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Seung-Hui Cho

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Seung-Hui Cho
Cho Seung-hui 3.jpg
Cho Seung-hui

(1984-01-18)January 18, 1984
Asan, South Korea
DiedApril 16, 2007(2007-04-16) (aged 23)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
DateApril 16, 2007
7:15 a.m., 9:40 – 9:51 a.m.
Location(s)Virginia Tech
Target(s)Students, teachers and also workers
Killed33 (including himself)
Seung-Hui Cho
Revised RomanizationJo Seunghui
McCune–ReischauerCho Sŭnghŭi
/ˌ sʌŋh/
Korean pronunciation: [tɕo sɯŋhi] (About this soundlisten)

Seung-Hui Cho (Korean: 조승희, properly Cho Seung-Hui;[1] January 18, 1984 – April 16, 2007) was an American mass murderer responsible for perpetrating the Virginia Tech shooting. Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi-automatic pistols on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, making it the deadliest school shooting in US history.[2] A senior-level undergraduate student at the university, he committed suicide after police breached the doors of Norris Hall, where most of the shooting had taken place.[3][4]

Born in South Korea, Cho was eight years old when he immigrated to the United States with his family. He became a U.S. permanent resident as a South Korean national.[5][6][7] In middle school, he was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder with selective mutism, as well as major depressive disorder.[8] After his 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, Virginia 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 20 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 two deaths of Emily J. Hilscher and Ryan C. "Stack" Clark. Nevertheless, the report did acknowledge that Cho must still be held primarily responsible for not seeking assistance.[9]

Early life and education[edit]

Cho was born on January 18, 1984, in the city of Asan, in South Korea's South Chungcheong Province.[10] Cho and his family lived in a basement apartment in the city 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 three children,[11][12] Cho's father immigrated to the United States with his family in September 1992, when Seung-Hui was eight years old. The family 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. Cho's family settled in Centreville, an unincorporated community in western Fairfax County, Virginia west of Washington, D.C.[13] Cho's father and mother opened a dry-cleaning business. After they moved to Centreville, Cho and his family became permanent residents of the United States as South Korean nationals.[14][15] His parents became members of a local Christian church, and Cho himself was raised as a member of the religion,[16] although he "hated his parents' strong Christian faith."[17]

Family concerns about Cho's behavior during childhood[edit]

Some members of Cho's family who had 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."[18] 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,[19] Cho was extremely shy and "just would not talk at all," but was otherwise considered "well-behaved."[20] 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.[21] 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 made eye contact, never called him grandfather, and never moved to embrace him.[22]

Behavior in school[edit]

Cho attended the Poplar Tree Elementary School in Chantilly, an unincorporated, small community in Fairfax County. An anonymous family acquaintance claimed 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.[23] According to a fifth grade classmate of Cho's,[24] Cho finished the three-year program at Poplar Tree Elementary School in one and a half years and was pointed to as a good example by teachers,[25] and he was not disliked by students.[24][25]

During the spring of Cho's ninth-grade year in 1999, the Columbine High School massacre made international news, and 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 a classmate.[23] Cho reportedly idolized Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and was "compelled to replicate the Columbine boys, even outdo them."[26][27] 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.[28]

Cho attended two secondary schools in Fairfax County: Ormond Stone Middle School in Centreville[21] and Westfield High School in Chantilly.[13] By the eighth grade, he had been diagnosed with selective mutism, a social anxiety disorder that inhibited him from speaking in specific instances and/or to specific individuals.[29] Throughout high school, he was bullied for his shyness and unusual speech patterns. According to a Westfield High School classmate of Cho's, Cho looked down and generally refused to speak when called upon. While several students later recalled some instances of Cho being bullied and mocked at Westfield, most said they were not aware of his anger. Cho graduated from Westfield High School in 2003.[4][30]

Selective mutism diagnosis[edit]

