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Before the Fatal Rage

?On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech experienced one of the most horrific events in American university history?a double homicide followed by a mass shooting that left 32 students and faculty killed, with many others injured, and many more scarred psychologically. Families of the slain and injured as well as the university community have suffered terribly.

Like so many thousands of Virginia Tech parents, Sung Tae and Hyang Im Cho spent the day of April 16 calling their son,?Seung-Hui Cho’s cellphone and sending him e-mails, hoping he hadn’t fallen prey to the man who was shooting students and professors at Virginia Tech.

The Chos’ fears were confirmed when police officers, FBI agents and a chaplain showed up that night at their Centreville townhouse.

But the news was worse than they had imagined.

Their shy, quiet 23-year-old son was the student gunman who fatally shot 32 people before killing himself.

Cho?s imaginary life included calling himself ?Question Mark?; a ?supermodel? girlfriend called ?Jelly? who ?travelled by spaceship?; and reporting to his room mate that he was ?vacationing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin? having ?grown up with him in Moscow?. But a Senior in Cho?s class who read his one-act play told a friend: ?This is the kind of guy who is going to walk into a classroom and start shooting people?.

?He has made the world weep,? the statement by Cho?s family said. ?We are living a nightmare.?

Everything was in his imagination; it always had been. Since childhood he had remained uncommunicative, even with his family, and his self-isolation grew more extreme when he got to Virginia Tech. His English professor noticed the anger expressed in writing projects, and pleaded with college authorities to get Cho to seek help. But that would have infringed his civil rights ? like the privacy laws which prevented Virginia Tech ever knowing that Cho?s mental health had been the subject of much previous anxiety.

From the beginning, he did not talk. Not to other children, not to his own family. Everyone saw this. In Seoul, South Korea, where Seung-Hui Cho grew up, his mother agonized over his sullen, brooding behavior and empty face. Talk, she just wanted him to talk.

?When I told his mother that he was a good boy, quiet but well behaved, she said she would rather have him respond to her when talked to than be good and meek,? said Kim Yang-Soon, Mr. Cho?s 84-year-old great-aunt.

When his parents announced when he was 8 that they were going to America, their relatives were gladdened. ?We thought that it would help the boy gain confidence if he moved to the United States? open society,? said an uncle who asked to be identified only by his last name, Kim.

And yet when he and others heard from Mr. Cho?s mother, it was the same dismal story, a buried life of silence. In church, she told them, she prayed for God to transform her son.

Cho was born in Korea on January 18, 1984, the second child of Sung-Tae Cho and Hyang Im Cho. Both parents were raised in two-parent families that included the paternal grandmother; there was extended family support. The families did not encounter the level of deprivation that many did in post-war Korea. The Chos recall that a paternal uncle in Korea committed suicide. Their first child, daughter Sun Kyung, was born 3 years before Seung Hui. When he was 9 months old, Cho developed whooping cough, then pneumonia, and was hospitalized. Doctors told the Chos that their son had a hole in his heart (some records say ?heart murmur?). Two years later, doctors conducted cardiac tests to better examine the inside of his heart that included a procedure (probably an echocardiograph or a cardiac catherization).

This caused the 3-year-old emotional trauma. From that point on, Cho did not like to be touched. He generally was perceived as medically frail. According to his mother, he cried a lot and was constantly sick. In Korea, Cho had a few friends that he would play with and who would come over to the house. He was extremely quiet but had a sweet nature. In Korea, quietness and calmness are desired attributes?characteristics equated with scholarliness; even so, his introverted personality was so extreme that his family was very concerned.

A few members of Cho’s family, those who remained in South Korea, had concerns about his behaviour 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, Kim Yang-soon, described Cho as “cold” and a cause of family concern from as young as eight years old. According to Kim, 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 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.

In 1992, the family moved to the United States to pursue educational opportunities for their children. They were encouraged by Mr. Cho?s sister who had immigrated before them. Mrs. Cho began working outside the home for the first time in order to make ends meet.

The transition was difficult: none of the family spoke English. Both children felt isolated. The parents began a long period of hard labour and extended work hours at dry cleaning businesses. English was not required to do their work, so both there and at home they spoke Korean. Sun stated that her brother seemed more withdrawn and isolated in the United States than he had been in Korea. She recalled that at times they were ?made fun of,? but she took it in stride because she thought ?this was just a given.? In about 2 years, the children began to understand, read, and write English at school. Korean was spoken at home, but Cho did not write or read Korean.

The parents reported no disciplinary problems with their son. He was quiet and gentle and did not exhibit tantrums or angry outbursts. The family never owned weapons or had any in the house. At one point after Cho was in college, his mother found a pocket knife in one of his drawers, and she expressed her disapproval. He had few duties or responsibilities at home, except to clean his room. He never had a job during summers or over school breaks, either in high school or in college. The biggest issue between Cho and his family was his poor communication, which was frustrating and worrisome to them. Over the years, Cho spoke very little to his parents and avoided eye contact. According to one record the panel reviewed, Mrs. Cho would get so frustrated she would shake him sometimes. He would talk to his sister a little, but avoided discussing his feelings and reactions to things or sharing everyday thoughts on life, school, and events. If called upon to speak when a visitor came to the home, he would develop sweaty palms, become pale, freeze, and sometimes cry. Frequently, he would only nod yes or no.

