BLACKSBURG, Va. — Some family members of the victims killed at Virginia Tech canceled interviews with NBC News on Thursday because the television network aired video and photographs of the killer it received in the mail.
"We had planned to speak to some family members of victims this morning but they canceled their appearances because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images," said NBC’s TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira.
Seung-Hui Cho mailed photographs of himself posing with the guns he bought and video railing against rich kids and debauchery. The package to NBC was mailed after he killed his first two victims on Monday morning but before he cut down 30 more people in classrooms.
The images silenced crowds near campus when they were first broadcast on "NBC Nightly News" Wednesday night.
Some stared grimly at the screens. Many shook their heads. Others cried.
"Seeing those pictures — that just makes it more real," said Laura Sink, 22, an elementary education major, as tears rolled down her face. She was gathered with about 50 others at a restaurant just steps away from the campus where 32 people and Cho were killed Monday.
While NBC acknowledged that Cho's images and rants were likely devastating to the victims' families and that its news division was split over whether to air the material, NBC News President Steve Capus defended the decision to do so, arguing it only showed a small amount of the images they received.
NBC News President Steve Capus said Thursday that he understood that many people would disagree with his decision, acknowledging that “there is no way to look at without being profoundly upset, and it is incredibly disturbing.”
“Ever since we heard the first reports about what happened on that campus, we all wanted to know — and I’m not sure we’ll ever fully understand — why this happened, but I do think this is as close as we’ll come to having a glimpse inside the mind of a killer,” he said on TODAY.
‘It's just as he planned’
Most public places on Virginia Tech's campus were already quiet, because so many students have left for home. But a few gathered around a TV at a student center coffee shop on Wednesday night.
Heather Brennan, a master's student who watched the report in the campus student center, said, "It's just as he planned. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and he did it."
At Rivermill, a downtown restaurant, one patron objected strongly when the restaurant turned its television to NBC because she didn't want her 9-year-old daughter to see it.
"We turn her face away from the TV" to shield her as much as possible from news of the shootings, said Teresa McCartny of Blacksburg, her voice rising.
David F. Kibler, a professor of civil engineering who knew eight of the victims well, said he didn't see news footage of the items in the package sent to NBC — and didn't want to do so. But he said it was more proof that Cho was disturbed.
"It's clear that he murdered 32 people in cold blood. There's not much more to it than that," Kibler said. "It's difficult to explain this to anyone, especially to students who are trying to return to their studies."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.