Immediately after the massacre, reports indicated that Cho's family members in South Korea speculated that he was autistic.[31] However, no known record exists of Cho ever being diagnosed with autism,[31][32] nor could a diagnosis be verified with Cho's parents. The Virginia Tech Review Panel report dismissed an autism diagnosis[33][34] and experts later doubted the autism claim.[35]

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; his parents sought treatment for him through medication and therapy.[33] 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.[29] He continued receiving mental health therapy as well until he rejected further therapy his junior year.[33]

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 had difficulty in speaking to people. The pastor added that he never heard Cho say a complete sentence until he saw the video that Cho sent to NBC News. 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.[36]

Federal law prohibited Westfield officials from disclosing any record of disability or treatment without Cho's permission; the officials disclosed none of Cho's speech and anxiety-related problems to Virginia Tech.[35]

Cho at Virginia Tech[edit]

Basic information[edit]

In his freshman year at 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."[37] By his senior year, Cho was majoring in English. Citing privacy laws, Virginia Tech has declined to divulge details about Cho's academic record and why he changed his major.[37] At the time of the attacks, Cho lived with five roommates in a suite in Harper Hall.[38][39][40]

Relationship with school officials[edit]

Professor Nikki Giovanni taught Cho in a poetry class in the fall of 2005; she had him removed from her class because she found his behavior "menacing."[41] She recalled that Cho had a "mean streak" and described his writing as "intimidating."[41] Cho had intimidated female classmates by photographing their legs under their desks and by writing violent and obscene poetry.[42] Giovanni offered that she "was willing to resign before [she] would continue with him."[43] 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.[citation needed] 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."[44]

Roy had taught Cho in Introduction to Poetry the previous year. She described him as seeming "intelligent," awkward, lonely, insecure student who never took off his sunglasses, even indoors, arrogant" and "obnoxious" at times,[45] and that she tried several different ways to help him.[46] Roy declined to comment on Cho's writings, saying only in general that they "seemed very angry." She said that Cho would take twenty seconds to answer questions when called on in class, and would whisper. 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.[47] 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, in spite of his insistence to the contrary.[4]

Creative writing professor Lisa Norris taught Cho in both Advanced Fiction Writing and Contemporary Fiction, and was familiar with his disturbing demeanor. When Mary Ann Lewis, associate dean for Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, asked Norris about Cho's behavior, it became apparent that Lewis had been unaware that Cho was suffering from mental health problems and harassing 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."[48] Lewis told Norris to recommend that Cho seek counseling at the on-campus center, as Lewis had already done.[48]

Relationship with students[edit]

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 it was Cho's turn to introduce himself, he did not speak. According to Poole, the professor found that Cho had written only a question mark instead of his name on a sign-in sheet, so "we just really knew him as the question mark kid".[49]

Karan Grewal, who shared a dormitory suite with Cho, reported that Cho "would sit in a wood rocker by the window [in his room]; 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 toilet, cleaning up the hair afterwards. Grewal also reported that he witnessed Cho riding his bicycle in circles in the parking lot of the dormitory.[37]

Andy Koch and John Eide, who once shared a room with Cho at Cochrane Hall during 2005 and 2006,[50][51] stated that Cho demonstrated other repetitive behaviors, such as listening repeatedly to "Shine" by the alternative rock band Collective Soul.[52] He wrote the lines from 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.[44][53][54] Koch described two further unusual incidents, one in which Cho stood in the doorway of his room late at night taking photographs of him, and another in which 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 threatening.[51] Koch also described a telephone call that he received from Cho during the Thanksgiving holiday break from school. During the call, Koch said that Cho claimed to be "vacationing with Vladimir Putin", and added, "Yeah, we're in North Carolina."[55] 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.[56]

