that."
The verdict was met by sobs from Celeste Peterson, while her husband Grafton appeared to quietly weep at the plaintiff's table. They later embraced each other. The Prydes were stoic, as they were most of the eight-day trial.
Circuit Judge William Alexander said it was the hardest case he had been a part of.
"My heart goes out to all of you," he said to the families of victims.
Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said after the verdict that the school would review the case with the attorney general before deciding on any further options.
"We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007," Owczarski said in a statement.