January 18, 1984|
Asan, South Chungcheong Province, South Korea
|Died||April 16, 2007
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.
|Cause of death||Self-inflicted gunshot wound|
|Motive||Unclear; depression, possible schizophrenia , & possible bullying|
|Date||April 16, 2007
7:15 a.m., 9:40 – 9:51 a.m.
|Location(s)||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University|
|Killed||33 (including himself)|
|Weapons||Glock 19, Walther P22|
|Revised Romanization||Jo Seunghui|
Korean pronunciation: [tɕo sʰɯŋhi] ( listen)
Seung-Hui Cho (/ /; January 18, 1984 – April 16, 2007) was a South Korean mass murderer who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007, at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. An additional six people were injured jumping from windows to escape. He was a senior-level undergraduate student at the university. The shooting rampage came to be known as the Virginia Tech shooting. Cho committed suicide after police breached the doors of the building where the majority of the shooting had taken place. His body is buried in Fairfax, Virginia.
Born in South Korea, Cho arrived in the United States at the age of eight with his family. He became a U.S. permanent resident as a South Korean national. In middle school, he was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder known as selective mutism, as well as major depressive disorder. After this diagnosis he began receiving treatment and continued to receive therapy and special education support until his junior year of high school. During Cho's last two years at Virginia Tech, several instances of his abnormal behavior, as well as plays and other writings he submitted containing references to violence, caused concern among teachers and classmates.
In the aftermath of the shootings, Virginian governor Tim Kaine convened a panel consisting of various officials and experts to investigate and examine the response and handling of issues related to the shootings. The panel released its final report in August 2007, devoting more than 30 pages to detailing Cho's troubled history. In the report, the panel criticized the failure of the educators and mental health professionals who came into contact with Cho during his college years to notice his deteriorating condition and help him. The panel also criticized misinterpretations of privacy laws and gaps in Virginia's mental health system and gun laws. In addition, the panel faulted Virginia Tech administrators in particular for failing to take immediate action after the first shootings. Nevertheless, the report did acknowledge that Cho was still primarily responsible for not seeking assistance and for his murderous rampage.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Demeanor at Virginia Tech
- 3 Psychiatric evaluation
- 4 Virginia Tech shooting
- 5 Media package sent to NBC News
- 6 Writings
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Early life and education
Cho was born on 18 January 1984 in the city of Asan, in South Korea's South Chungcheong Province. Cho and his family lived in a basement apartment in the South Korean capital of Seoul for a couple of years before immigrating to the United States. Cho's father was self-employed as a bookstore owner, but made minimum wages from the venture. Seeking better education and opportunities for his children, Cho's father immigrated to the United States in September 1992 with his wife and three children. Cho was eight years old at the time. The family first lived in Detroit, then moved to the Washington metropolitan area after learning that it had one of the largest South Korean expatriate communities in the U.S., particularly in Northern Virginia. Cho's family settled in Centreville, an unincorporated community in western Fairfax County, Virginia about 25 miles (40 km) west of Washington, D.C. Cho's father and mother opened a dry-cleaning business in Centreville. After the family moved to Centreville, Cho and his family became permanent residents of the United States as South Korean nationals. His parents became members of a local Christian church, and Cho himself was raised as a member of the religion, although he "railed against his parents' strong Christian faith." According to one report, Cho had left a note in his dormitory which contained a rant referencing Christianity and denigrating "rich kids". In a video that Cho mailed to the NBC headquarters in New York he stated, "Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people." 
Family concerns about Cho's behavior during childhood
A few members of Cho's family, those who remained in South Korea, had concerns about his behavior during his early childhood. Cho's relatives thought that he was selectively mute or mentally ill. According to Cho's uncle, Cho "didn't say much and did not mix with other children." Cho's maternal great-aunt described Cho as "cold" and a cause of family concern from as young as eight years old. According to his great-aunt, who met him twice, Cho was extremely shy and "just would not talk at all." He was otherwise considered "well-behaved," readily obeying verbal commands and cues. The great-aunt said she knew something was wrong after the family's departure for the United States because she heard frequent updates about Cho's older sister but little news about Cho. During an ABC News Nightline interview on August 30, 2007, Cho's grandfather reported his concerns about Cho's behavior during childhood. According to Cho's grandfather, Cho never looked up to him to make eye contact, never called him grandfather, and never moved to embrace him.
