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Lawyer: Va. Tech gunman file taken by accident

/ Source: The Associated Press

The former counseling center director at Virginia Tech inadvertently took home the mental health records for the student gunman when he left his job there, the director's attorney said Thursday.

In a statement given to The Associated Press, attorney Ed McNelis said Dr. Robert Miller accidentally placed Seung-Hui Cho's records in a box he packed with his personal documents when he was leaving his job at the center in February 2006.

He said Miller opened the box for the first time last week and was surprised to find the records. McNelis said Miller took the records to the center the next morning.

"Dr. Miller deeply regrets that his inadvertence has caused so much distress for the families of the victims as well as his former colleagues at Virginia Tech," McNelis said. "Dr. Miller's candor and diligence in returning these records to the Cook Counseling Center dispels any inference of ill intent."

McNelis said Miller's departure from the center a year before the shootings was not connected to Cho, who killed 32 people in the April 16, 2007, bloodbath before committing suicide.

Questions from victims' families
Wednesday's news that the records had been found at Miller's home prompted questions from victims' families and attorneys on why they ended up there after eluding authorities, a state commission and an internal university search.

Virginia State Police are investigating whether a crime was committed when the records were removed from the center. If criminal charges are filed, they would be the first in the mass murders.

State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the file contains only eight to 10 pages.

"We're not talking volumes or anything," she said. "It's more like a stack of papers."

State officials have said they will release Cho's records publicly as soon as possible, either with consent from his estate or through a subpoena.

Robert T. Hall, attorney for the two families who have filed suit over the slayings, said he didn't expect the file to produce much new information.

Cho, who was a senior when he killed two people in a dormitory and 30 more in a classroom building before committing suicide, had only three encounters with the counseling center over his four years at the Blacksburg school. Officials have said he was triaged twice over the phone and had one court-ordered counseling session in person.

"I'm glad that it wasn't with malicious intent and that he did return it when he realized the grave error that he made," said Colin Goddard, who was shot for times by Cho but survived. "I don't know how professional it is, but the guy's human."

Anger among the families
Victims' families want to know whether the file contains warning signs that could have prevented the nation's deadliest shooting rampage.

"Would things have been different if we had this information? What information is in those records?" asked Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shootings.

Miller, 54, declined to comment when reached by telephone Wednesday at his private practice.

After the massacre, the counseling center conducted an exhaustive search for the records in 2007, and Miller told investigators at the time that he didn't know where they were, university spokesman Mark Owczarski said.

Troubling information withheld?
The families of two of the dead were already claiming that Miller withheld troubling information about Cho. A lawsuit they filed in April claims Miller was told by Cho's English professors about his disturbing behavior and by the school's residential director that Cho had a history of erratic behavior and suicidal thoughts and had "blades" in his room.

The lawsuit claims Miller never passed that information on to either of the therapists from the counseling center who dealt with Cho during three 45-minute triage sessions in 2005.

Notes of the warnings to Miller or those made by the therapists concerning the three meetings were never found by investigators. It is unclear if those are part of the recovered records.

"Why would he take any student mental health records to his home at any time, and why that student?" said Robert T. Hall, an attorney for the two families. "It certainly is a question of whether there is more to the Seung-Hui Cho mental health history than we've been told."

The Virginia Tech Review Panel interviewed more than 200 people. The leader of that investigation, former Virginia State Police Superintendent Gerald Massengill, said Wednesday that investigators interviewed Miller's successor at the clinic, but not Miller.

Massengill said Cho's records could be critical to understanding the rampage and "should give us a better understanding of what actions the university did or did not take."

Delayed warnings
After the massacre, the panel faulted school officials for waiting two hours to warn students that Cho had killed two students in a dormitory. By the time the warning went out, Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building, where he killed 30 students and teachers before shooting himself as police closed in.

Some have also faulted the university for not responding more decisively to warning signs from Cho, including his increasingly sullen behavior and twisted, violence-filled classroom writings. Cho also managed to buy two guns despite his history of mental illness.

The public's view of the troubled 23-year-old came from the video tirade he mailed to NBC News between the first two slayings in a dormitory and the killing of 30 more people in a classroom building.

"Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats," Cho growled in the video. "Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust funds wasn't enough."

"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood," Cho said.

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