Koch and Eide claimed that Cho had been involved in at least three stalking incidents, two of which resulted in verbal warnings by the Virginia Tech campus police.[44][53][56] The first such alleged stalking incident occurred on November 27, 2005.[57] After the incident, according to Koch, Cho claimed to have sent an instant message online to the female student by AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and found out where she lived on the campus. Eide stated that Cho said to the student, "Hi, I'm Question Mark" to her, "which really freaked her out,"[56] and Cho later remarked that he only found "promiscuity in her eyes".[58] The female student called the campus police, stating that Cho had sent her annoying messages and made an unannounced visit to her room.[57] Two uniformed members of the campus police visited Cho's room at the dormitory later that evening and warned him not to contact the student again; Cho complied.[58]

The final alleged stalking incident came to light on December 13, 2005.[57][58] In the preceding days, Cho had contacted a female friend of Koch via AIM and wrote on her door board a line from Act 2, Scene II of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. In the passage, Romeo laments to Juliet "[b] 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."[59][60] The young woman was initially unconcerned by the AIM messages and the quotation until she was contacted by Andy Koch via AIM, who informed her of Cho's previous earlier stalking incident and speculated that Cho was schizophrenic.[61] Encouraged by Koch, the young woman contacted the campus police, who again warned Cho against further unwanted contact.[57] Cho made no further contact with the second female student.

Later the same day, Cho sent a text message to Koch stating, "I might as well kill myself now."[58] Worried that Cho was suicidal, Koch contacted his father for advice. Both 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.[62]

Psychiatric evaluation[edit]

Court-ordered psychiatric assessment[edit]

On December 13, 2005, Cho was found "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization" by New River Valley Community Services Board.[63] 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."[63] Cho, suspected of being "an imminent danger to himself or others," was detained temporarily at Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Virginia, pending a commitment hearing before the Montgomery County, Virginia district court.[63]

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,[64] with a directive for the "court-ordered [outpatient] to follow all recommended treatments." Since Cho underwent only a minimal psychiatric assessment,[63] 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".[65]

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.[65] 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.[64][66] 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.[65]

Family efforts[edit]

The Virginia Tech Review Panel report shed light on numerous efforts by Cho's family to secure help for him as early as adolescence.[33] 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.[37] According to Dong Cheol Lee, minister of One Mind Presbyterian Church of Washington (located in Woodbridge),[67] 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.[37]

Virginia Tech shooting[edit]

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.[46] 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.[68]

Within the next two and a half hours, Cho returned to his room to rearm himself; he mailed a package to NBC News that contained pictures, digital video files and documents.[69] At approximately 9:45 a.m. EDT (13:45 UTC), he 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.[46][70] 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.[71] Cho's gunshot wound destroyed his face, obscuring identification of his body for several hours.[72] The police identified Cho by matching immigration records with the fingerprints on the guns that were used in the shootings.[4] Before the shootings, Cho's only known connection to Norris Hall was as a student in the sociology class, which he met in a classroom on the second floor of the building.[37] 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.[42]


Weapons used in the attack[edit]

Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol
Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol

During February and March 2007, Cho began purchasing the weapons that he later used during the killings. On February 9, 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.[73][74][75][76] 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.[77] On March 13, Cho bought his second handgun, a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, from Roanoke Firearms, a licensed gun dealer located in Roanoke, Virginia.[73][78]

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.[79][80][81]

On March 22, 2007, Cho purchased two 10-round magazines for the Walther P22 pistol through eBay from Elk Ridge Shooting Supplies in Idaho.[82] 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.[83]

Cho also bought jacketed hollow-point bullets, which result in more tissue damage than full metal jacket bullets against unarmored targets[84] by expanding upon entering soft tissue.[85] 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."[86][87][88]


During the investigation, the police found a note in Cho's room in which he criticized "rich kids", "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans".[4] In the note, Cho continued by saying that "you caused me to do this."[4] Early media reports also speculated that he was obsessed with fellow student Emily Hilscher and became enraged after she rejected his romantic overtures.[89][90][91][92] Law enforcement investigators could not find evidence that Hilscher knew Cho.[93] Cho and one of his victims, Ross Alameddine, attended the same English class during autumn 2006.[94] Also in one video, he mentions "martyrs like Eric and Dylan", referring to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre.[95]