Behavior in school
Cho attended the Poplar Tree Elementary School in Chantilly, an unincorporated, small community in Virginia's Fairfax County. According to Kim Gyeong-won, who met Cho in the fifth grade and took classes with him, Cho finished the three-year program at Poplar Tree Elementary School in one and a half years. Cho was noted for being good at mathematics and English, and teachers pointed to him as an example for other students. At that time, according to Kim, nobody disliked Cho and he "was recognized by friends as a boy of knowledge;... a good dresser who was popular with the girls." Kim added that "I only have good memories about him." An acquaintance noted that "Every time he came home from school he would cry and throw tantrums saying he never wanted to return to school" when Cho first came to the U.S. in about the second grade.
In 1999, during the spring of Cho's eighth grade year, the Columbine High School massacre made international news. Cho was transfixed by it. "I remember sitting in Spanish class with him, right next to him, and there being something written on his binder to the effect of, you know, ' 'F' you all, I hope you all burn in hell,' which I would assume meant us, the students," said Ben Baldwin, a classmate of Cho. Also, Cho wrote in a school assignment about wanting to "repeat Columbine". The school contacted Cho's sister, who reported the incident to their parents. Cho was sent to a psychiatrist.
Cho attended secondary schools in Fairfax County, including Ormond Stone Middle School in Centreville and Westfield High School in Chantilly, and by eighth grade had been diagnosed with selective mutism, a social anxiety disorder which inhibited him from speaking. Through high school, he was teased for his shyness and unusual speech patterns. According to Chris Davids, a high school classmate in Cho's English class at Westfield High School, Cho looked down and refused to speak when called upon. Davids added that, after one teacher threatened to give Cho a failing grade for not participating in class, he began reading in a strange, deep voice that sounded "like he had something in his mouth. [...]" While several students recalled instances of Cho being teased and mocked at Westfield, most left him alone and later said they were not aware of his anger. Cho graduated from Westfield High School in 2003.
Immediately after the incident, reports carried speculation by Cho's family members in South Korea that he was autistic. However, no known record exists of Cho ever being diagnosed with autism, nor could an autism diagnosis be verified with Cho's parents. The Virginia Tech Review Panel report dismissed an autism diagnosis and experts later doubted the autism claim.
More than four months after the attack, The Wall Street Journal reported on August 20, 2007 that Cho had been diagnosed with selective mutism. The Virginia Tech Review Panel report, also released in August 2007, placed this diagnosis in the spring of Cho's eighth-grade year, and his parents sought treatment for him through medication and therapy. In high school, Cho was placed in special education under the 'emotional disturbance' classification. He was excused from oral presentations and participation in class conversation and received 50 minutes a month of speech therapy. He continued receiving mental health therapy as well until his junior year, when Cho rejected further therapy.
To address his problems, Cho's parents also took him to church. According to a pastor at the Centreville Korean Presbyterian Church, Cho was a smart student who understood the Bible, but he was concerned about Cho's difficulty in speaking to people. The pastor added that, until he saw the video that Cho sent to NBC News, he never heard him say a complete sentence. The pastor also recalled that he told Cho's mother that he speculated Cho was autistic and he asked her to take him to a hospital, but she declined.
Forbidden by federal law to disclose (without Cho's permission) any record of disability or treatment, Westfield officials disclosed none of Cho's speech and anxiety-related problems to Virginia Tech.
Demeanor at Virginia Tech
In his freshman year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Cho enrolled as an undergraduate major in business information technology, a program that included "a combination of computer science and management coursework offered by the Pamplin College of Business." By his senior year, Cho was majoring in English. Virginia Tech declined to divulge details about Cho's academic record and why he changed his major, citing privacy laws.
