By /msnbc/Components/Interactives/_swf/highlightRecentUpdates.gif11873000truehttp://msnbcmedia.msn.comfalse1Pfalsefalse
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 4/15/2008 5:49:50 PM ET 2008-04-15T21:49:50

Long before he killed 32 people in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Cho Seung-Hui was bullied by fellow students at school who mocked his shyness and the strange way he talked, former classmates said.

Cho, 23, a senior English major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, killed 32 people in two attacks before taking his own life Monday. He sent a large multi-media package outlining his grievances against religion and the wealthy to NBC News, but police said Thursday that the material added little to their investigation.

The text, photographs and video in the package bristle with hatred toward unspecified people whom Cho, a South Korean immigrant, accused of having wronged him, adding to a portrait of a solitary man who rarely, if ever, managed normal social interactions.

Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech student who graduated with Cho from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., in 2003, recalled that Cho almost never opened his mouth and would ignore attempts to strike up a conversation.

Once, in an English class, the teacher had the students read aloud and, when it was Cho’s turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. Finally, after the teacher threatened him to give him a failing grade for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.

“As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Go back to China,’ ” Davids said.

Among Cho’s victims were Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson, who both graduated from Westfield High School last year. Police said it was not clear whether Cho singled them out.

‘The question mark kid’
Virginia Tech student Alison Heck said a suitemate of hers on campus found a mysterious question mark scrawled on the dry erase board on her door. The young woman went to the same high school as Cho, according to her Facebook page. Cho once scrawled a question mark on the sign-in sheet on the first day of a literature class, and other students came to know him as “the question mark kid.”

“I don’t know if she knew that it was him for sure,” Heck said. “I do remember that that fall that she was being stalked and she had mentioned the question mark. And there was a question mark on her door.”

Heck added: “She just let us know about it just in case there was a strange person walking around our suite.”

The young woman could not immediately be located for comment, via e-mail or telephone.

Regan Wilder, 21, who attended Virginia Tech, high school and middle school with Cho, said she was in several classes with Cho in high school, including advanced-placement calculus and Spanish. She said he walked around with his head down and almost never spoke. And when he did, it was “a real low mutter, like a whisper.”

Wilder said Cho was no friendlier in college, where “he always had that same damn blank stare, like glare, on his face. And I’d always try to make eye contact with him because I recognized the kid because I’d seen him for six years, but he’d always just look right past you like you weren’t there.”

Nation’s sympathy envelops college town
The focus Thursday slowly began turning away from the multimedia package Cho sent to NBC News on Monday after Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said the material added little to the investigation.

After killing two people in a Virginia Tech dormitory — but before he slaughtered 30 more in a classroom building, Cho mailed NBC News the long, profanity-laced diatribe along with dozens of photographs and videos, boasting: “When the time came, I did it. I had to.”

“While there was some marginal value to the package we received, the fact of the matter is ... the package merely confirms what we already knew,” Flaherty said in a brief statement Thursday.

Most attention returned to Blacksburg, where authorities reported Thursday afternoon that eight people remained in the hospital. None of the patients was critically wounded, but doctors said some could face extensive rehabilitation.

They also said their hospitals were being overrun with flowers — so many that they asked sympathetic well-wishers to stop sending them. Flower shops around Blacksburg said they were overwhelmed with orders.

The outpouring of emotion from around the world was felt by the entire city, more than half of whose population is made up of the university’s 26,000 students. Without them, residents say, Blacksburg would look much like the other small towns scattered among the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“It’s a family thing,'' said Debra Kilby, a lifelong Blacksburg resident.

With tears in her eyes, she showed off the Hokie orange-and-maroon ribbons she had made. “It symbolizes our love,” she said.

Virginia Tech officials said the students who were killed Monday would be awarded posthumous degrees at commencement ceremonies May 11. Other students who may have been traumatized by the shootings could be allowed to end the semester without consequences, they said.

Many question NBC’s handling of package
Meanwhile, journalists, law enforcement officials and ordinary Americans debated NBC’s decision to broadcast Cho’s hate-filled material and to publish more of it on MSNBC.com.

