The list of items the Virginia Tech gunman sold on eBay seems surprisingly benign.
He unloaded tickets to Hokies football and basketball games. He sold a graphics calculator he no longer needed.
But what Seung-Hui Cho bought on the online auction site is perhaps the most revealing.
Just three weeks before he committed the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Cho purchased ammunition clips for one of the types of gun he used in the bloody rampage that claimed the lives of 33 people, including his own.
The items Cho bought and sold online — which also included horror-themed books — helped reveal more about the 23-year-old killer on Saturday, as investigators continued poring over computer files to determine what motivated him.
A search warrant affidavit filed Friday stated that investigators wanted to search Cho’s e-mail accounts, including the address Blazers5505@hotmail.com. An eBay user with a Blacksburg address had the same name, and a company spokesman confirmed that it was Cho.
Gun accessories, books, a calculator
Blazers5505 bought two 10-round magazines for a Walther P22 — one of two handguns used in the massacre. The clips were bought March 22 from a gun shop in Idaho — a transaction that was legal.
“It’s apparent that he purchased the empty magazine clips,” eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said. “They’re similar to what could be purchased at any sporting goods store around the country.”
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said investigators are “aware of the eBay activity that mirrors” the Hotmail account.
On March 23, Cho apparently made a purchase from a seller named “oneclickshooting,” who sells gun accessories and other items. On other occasions, he sold a calculator that contained several games, along with many books about violence, death and mayhem. Several of those books were used in his English classes.
“The calculator was used for less than one semester then I dropped the class,” the seller wrote.
Durzy also confirmed that Cho sold books and tickets to sporting events.
Cho’s eBay rating was superb — 98.5 percent. That means he received one negative rating from people he dealt with on eBay, compared with 65 positive.
“Good buyer, prompt payment, valued customer, highly recommended,” wrote one user who sold an item to Cho.
“Great ebayer. very flexible,” wrote another who paid Cho $182.50 for a pair of tickets to the Peach Bowl between Virginia Tech and the University of Georgia.
Cho apparently left user ratings of his own, usually terse statements such as “Honest. Good to work with,” “Good buyer,” and “Have not received item. Won't respond.”
Online dealings called ‘very revealing’
The eBay account demonstrates the prime role computer forensics and other digital information have played in the investigation. Authorities are examining the personal computers found in Cho’s dorm room and seeking his cell-phone records.
An examination of a computer is “very revealing, particularly for a person like this,” said Mark Rasch of FTI Consulting, a computer and electronic investigation firm. “What we find ... particularly with people who are very uncommunicative in person, is that they may be much more communicative and free to express themselves with the anonymity that computers and the Internet give you.”
On the eBay-affiliated Web site half.com, several books were listed for sale under the screen name “blazers5505.”
They include “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” by Carol J. Clover, a book that explores gender in the modern horror film. Others include “The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre,” by H.P. Lovecraft; and “The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense” by Joyce Carol Oates — a book in which the publisher writes: “In these and other gripping and disturbing tales, women are confronted by the evil around them and surprised by the evil they find within themselves.”
Books by those three authors were taught in his Contemporary Horror class, meaning he could have been merely selling the used books at the end of the semester.
eBay says guns, ammo not for sale
Durzy, the eBay spokesman, said the company has been assisting investigators since the start of the case.
“Within 24 hours, after Cho’s identity was made public, we had reached out to law enforcement to offer our assistance in any investigation,” he said. “In looking at his activity on the site, we can confirm that at no point that he used eBay to purchase any guns and ammunition. It is strongly against eBay policy to try to sell guns and ammunition.”
Andy Koch, Cho’s roommate from 2005-06, said he never saw Cho receive or send a package, although he didn’t have much contact with him. Students can sign up for a free lottery on a game-by-game basis, and the tickets are free.
“We took him to one football game,” Koch said. “We told him to sign up for the lottery, and he went and he left like in the third quarter, and that was it. He never went again. He never went to another game.”
Cho’s computers likely will hold records of any e-mail communications he had. But they could also show the topics he researched, online purchases he made, his essays and diaries and photos.
“This guy wanted to leave a trail,” said Rasch, the computer security adviser. “He wasn’t trying to conceal what he did.”