Relationship with faculty
Professor Nikki Giovanni, who taught Cho in a poetry class in the fall of 2005, had him removed from her class because she found his behavior "menacing." She recalled that Cho had a "mean streak" and described his writing as "intimidating." Cho had intimidated female students by photographing their legs under their desks and by writing obscene, violent poetry. Giovanni offered that "[she] was willing to resign before [she] would continue with him." About six weeks after the semester began, Giovanni wrote a letter to then-department head Lucinda Roy, who removed Cho from the class. Roy alerted the student affairs office, the dean's office, and the campus police, but each office responded that there was nothing they could do if Cho made no overt threats against himself or others. After Giovanni was informed of the massacre, she remarked that "[I] knew when it happened that that's probably who it was," and "would have been shocked if it wasn't."
Roy, who had taught Cho in Introduction to Poetry the previous year, described him as "an intelligent man," and that he seemed to be an awkward, lonely and insecure student who never took off his sunglasses, even indoors. She described Cho's behavior as "arrogant" and "obnoxious" at times, and that she tried several different ways to help him. Roy declined to comment on Cho's writings, saying only in general that they "seemed very angry". She added that Cho, when called on in class, would take 20 seconds to answer questions, and whispered his response. He also took cell phone pictures of her in class. After Roy became concerned with Cho's behavior and the themes in his writings, she started meeting with Cho to work with him one-on-one. However, she soon became concerned for her safety, and told her assistant that she would use the name of a dead professor as a duress code, in order to alert the assistant to call security. After Roy notified authorities of Cho's behavior, she urged Cho to seek counseling, but to her knowledge, Cho never followed through with the request.
When creative writing professor Lisa Norris, who taught Cho in both Advanced Fiction Writing and Contemporary Fiction, asked about him from Mary Ann Lewis, associate dean for Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, she was not told that he was suffering from mental health problems or about prior police reports concerning his harassment of female students. According to Norris, "my guess is that either the information was not accessible to her [Lewis] or it was privileged and could not be released to me." Lewis told Norris to recommend that Cho seek counseling at the on-campus Cook Counseling Center, as Lewis had already done.
Relationship with students
Fellow students described Cho as a "quiet" person who "would not respond if someone greeted him." Student Julie Poole recalled the first day of a literature class the previous year when the students introduced themselves one by one. When it was Cho's turn to introduce himself, he did not speak. According to Poole, the professor looked at the sign-in sheet and found that, whereas everyone else had written out their names, Cho had written only a question mark. Poole added that "we just really knew him as the question mark kid".
Karan Grewal, who shared a suite with Cho at Harper Hall, reported that Cho "would sit in a wood rocker by the window [in his room at the dormitory]; and stare at the lawn below". According to Grewal, "Cho appeared to never go to class or read a book during his senior year," adding that Cho just typed on his laptop, went to the dining hall and clipped his hair in the bathroom, cleaning up the hair afterwards. Grewal also reported that he witnessed Cho riding his bicycle in circles in the parking lot of the dormitory.
Andy Koch and John Eide, who once shared a room with Cho at Cochrane Hall during 2005 and 2006, stated that Cho demonstrated other repetitive behaviors, such as listening repeatedly to "Shine" by the alternative rock band Collective Soul. Cho wrote the song's lyrics "Teach me how to speak; Teach me how to share; Teach me where to go" on the wall of his dormitory room. Koch described two further unusual incidents, including one where Cho stood in the doorway of his room late at night taking photographs of him (Koch) and a second incident where Cho repeatedly placed harassing cell phone calls to Koch as "Cho's brother, 'Question Mark'," a name Cho also used when introducing himself to girls. Koch and Eide searched Cho's belongings and found a pocket knife, but they did not find any items that they deemed seriously threatening to them. Koch also described a telephone call that he received from Cho during the Thanksgiving holiday break from school. During that call, Koch said that Cho claimed to be "vacationing with Vladimir Putin," with Cho adding "Yeah, we're in North Carolina." In response, Koch told him "I'm pretty sure that's not possible, Seung." Because of Cho's behavior, Koch and Eide, who had earlier tried to befriend him, gradually stopped talking to him and told their friends, especially female classmates, not to visit their room.