Flaherty said he appreciated NBC’s cooperation with investigators, but he said he was “rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images.”

“I’m sorry that you were all exposed to these images,” he said.

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 NBC’s TODAY program.

The network said in a statement later Thursday morning that it would limit its use of the video “across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime.”

Gunman’s message hits campus
In the 1,800-word manifesto-like statement , Cho expresses rage, resentment and a desire to get even — with whom, he does not say. It mentions “martyrs like Eric and Dylan” — apparently a reference to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenagers who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., eight years ago this Friday.

Virginia Tech students and their families reacted with disgust and disbelief , as well as with anger at NBC.

“I have some friends that survived in classrooms next door,” Susan Ivins, a Virginia Tech student, told NBC News. “And just knowing that they could have seen this man holding a gun to their face like that, it just breaks my heart.”

Michael and Peggy Herbstritt, the parents of Jeremy Herbstritt, who died in Monday’s shootings, were scheduled to be interviewed Thursday morning on TODAY, but they canceled their appearance after the material was aired.

An MSNBC.com message board was inundated with thousands of posts. Some of the responses praised the network for bringing Cho’s mental illness graphically to light, but most castigated NBC for seeming to give Cho the attention he wanted.

“I understand that the media needs to report on issues like this, and maybe showing a few of the less graphic pictures (not the ones with him pointing a gun at the camera, etc) would have been acceptable,” said one post Thursday afternoon. “The actions NBC took just make the media look dumb.”

Why wasn’t he stopped?
But predominantly, the discussion in Blacksburg was about how Cho could have slipped through the fingers of teachers, administrators and mental health professionals, all of whom raised red flags about him at one time or another.

Cho had been removed from one of his classes because he so frightened his teacher and classmates with his odd behavior and his violent, blood-drenched writings. He was referred to campus police by two women who were creeped out by his messages to them. And he was ordered to submit to psychiatric evaluation by a Virginia magistrate.

And yet, a psychiatrist who examined Cho found that he was not a danger to others, and he was never effectively intercepted along the way to his terrible rampage Monday.

“I think it’s crazy” that there are no stronger procedures for dealing with seriously troubled students, said Lucinda Roy, a co-director of creative writing at Virginia Tech, who tutored Cho after he was kicked out of a creative writing class in fall 2005.

“I think there needs to be a change,” Roy said in an interview with NBC News. “We must intervene, and that is all there is to it.”

Detention order issued
As early as November 2005, police and school administrators were wrestling with what to do with Cho, who was accused of sending inappropriate messages to two female students and was sent to a mental health facility after police obtained a temporary detention order.

Cho was referred to the university’s disciplinary system, but campus Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said the women declined to press charges, and the case apparently never reached a hearing.

However, after the second incident, the department received a call from an acquaintance of Cho’s, who was concerned that he might be suicidal, Flinchum said. Police obtained a temporary detention order from a local magistrate, and in December of that year, Cho was briefly admitted to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford.

A doctor’s report obtained by NBC News concluded that while Cho could pose a threat to himself, he posed no threat to others. Cho was released.

Family sought better life in U.S.
Cho arrived in the United States as an 8-year-old boy from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in an off-white, two-story townhouse in Centreville, Va., a suburb of Washington, where his parents worked at a dry cleaners. He graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly in 2003.

Cho’s family moved to the United States in search of a better life, said the family’s landlady in South Korea. The family was poor and lived in a cheap basement apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, the woman told South Korean television Wednesday.

Cho had an older sister, Sun-Kyung, who graduated from Princeton University with an economics degree in 2004, Princeton officials confirmed. The Princeton student newspaper reported that she is pursuing a career as a State Department contractor working on the reconstruction of Iraq.

One of Cho’s uncles , meanwhile, said the young man was a worry to his family because he did not speak much as a child. But there were no early indications that Cho had serious problems, the uncle, who requested to be identified only by his last name, Kim, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Seoul.

Alex Johnson and Bill Dedman of MSNBC.com; Pete Williams, Jim Popkin and Steve Handelsman of NBC News; and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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