Crime investigation[edit]

Law enforcement investigators used ballistics tests to determine that Cho fired the Glock 19 pistol during the attacks at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory and at Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus.[96][97][98] Police investigators found that Cho fired more than 170 shots during the killing spree, evidenced by technicians finding at least 17 empty magazines at the scene.[99][100] During the investigation, federal law enforcement investigators found that the serial numbers were illegally filed off on both the Walther P22 and the Glock 19 handguns used by Cho during the rampage.[101] "Investigators also said that in mid-March, Cho practiced shooting at a firing range in Roanoke, about 40 miles from the campus."[102] 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."[73]

Review of Cho's medical records[edit]

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.[62] 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.[62] 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."[62]

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."[62] 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.[62]

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.[103] 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.[104][105] The panel obtained additional information by court order.[106] Cho had been prescribed paroxetine years before the shooting but had been taken off it after one year.[2] 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.[107]

In August 2009, Cho's family allowed Virginia Tech to release the records, along with those found in July 2009, to the public.[108] Previously, they were only given to the panel.

Investigative panel report[edit]

In the aftermath of the killing spree, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine 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."[109] To help investigate and analyze the emergency response surrounding the Virginia Tech shooting, Kaine hired the same company that investigated the Columbine High School massacre.[110]

The panel's final report devoted more than 20 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."[33] 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.[33]

Reaction of Cho's family[edit]

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.[111] "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."[111] Cho's grandfather stated, "My grandson Seung-Hui was very shy. I can't believe he did such a thing."[112]

In a 2008 article marking 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.[113]

Media package sent to NBC News[edit]

Screenshot from the MSNBC coverage of several videos Seung-Hui Cho sent to NBC News
A still of Cho holding two pistols

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.[114] 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)[115] 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.[116]

Release of material[edit]

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.[117] 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.[118]

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.[119][120] 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.[121][122][123] 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."[122]

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.[124] 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.[125]


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.[126]

Pete Williams, an MSNBC justice correspondent, said that Cho lacked logical governance, suggesting that Cho was under severe emotional distress.[127] 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,[128] claiming that his death would influence generations of "defenseless people".[129]



Richard McBeef[edit]

In 2006, pursuant to a class assignment, Cho wrote a short one-act play entitled Richard McBeef. The play focuses on John, a thirteen-year-old boy whose father has 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 then retreats to his car to escape the conflict, but John, despite claiming repeatedly that Richard is 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.[130]

Mr. Brownstone[edit]

In a second play, Mr. Brownstone, written for another class assignment, Cho depicts three seventeen-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 teens are underage and have illegally picked up the winning ticket. Mr. Brownstone tells the casino officials that it is he who has really won the jackpot and that the minors had stolen the ticket from him.[131] "Mr. Brownstone" is also the name of a Guns N' Roses song about heroin,[132][133] and one page of Cho's play consists of lyrics from the song.[131]

Short fiction paper[edit]

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.[134]

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.[134]

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.[134]

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.[134] 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.[134]

Reactions to writings[edit]

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."[135] Another professor who taught Cho characterized his work as "very adolescent" and "silly", with attempts at "slapstick comedy" and "elements of violence".[136]

Classmates believed "the plays were really morbid and grotesque."[137] 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."[138] 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."[139] 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."[136]

According to CBS News, "Cho Seung-Hui's violent writing [and] loner status fit the Secret Service shooter profile,"[140] 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 school shooters' interest in other violent media was generally low.[141]

Users of YouTube created filmed adaptations of Richard McBeef.[142] Something Awful created a parody "CliffsNotes" entry describing Richard McBeef.[143]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Song, Min Hyoung (February 2008). "Communities of Remembrance: Reflections on the Virginia Tech Shootings and Race". Journal of Asian American Studies. 11 (1): 1–26. doi:10.1353/jaas.2008.0006. S2CID 144959788.

External links[edit]