Koch and Eide also stated that Cho was involved in at least three stalking incidents, two of which resulted in verbal warnings by the Virginia Tech campus police. The first stalking incident occurred on November 27, 2005. After the incident, according to Koch, Cho claimed to have sent an instant message online to the female student by AOL Instant Messenger and found out where she lived on the campus. Eide stated that Cho then visited her room to see if she was "cool", adding that Cho remarked that he only found "promiscuity in her eyes". Eide added that, when Cho visited the female student, Cho said, "Hi, I'm Question Mark" to her, "which really freaked her out." The female student called the campus police, complaining that Cho had sent her annoying messages and made an unannounced visit to her room. Two uniformed members of the campus police visited Cho's room at the dormitory later that evening and warned him not to contact the female student again. Cho made no further contact with the student.
The final stalking incident came to light on December 13, 2005. In the preceding days, Cho had contacted a female friend of Koch via AIM and wrote on her door board a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, scene II, in which Romeo laments to Juliet: "By a name, I know not how to tell who I am. My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, because it is an enemy to thee. Had I it written, I would tear the word."
The young woman was initially unconcerned by Cho's AIM messages and the Shakespearean message he left on her door board, until she was contacted by Andy Koch via AIM. Koch told her that Cho was involved in an earlier stalking incident and that, "i think he is schophrenic" [sic]. Upon Koch's encouragement, the young woman contacted the campus police, who again warned Cho against further unwanted contact. After that warning, Cho made no further contact with the second female student.
Later the same day, Cho sent a text message to Koch with the words, "I might as well kill myself now." Worried that Cho was suicidal, Koch contacted his father for advice, and both of them contacted campus authorities. The campus police returned to the dormitory and escorted Cho to New River Valley Community Services Board, the Virginia mental health agency serving Blacksburg.
Court-ordered psychiatric assessment
On December 13, 2005, Cho was found "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization" by New River Valley Community Services Board. The physician who examined Cho noted that he had a flat affect and depressed mood, even though Cho "denied suicidal thoughts and did not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder." Based on this mental health examination and because Cho was suspected of being "an imminent danger to himself or others", he was detained temporarily at Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Virginia, pending a commitment hearing before the Montgomery County, Virginia district court.
Virginia Special Justice Paul Barnett certified in an order that Cho "presented an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness," but instead recommended treatment for Cho as an outpatient. On December 14, 2005, Cho was released from the mental health facility after Judge Barnett ordered Cho to undergo mental health treatment on an outpatient basis, with a directive for the "court-ordered [outpatient] to follow all recommended treatments." Since Cho underwent only a minimal psychiatric assessment, the true diagnosis for Cho's mental health status remains unknown.
|“||Virginia state law on mental health disqualifications to firearms purchases, however, is worded slightly differently from the federal statute. So the form that Virginia courts use to notify state police about a mental health disqualification addresses only the state criteria, which list two potential categories that would warrant notification to the state police: someone who was "involuntarily committed" or ruled mentally "incapacitated".||”|
Because Cho was not involuntarily committed to a mental health facility as an inpatient, he was still legally eligible to buy guns under Virginia law. However, according to Virginia law, "[a] magistrate has the authority to issue a detention order upon a finding that a person is mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or treatment." The magistrate also must find that the person is an imminent danger to himself or others. Virginia officials and other law experts have argued that, under United States federal law, Barnett's order meant that Cho had been "adjudicated as a mental defective" and was thus ineligible to purchase firearms under federal law; and that the state of Virginia erred in not enforcing the requirements of the federal law.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel report shed light on numerous efforts by Cho's family to secure help for him as early as adolescence. However, when Cho reached 18 and left for college, the family lost its legal authority over him, and their influence on him waned. Cho's mother, increasingly concerned about his inattention to classwork, his classroom absences and his asocial behavior, sought help for him during summer 2006 from various churches in Northern Virginia. According to Dong Cheol Lee, minister of One Mind Presbyterian Church of Washington (located in Woodbridge) Cho's mother sought help from the church for Cho's problems. Lee added that "[Cho's] problem needed to be solved by spiritual power ... that's why she came to our church – because we were helping several people like him." Members of Lee's church even told Cho's mother that he was afflicted by "demonic power" and needed "deliverance." Before the church could meet with the family, however, Cho returned to school to start his senior year at Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech shooting
|Part of a series of articles on the
Virginia Tech shooting
Around 7:15 a.m. EDT (11:15 UTC) on April 16, 2007, Cho killed two students, Emily J. Hilscher and Ryan C. "Stack" Clark, on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston Hall, a high-rise co-educational dormitory. Investigators later determined that Cho's shoes matched a blood-stained print found in the hallway outside Hilscher's room. The shoes and bloody jeans were found in Cho's dormitory room where he had stashed them after the attack.
