WASHINGTON - Sometimes pushing back tears, the parents of victims in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting testified Wednesday that they believe their children would have stayed in a safe place, far away from where they were later shot, if they had had more information from the university about a safety threat on campus.

That threat was connected to a double shooting in a campus dorm that morning.

An administrative judge is considering Virginia Tech's appeal of a $55,000 fine levied by the Education Department after the April 16, 2007, shootings, which left 33 dead, including the shooter.

The Education Department says the school violated the law by waiting more than two hours after two students were fatally shot in a dorm before sending out a warning by e-mail. By that time, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho was chaining the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more people and then himself.

The department also says the e-mail was too vague because it mentioned only a "shooting incident" but did not say anyone had died.

The parents described the chaos of that day as they frantically sought answers about whether their children were alive, dead, or injured. They said they believed their children would have stayed away if they had known about the potential danger, because their children had followed instructions to leave campus earlier that year when told of an escaped convict on campus.

Lori Haas, mother of injured student Emily Haas, said her daughter learned about the first shootings only when she got to class. She said that when she and classmates first heard the chaos, her daughter thought it was just construction noise.

Representing the university, Peter Messitt, a senior assistant attorney general for Virginia, said police responding to the initial report of shootings in a dormitory believed the victims were "targeted for a reason" in a domestic incident and thought the shooter had left campus.

The university says it acted appropriately in how it notified the campus. It says that it followed standard protocols in place on campuses then, and that the department is holding it to a higher standard now.