ROANOKE, Va. — Recently discovered mental health records released on Wednesday contain no obvious indications that the Virginia Tech gunman was a year and a half away from committing the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history.
The records contain previously unseen handwritten notes from the counselors who talked to Seung-Hui Cho in 2005, and in one report Cho denied having any suicidal or homicidal thoughts. On April 16, 2007, Cho killed 32 students and faculty members on the Blacksburg, Va., campus and took his own life.
The counselors' notes indicate they were concerned for the troubled student, but the records don't contain any evidence that they saw serious warning signs to believe Cho would commit violence.
The missing files were released almost five weeks after they were discovered at the home of the former director of the university's counseling center.
Last therapy session was in 2005
University officials have said Cho talked to two therapists during 45-minute telephone triage sessions in the fall, then made one court-ordered 45-minute in-person visit that December.
Cho denied the homicidal thoughts in the telephone sessions and in the in-person meeting with counselor Sherry Lynch Conrad on Dec. 14, 2005. Cho met with Conrad at Cook Counseling Center after being detained in a mental hospital overnight because he had expressed thoughts of suicide.
"He denies suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts. Said the comment he made was a joke. Says he has no reason to harm self and would never do it," Conrad wrote.
That was Cho's last contact with the counseling center. The counselor wrote that she gave him emergency contact numbers and encouraged him to return the next semester in January, but he didn't make an appointment.
Counselor finds records in July
Edward J. McNelis, an attorney for Conrad and the counselors who spoke with Cho by phone, declined to disclose his clients' whereabouts and said he had advised them not to comment because they are named in civil lawsuits filed by two of the victims' families.
The files first turned up July 16, when former Cook Counseling Center Director Robert C. Miller found them in his home while preparing for one of those civil suits, which names him as a defendant.
Miller said in a court filing that the Cho records were in a manila folder along with several others, and he packed it up with his personal documents in late February or early March 2006 when he transferred from the center to another position at the university.
Cho family approves records' release
The files were released by Virginia Tech after the approval of Cho's family. It was their decision whether to release them because of privacy laws.
"My mother, father and I all agree that it is the correct thing to do to release the newly discovered medical records of my brother," Cho's sister, Sun Cho, said in a letter authorizing the release.
University spokesman Mark Owczarski said with the release of the records the school was seeking to provide the victims' families "with as much information as is known about Cho's interactions with the mental health system."
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in a statement he was pleased that the Cho family wanted the records released and that his administration remained committed to openness about events surrounding the mass shootings.
"We will never fully comprehend what led Seung-Hui Cho to carry out his assault on his fellow students and instructors," Kaine said. "His actions were by nature inexplicable, and I don't expect the questions surrounding the tragedy will ever really end."
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