Within the next two-and-a-half hours, Cho returned to his room to rearm himself and mailed a package to NBC News that contained pictures, digital video files and documents. At approximately 9:45 a.m. EDT (13:45 UTC), Cho then crossed the campus to Norris Hall, a classroom building on the campus where, in a span of nine minutes, Cho shot dozens of people, killing 30 of them. As police breached the area of the building where Cho attacked the faculty and students, Cho committed suicide in Norris 211 with a gunshot to his temple. Cho's gunshot wound destroyed his face, obscuring identification of his body for several hours. The police identified Cho by matching the fingerprints on the guns used in the shootings with immigration records. Before the shootings, Cho's only known connection to Norris Hall was as a student in the sociology class, which met in a classroom on the second floor of the building. Although police had not stated positively at the time of the initial investigation that Cho was the perpetrator of the Norris Hall shootings and the earlier one at West Ambler Johnston Hall, forensic evidence confirmed that the same gun was used in both shooting incidents.
During February and March 2007, Cho began purchasing the weapons that he later used during the killings. On February 9, 2007, Cho purchased his first handgun, a .22 caliber Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol, from TGSCOM Inc., a federally licensed firearms dealer based in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the operator of the website through which Cho ordered the gun. TGSCOM Inc. shipped the Walther P22 to JND Pawnbrokers in Blacksburg, Virginia, where Cho completed the legally required background check for the purchase transaction and took possession of the handgun. Cho bought a second handgun, a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, on March 13, 2007 from Roanoke Firearms, a licensed gun dealer located in Roanoke, Virginia.
Cho was able to pass both background checks and successfully complete both handgun purchases after he presented to the gun dealers his U.S. permanent residency card, his Virginia driver's permit to prove legal age and length of Virginia residence and a checkbook showing his Virginia address, in addition to waiting the required 30-day period between each gun purchase. He was successful at completing both handgun purchases because he did not disclose on the background questionnaire that a Virginia court had ordered him to undergo outpatient treatment at a mental health facility.
On March 22, 2007, Cho purchased two 10-round magazines for the Walther P22 pistol through eBay from Elk Ridge Shooting Supplies in Idaho. Based on a preliminary computer forensics examination of Cho's eBay purchase records, investigators suspected that Cho may have purchased an additional 10-round magazine on March 23, 2007 from another eBay seller who sold gun accessories.
Cho also bought jacketed hollow-point bullets, which result in more tissue damage than full metal jacket bullets against unarmored targets by expanding upon entering soft tissue. Along with a manifesto, Cho later sent a photograph of the hollow point bullets to NBC News with the caption "All the [shit] you've given me, right back at you with hollow points."
During the investigation, the police found a note in Cho's room in which he criticized "rich kids", "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans". In the note, Cho continued by saying that "you caused me to do this." Early media reports also speculated that he was obsessed with fellow student Emily Hilscher and became enraged after she rejected his romantic overtures. Law enforcement investigators could not find evidence that Hilscher knew Cho. Cho and one of his victims, Ross Alameddine, attended the same English class during Autumn 2006. Also in one video, he mentions "martyrs like Eric and Dylan", almost certainly referring to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of Columbine High School massacre.
