State and federal investigators were sifting through the deranged ramblings and disturbing images of a Virginia college student Thursday, looking for anything that could give them a better grip on why the young man committed the worst act of gun violence in the nation’s history.
Monday morning, sometime after he killed two people in a dormitory at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, 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.
Cho, 23, a senior English major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, killed 32 people in the two attacks before taking his own life.
In the 1,800-word manifesto-like statement, Cho expresses rage, resentment and a desire to get even — but with whom, he does not say.
The material does not include any images of the shootings Monday, but it does contain what appear to be indirect references, most notably this, recorded as Cho looked chillingly into his video camera: “When the time came, I did it. I had to.”
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.
Gunman’s message hits campusIn Blacksburg, students reacted with disgust and disbelief to news of the materials.
“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.”
Nick Jeremiah, 34, a graduate student, said: “That’s crazy. He kills two people and then goes to the post office and then he’s ready for round two? It’s creepy."
“He just goes on and on — that’s got to be more than he’s spoken, ever,” Jeremiah told Reuters. “I thought, ‘Well, he does talk.’ ”
Karan Grewall, one of Cho’s roommates, said Cho appeared to have shot the videos in their shared home.
“It looks exactly like our common areas where we hang out every day,” Grewall told MSNBC-TV’s Joe Scarborough. “I can’t be sure, but the walls look exactly like our suite.”
“This may be a very new, critical component of this investigation,” said Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of Virginia State Police, the lead agency investigating the shootings. “We’re in the process right now of attempting to analyze and evaluate its worth.”
Why wasn’t he stopped?
Other questions were being raised 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 committed briefly for psychiatric evaluation by a Virginia magistrate.
And yet, Cho 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 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 woman 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.
To issue a detention order under Virginia law, a magistrate must find both that the subject is “mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or treatment” and that the subject is “an imminent danger to himself or others, or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for himself.”
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.” Cho was released.
Under the law, the magistrate could have issued a stronger detention order mandating inpatient treatment, but there was no indication Wednesday that such an order was ever entered. 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 in the documents.
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 Wednesday 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 thatm 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.”