The gunman who shot 32 people to death before killing himself at a Virginia university was described Tuesday as a depressed and deeply disturbed young man whose “grotesque” creative writing projects led a professor to refer him for psychological counseling.
A day after the man, a 23-year-old senior English major, carried out the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, President Bush joined dozens of state and campus leaders to bring comfort to the students, faculty and staff of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.
“This is a day of sadness for our entire nation,” the president said.
Thirty-three people were confirmed dead after the bloodbath Monday, including the gunman, whom police identified as Cho Seung-Hui (pronounced Choh Suhng-whee), of Centreville, Va., a resident alien who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1992. Nine students remained in hospitals in stable condition Tuesday, MSNBC-TV’s Tucker Carlson reported.
Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said investigators searched Cho’s room in Harper Residence Hall and took away numerous documents. He would not describe the nature of the documents but said there was no evidence that Cho had left behind a suicide note.
The Washington Post and The New York Times, citing law enforcement sources, reported on their Web sites Tuesday night that investigators had found a rambling and somewhat incoherent note in Cho’s dorm room.
“It’s sort of a manifesto” attacking rich, spoiled students, one of the sources told The Post.
A second note was found near Cho’s body, also containing obscenities and denunciations of “rich kids,” the source told The Post.
It could not immediately be determined when the notes were written.
In a court affidavit seeking the search warrant, investigators said that when they discovered Cho’s body Monday in the classroom building where most of his victims were killed, they also found a “bomb threat note ... directed at engineering school department buildings.”
Police said Tuesday that there had been bomb threats on campus over the past two weeks but that they had not determined a link to the shootings.
After the shootings, all campus entrances were closed, and classes were canceled for the rest of the week.
Parents ignored administrators’ requests to stay away for now and flooded into Blacksburg to be with their children, NBC News’ Don Teague reported. Every hotel room within miles of the campus was booked Tuesday.
Man alarmed instructors, classmates
A Virginia Tech professor told NBC News that Cho’s creative writing was so disturbing that she referred him to the school’s counseling service, but he would not go. The professor, Lucinda Roy, the English Department’s director of creative writing, would not comment at length on Cho’s writings, saying only that in general they “seemed very angry.”
“I kept saying, ‘Please go to counseling; I will take you to counseling,’ because he was so depressed,” Roy said. But “I was told [by counselors] that you can’t force anybody to go over ... so their hands were tied, too.”
Fellow students in a playwriting class with Cho also noticed the dark and disturbing nature of his compositions.
“His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, told the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times.
“I remember one of them very well. It was about a son who hated his stepfather. In the play, the boy threw a chainsaw around and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a Rice Krispy treat,” Derry said.
Otherwise, Cho was a young man who apparently left little impression in the Virginia Tech community. Few of his fellow residents of Harper Hall said they knew the gunman, who kept to himself.
“He can’t have been an outgoing kind of person,” Meredith Daly, 19, of Danville, Va., told MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman.
In Centreville, the suburb of Washington where Cho’s family lived in an off-white, two-story townhouse, people who knew Cho concurred that he kept to himself.
“He was very quiet, always by himself,” said Abdul Shash, a neighbor. Shash said Cho spent a lot of his free time playing basketball and would not respond if someone greeted him. He described the family as quiet.
Rod Wells, a postal worker, said that characterization of Cho did not fit the man’s parents, who worked at a dry cleaners. He described them as “always polite, always kind to me, very quiet, always smiling. Just sweet, sweet people.”
“I talk to particularly everybody here,” Wells told NBC News. “So I guess nobody had any intimation that he was like that. I don’t think the parents did, because they were quite the opposite.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences, saying that there was no known motive for the shootings and that South Korea hoped the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”
Bush marks ‘day of sadness’
Virginia Tech began the recovery process Tuesday afternoon at a packed convocation in the school’s 10,000-seat basketball arena. So many people showed up that thousands of students watched the event on screens at Lane Field, the 50,000-seat football stadium.
After debating overnight whether his presence would cause too many logistical headaches, the president decided early in the morning to join Gov. Timothy Kaine, who flew back overnight from a trade mission in Asia, in speaking at the convocation to help comfort a university and town left reeling after the tragic events.
Bush said he and his wife, Laura Bush, “have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow.”
“Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate,” Bush said in somber six-minute address. “They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. ...
“I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected,” he added.
Kaine said the world had been inspired by the response of the campus and the surrounding community.
“It’s not just you that needs to maintain that spirit, but the world needs you to,” he said. “The world saw you and saw you respond in a way that builds community. The world needs that example before it.”
Zenobia Hikes, the university’s vice president for student affairs, captured that spirit when she said, “We will eventually recover, but we will never, ever forget.”
Nikki Giovanni, the widely known poet who is a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech, led a standing ovation for University President Charles Steger, whose administration has been criticized for waiting two hours before warning students and staff Monday that an armed killer was at large. A student at the convocation held a sign reading, “SUPPORT STEGER.”
Instead of leaving the arena after the service, hundreds of students remained in their seats cheering and chanting, “Let’s go, Hokies,” invoking the school’s mascot.
On Tuesday night as darkness fell, thousands , faculty and area residents poured into the center of campus to grieve together. They held thousands of candles aloft as speakers urged them to find solace in one another.
Most of the vigil was devoted to silence and quiet reflection. As the silence spread across the grassy bowl of the drill field, a pair of trumpets began to play taps. A few in the crowd began to sing Amazing Grace.
Ballistics evidence points to student
The massacre ended Monday morning with Cho’s suicide, stamping the campus in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains with unspeakable tragedy.
Wielding two handguns and carrying multiple clips of ammunition, Cho opened fire about 7:15 a.m. on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston, a high-rise coeducational dorm, then stormed Norris Hall, a classroom building a half-mile away on the other side of the 2,600-acre campus. Some of the doors at Norris Hall were found chained from the inside, apparently by the gunman.
Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that Cho’s fingerprints were found on the two guns used in the shootings. The serial numbers had been filed off. Flaherty said Cho bought the guns legally.
Federal law enforcement officials told NBC News that the first, a Walther P-22, was bought Feb. 9 at a pawnshop in Blacksburg.
The second, a 9mm Glock, was bought March 13 at a gun shop in Roanoke, about 25 miles from Blacksburg, they said. Cho presented an immigration card as identity when he paid about $570 for the gun, ammunition and a 15-round magazine, NBC’s Pete Williams reported.
As a permanent legal resident, Cho was eligible to buy the guns unless he had been convicted of a felony. Immigration officials told NBC affiliate WSLS-TV of Roanoke that they would not have approved renewal of his green card in late 2003 if he had a criminal record.
‘He didn’t say a single word’
As the gunman made his way through Norris Hall, students jumped from windows in panic.
Trey Perkins, who was sitting in a German class in Norris Hall, told MSNBC-TV on Monday that the gunman barged into the room about 9:50 a.m. and opened fire for about a minute and a half, squeezing off 20 to 30 shots.
The gunman first shot the professor in the head and then fired on the students, said Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va., a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “He didn’t say a single word the whole time.”
Angry students said there were no public-address announcements after the first shots. Many said they learned of the first shooting in an e-mail message that arrived shortly before the gunman struck again.
Steger, the university’s president, defended officials’ conduct, saying Monday that authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus.
Kaine, the governor, said after talking with Steger on Tuesday that he would appoint an “independent law enforcement authority” to review police agencies’ handling of the matter. He stressed that the move was routine and that no criticism should be read into his decision.