Through ballistics examination, law enforcement investigators determined that Cho used the Glock 19 pistol during the attacks at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory and at Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus. Police investigators found that Cho fired more than 170 shots during the killing spree, evidence technicians finding at least 17 empty magazines at the scene. During the investigation, federal law enforcement investigators found that the serial numbers were illegally filed off both the Walther P22 and the Glock 19 handguns used by Cho during the rampage. "Investigators also say Cho practiced shooting at a firing range in Roanoke, about 40 miles from the campus, in mid-March." According to a former FBI agent and ABC consultant, "This was no spur-of-the-moment crime. He's been thinking about this for several months prior to the shooting."
Review of Cho's medical records
During the investigation, the matter of Cho's court-ordered mental health treatment was also examined to determine its outcome. Virginia investigators learned after a review of Cho's medical records that he never complied with the order for the mandated mental health treatment as an outpatient. The investigators also found that neither the court nor New River Valley Community Services exercised oversight of his case to determine his compliance with the order. In response to questions about Cho's case, New River Valley Community Services maintained that its facility was never named in the court order as the provider for his mental health treatment, and its responsibility ended once he was discharged from its care after the court order. In addition, Christopher Flynn, director of the Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, mentioned that the court did not notify his office that Cho was required to seek outpatient mental health treatment. Flynn added that, "When a court gives a mandatory order that someone get outpatient treatment, that order is to the individual, not an agency ... The one responsible for ensuring that the mentally ill person receives help in these sort of cases ... is the mentally ill person."
As a result, Cho escaped compliance with the court order for mandatory mental health treatment as an outpatient, even though Virginia law required community services boards to "recommend a specific course of treatment and programs" for mental health patients and "monitor the person's compliance." As for the court, Virginia law also mandated that, if a person fails to comply with a court order to seek mental health treatment as an outpatient, that person can be brought back before the court "and if found still in crisis, can be committed to a psychiatric institution for up to 180 days." Cho was never summoned to court to explain why he had not complied with the December 14, 2005 order for mandatory mental health treatment as an outpatient.
The investigation panel had sought Cho's medical records for several weeks, but due to privacy laws, Virginia Tech was prohibited from releasing them without permission from Cho's family, even after his death. The panel had considered using subpoenas to obtain his records. On June 12, 2007, Cho's family released his medical records to the panel, although the panel said that the records were not enough. The panel obtained additional information by court order. Like the perpetrators of both the Columbine and Jokela school massacres, Cho was prescribed the antidepressant drug Prozac prior to his rampage, a substance suspected by Peter Breggin and David Healy of leading to suicidal behaviors. It is not known if Cho ever complied in filling or taking this prescription; or if he had taken and then discontinued the prescribed medication. The toxicology test from the official autopsy later showed that neither psychiatric nor any kind of illegal drugs were in his system during the time of the shooting.
In August 2009, Cho's family allowed Virginia Tech to release the records, along with those found in July 2009, to the public. Previously, they were only given to the panel.
Investigative panel report
In the aftermath of the killing spree, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine (D) appointed a panel to investigate the campus shootings, with plans for the panel to submit a report of its findings in approximately two to three months. Kaine also invited former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to join the panel to "review Cho's mental health history and how police responded to the tragedy." To help investigate and analyze the emergency response surrounding the Virginia Tech shootings, Kaine hired the same company that investigated the Columbine High School massacre.
The panel's final report devoted more than 30 pages to detailing Cho's mental health history. The report criticized Virginia Tech educators, administrators and mental health staff in failing to "connect the dots" from numerous incidents that were warning signs of Cho's mental instability beginning in his junior year. The report concluded that the school's mental health systems "failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws, and passivity." The report called Virginia's mental health laws "flawed" and its mental health services "inadequate". The report also confirmed that Cho was able to purchase two guns in violation of federal law because of Virginia's inadequate background check requirements.
Reaction of Cho's family
Cho's older sister prepared a statement on her family's behalf to apologize publicly for her brother's actions, in addition to lending prayers to the victims and the families of the wounded and killed victims. "This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person," she said in the statement issued through a North Carolinian attorney. "We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence." Cho's grandfather stated, "My grandson Seung-Hui was very shy. I can't believe he did such a thing."
