By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 4/20/2007 7:08:48 PM ET 2007-04-20T23:08:48

Authorities sifting through the deranged ramblings and disturbing images of a Virginia college student who carried out the worst act of gun violence in the nation’s history concluded Thursday that the material, which was sent this week to NBC News, added little to their investigation.

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

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.

“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,” Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of Virginia State Police, the lead agency investigating the shootings, said in a brief statement Thursday.

That turned attention to NBC’s decision to broadcast the 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.”

“The pain suffered by the Virginia Tech community and indeed the entire country is immeasurable,” it said.

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.

On another of the videos, he laments: “I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run ... It’s not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you f---, I did it for them.”

And 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.

In Blacksburg, students reacted with disgust and disbelief, as well as with anger at NBC for airing the killer’s message.

“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.

“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,” TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira said.

An MSNBC.com message board was inundated with more than 2,000 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?
Authorities reported Thursday afternoon that eight people remained in area hospitals. None of the patients was critically wounded, but doctors said some could face extensive rehabilitation.

Virginia Tech officials, meanwhile, 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.

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.

Over the past 16 months, 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 e-mail messages to them. And he was ordered to submit to psychiatric evaluation by a Virginia court.

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
Researchers who have studied previous shootings in the nation’s schools told MSNBC.com that Cho fit a familiar pattern : Even though he concerned many of his associates, he never made explicit threats, even as he was carefully planning his attack.

As early as 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.

The two women complained to campus police that Cho was contacting them with “annoying” telephone calls and e-mail messages in November and December 2005, campus Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.

Cho was referred to the university’s disciplinary system, but 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.

According to a doctor’s report accompanying the order, which was obtained by NBC News, Cho was “depressed,” but “his insight and judgment are normal.” The doctor, a clinical psychologist, noted that Cho “denies suicidal ideations” and concluded that while he could pose a threat to himself, he posed no threat to others. Cho was released.

A spokesman for Carilion St. Albans told NBC News that he could not discuss Cho’s case because of patient confidentiality and privacy laws, but he said the hospital was cooperating with the investigation.

Campus police applied Wednesday for search warrants for all of Cho’s medical records from Schiffert Health Center on campus and New River Community Services in Blacksburg.

“It is reasonable to believe that the medical records may provide evidence of motive, intent and designs,” investigators wrote.

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. It said that Sun-Kyung Cho was “palpably upset” when it contacted her and that she refused its requests for an interview.

Student concerned classmates, teachers
Her brother, however, was described as a sullen loner by several students and professors. They had long been alarmed by his class writings — pages filled with twisted, violence-drenched writing.

Nikki Giovanni, the famous poet who is a professor at Virginia Tech, said that while she did not fear for her life or the lives of her other students, she had Cho removed from her class because he was a disruptive force.

“He was mean,” Giovanni told NBC News. “He was trying to bully me. He was trying to bully the class, for what purpose I have no idea.

“I wanted him out of my classroom,” she said.

Roy, who took on Cho one-on-one after that, called Cho “a gifted student in some ways. But he was very lonely and depressed, in my opinion. We didn’t build up a rapport because he wasn’t the kind of student who would permit that.”

NBC’s Pete Williams in New York, Jim Popkin in Radford, Va., and Steve Handelsman in Blacksburg, Va., and MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman in Blacksburg contributed to this report.

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