In a 2008 article acknowledging the anniversary of the massacre, the Washington Post did a follow-up on the family, reporting that they had gone into hiding for months following the massacre and, after eventually returning home, had "virtually cut themselves off from the world." Several windows in their home have been papered over and drawn blinds cover the rest. The only real outside contact they have maintained is with an FBI agent assigned to their care and their lawyer, refusing even to contact their own relatives in South Korea.
Media package sent to NBC News
During the time period between the two shooting events on April 16, Cho visited a local post office near the Virginia Tech campus where he mailed a parcel with a DVD inside to the New York headquarters of NBC News, which contained video clips, photographs and a manifesto explaining the reasons for his actions. The package, addressed from "A. Ishmael" as seen on an image of the USPS Express Mail envelope (incorrectly printed as "Ismail" by The New York Times) and apparently intended to be received on April 17, was delayed because of an incorrect ZIP code and street address. The words "Ismail Ax" were scrawled in red ink on Cho's arm.
Release of material
Upon receiving the package on April 18, 2007, NBC contacted authorities and made the controversial decision to publicize Cho's communications by releasing a small fraction of what it received. After pictures and images from the videos were broadcast in numerous news reports, students and faculty from Virginia Tech, along with relatives of victims of the campus shooting, expressed concerns that glorifying Cho's rampage could lead to copycat killings. The airing of the manifesto and its video images and pictures was upsetting to many who were more closely affected by the shootings: Peter Read, the father of Mary Read, one of the students who was killed by Cho during the rampage, asked the media to stop airing Cho's manifesto.
Police officials, who reviewed the video, pictures and manifesto, concluded that the contents of the media package had marginal value in helping them learn and understand why Cho committed the killings. Dr. Michael Welner, who also reviewed the materials, believed that Cho's rantings offer little insight into the mental illness that may have triggered his rampage. Dr. Welner stated that "These videos do not help us understand Cho. They distort him. He was meek. He was quiet. This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character."
During the April 24, 2007 edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show, NBC News President Steve Capus stated NBC decided to show 2 minutes of 25 minutes of video, 7 of 43 photographs, and 37 sentences of 23 pages of written material or 5 of the 23 PDF files that were last modified at 7:24 a.m., after the first shooting. He also stated that the content not shown included "over the top profanity" and "incredibly violent images". He expressed hope that the unreleased material would never be made public.
In his manifesto, Cho mentioned the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and made frequent references to hedonism and Christianity while expressing anger about unspecified wrongs that were done to him. In one of the videos, Cho said:
You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic void life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.
Do you know what it feels to be spit on your face and to have trash shoved down your throat? Do you know what it feels like to dig your own grave? Do you know what it feels like to have your throat slashed from ear to ear? Do you know what it feels like to be torched alive? Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled upon on a cross? And left to bleed to death for your amusement? You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can?...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 fucked; I did it for them... When the time came, I did it. I had to...You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today, but you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.
You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn't enough. Your Vodka and Cognac weren't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.
Pete Williams, a MSNBC justice correspondent, said that Cho lacked logical governance, suggesting that Cho was under severe emotional distress. In the video, Cho also railed against deceitful charlatans on campus, rich kids, materialism, and hedonism while, in another video, he compared himself to Jesus Christ, explaining that his death will influence generations of "defenseless people".
Media organizations, including Newsweek, MSNBC, Reuters and the Associated Press, even raised questions and speculated about the similarity between a stance in one of Cho's videos, which showed him holding and raising a hammer, and a pose from promotional posters for the South Korean movie Oldboy, a film based on the manga of the same name about a businessman who was kidnapped away from his wife and infant daughter by an unknown assailant and imprisoned in a small room for 15 years. Investigators found no evidence that Cho had ever watched Oldboy, and the professor who made the initial connection to Oldboy had since discounted his theory that Cho was influenced by the movie.
In 2006, pursuant to a class assignment, Cho wrote a short one-act play entitled Richard McBeef. The play focused on John, a 13-year-old boy whose father had died in a boating accident, and John's stepfather, ex-football player Richard McBeef (whom John constantly refers to as "Dick"). When Richard touches John's lap during an attempt at a 'father-to-son' talk, the boy abruptly claims that his stepfather is molesting him. John then accuses his stepfather of having murdered his biological father and repeatedly says that he will kill Richard. John, Richard and Sue (John's mother) are suddenly embroiled in a major argument. Richard retreats to his car to escape the conflict, but John, despite claiming repeatedly that Richard was abusing him, joins his stepfather in the car and harasses him. The play ends with John trying to shove a banana-flavored cereal bar into his stepfather's throat; Richard, hitherto a passive character, reacts "out of sheer desecrated hurt and anger" by "swinging a deadly blow" at the boy.
In a second play, Mr. Brownstone, written for another class assignment, Cho depicted three 17-year-olds (John, Jane, and Joe), who sit in a casino while discussing their deep hatred for Mr. Brownstone, their 45-year-old mathematics teacher. The three characters claim—using the phrase "ass-rape"—that Mr. Brownstone mistreats them. John wins a multimillion-dollar jackpot from one of the slot machines, and Mr. Brownstone, amid volleys of profanity from the students, reports to casino officials that the three characters were underage and had illegally picked up the winning ticket. Mr. Brownstone tells the casino officials that it was he who had really won the jackpot, and that the minors had taken the ticket from him. "Mr. Brownstone" was also the name of a Guns N' Roses song about heroin, and one page from Cho's play consisted of lyrics from the song.
Short fiction paper
Approximately one year before the incident at Virginia Tech, Cho also wrote a paper for an assignment in the "Intro to Short Fiction" class that he took during the spring 2006 semester. In that paper, Cho wrote about a mass school murder that was planned by the protagonist of the story but, according to the story, the protagonist did not follow through with the killings. During the proceedings of the Virginia Tech panel, the panel was unaware of the existence of the paper written by Cho for his fiction writing class.
When information surfaced about the paper, the Virginia Tech panel learned at that time that only the Virginia State Police and Virginia Tech had copies of the unreleased paper in their possession. The Virginia State Police reported that, although it had a copy of the paper, Virginia law prevented them from releasing the paper to the panel because it was part of the investigative file in an ongoing investigation.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, had known about the paper, and officials at the school discussed the contents of the paper among themselves in the aftermath of the shootings. According to Governor Kaine, "[Virginia Tech] was expected to turn over all of Cho's writings to the panel" during the proceedings of the Virginia Tech panel.
After some members of the Virginia Tech panel complained about the missing paper, Virginia Tech decided to release a copy of the paper to the panel during the latter part of the week of August 25, 2007. Although the Virginia Tech panel has since received the paper written by Cho for the fiction writing class, the precise contents of that paper have not been released to the public.
Reactions to writings
Edward Falco, a playwriting professor at Virginia Tech, has acknowledged that Cho wrote both plays in his class. The plays are fewer than 12 pages long and have several grammatical and typographical errors. Falco believed that Cho was drawn to writing because of his speech difficulties. Falco said of the plays, "They're not good writing, but at least they are a form of communication." Another professor who taught Cho characterized his work as "very adolescent" and "silly", with attempts at "slapstick comedy" and "elements of violence".
Classmates believed "the plays were really morbid and grotesque." Ian MacFarlane, Cho's former classmate, stated that, "when we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of." When Stephen Davis, a senior who was also in Cho's class, read "Richard McBeef," he turned to his roommate and said, "This is the kind of guy who is going to walk into a classroom and start shooting people." Anna Brown, another student in the class, sometimes joked with her friends that Cho was "the kind of guy who might go on a rampage killing."
According to CBS News, "Cho Seung-Hui's violent writing [and] loner status fit the Secret Service shooter profile," referring to a 2002 U.S. Secret Service study that was conducted after the Columbine massacre, with violent writing cited as one of the most typical behavioral attributes of school shooters. The U.S. Secret Service concluded the study by saying that "[t]he largest group of [school shooters] exhibited an interest in violence in their own writings, such as poems, essays or journal entries," while other school shooters showed an interest in violent video games, violent movies and violent books.
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- PDF (914 KB) (Archive) – posted on The Washington Post
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- Seung-hui Cho Profile At America's Most Wanted
- Extensive, personal essay on Cho Seung-hui by author Tao Lin