Mrs. Cho made a big effort to help Cho become better adjusted, and she would talk to him, urging him to open up, to ?have more courage.? The parents urged him to get involved in activities and sports. They worried that he was isolating himself and was lonely. Other family members asked why he would not talk. He reportedly resented this pressure. Mr. Cho, having a quiet nature himself, was slightly more accepting of his son?s introspective and withdrawn personality, but he was stern on matters of respect. Cho and his father would argue about this. According to one of the records reviewed, Cho?s father would not praise his son. Where Cho?s later writings included a father-son relationship, the character of the father was always negative. Cho never talked about school and never shared much. His mother and sister would ask how he was doing in school, trying to explore the possibility of ?bullying.? His sister knew that when he walked down school hallways a few students sometimes would yell taunts at him. He did not talk about feelings or school at all. He would respond ?okay? to all questions about his well being.

The summer before Cho started seventh grade, his parents followed up on a recommendation from the elementary school that they seek therapy for Cho. In July 1997, the Cho?s took their son to the Center for Multicultural Human Services (CMHS), a mental health services facility that offers mental health treatment and psychological evaluations and testing to low-income, English limited immigrant and refugee individuals. They told the specialists of their concern about Cho?s social isolation and unwillingness to discuss his thoughts or feelings. Mr. and Mrs. Cho overcame several obstacles to get their son the help he needed. In order for Cho to make his weekly appointments at the centre, they had to take turns leaving work early to drive him there. There were cultural barriers as well. In the family?s native country, mental or emotional problems were signs of shame and guilt. The stigmatization of mental health problems remains a serious roadblock in seeking treatment in the United States too, but in Korea the issue is even more relevant. Getting help for such concerns is only reluctantly acknowledged as necessary.

In middle school and high school, Cho was teased and picked on for his shyness and unusual speech patterns. In English class at Westfield High School, he looked down and refused to speak when called upon, said Chris Davids, a high school classmate. After one teacher threatened to give him a failing grade for not participating, Cho began reading in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said. “The whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ?Go back to China.?”

Another classmate, Stephanie Roberts, stated that “There were just some people who were really cruel to him, and they would push him down and laugh at him. He didn’t speak English really well, and they would really make fun of him.” Cho was also teased as the “Trombone Kid” for is habit of walking to school alone with his trombone, other students recall crueller names and that most of the bullying was because he was so alone.

Former classmates of Cho, stated that they heard rumors of a “hit list” of other students Cho wanted to kill; Blandon stated that she saw the “list” as a joke at the time. Cho graduated from Westfield High School in 2003.

To address his problems, Cho’s parents took him to church. But he was bullied in his youth group, especially by “the rich kids.” In a interview with Newsweek magazine a pastor at Centreville Korean Presbyterian Church said that Cho was an intelligent student who understood the Bible but he was concerned over Cho?s difficulty speaking; until he saw the video Cho sent to NBC, he never saw him complete a sentence. The pastor also recalled that told Cho’s mother that he speculated Cho was a little autistic and he asked her to take him to a hospital but she declined.

Cho continued to isolate himself in middle school. He had no reported behavioural problems and did not get into any fights. Then, in March 1999, when Cho was in the spring semester of eighth grade, his art therapist observed a change in his behaviour. He began depicting tunnels and caves in his art. In and of themselves, those symbols were not cause for alarm, but Cho also suddenly became more withdrawn and showed symptoms of depression.

The following month, April 1999, the murders at Columbine High School occurred. Shortly thereafter, Cho wrote a disturbing paper in English class that drew quick reaction from his teacher. Cho?s written words expressed generalized thoughts of suicide and homicide, indicating that ?he wanted to repeat Columbine,? according to someone familiar with the situation. No one in particular was named or targeted in the words he wrote. The school contacted Cho?s sister since she spoke English and explained what had happened. The family was urged to have Cho evaluated by a psychiatrist. The sister relayed this information to her parents who asked her to accompany Cho to his next therapy appointment and report the incident, which she did. The therapist then contacted the psychiatrist for an evaluation.

The doctor diagnosed Cho with ?selective mutism? and ?major depression: single episode.? He prescribed the antidepressant Paroxetine 20 mg, which Cho took from June 1999 to July 2000. Cho did quite well on this regimen; he seemed to be in a good mood, looked brighter, and smiled more. The doctor stopped the medication because Cho improved and no longer needed the antidepressant.

In fall of 1999, Cho began high school at Centreville High School. Cho was assigned there for his remaining 3 years. About 1 month after classes began at Westfield, one of Cho?s teachers reported to the guidance office that Cho?s speech was barely audible and he did not respond in complete sentences. The teacher wrote that he was not verbally interactive at all and was shy and shut down. There was practically no communication with teachers or peers. Those failings aside, teachers also praised Cho for his qualities as a student. He achieved high grades, was always on time for class, and was diligent in submitting well-done homework assignments. Other than failing to speak, he did not exhibit any other unusual behaviour and did not cause problems. When the teacher asked Cho if he would like help with communicating, he nodded yes. The guidance counsellors asked Cho whether he had ever received mental health or special education assistance in middle school or in his freshman year (at the previous high school), and he reportedly indicated (untruthfully) that he had not.

Classmates recall some teasing and bullying over his taciturn nature. The few times he was required to speak for a class assignment, students mocked his poor English and deep-throated voice.

And so he chose invisibility. Neighbours would spot him shooting baskets by himself. When they said hello, he ignored them, as if he were not there. ?Like he had a broken heart,? said Abdul Shash, a next-door neighbor.

After the Virginia Tech murders, some newspapers reported that Cho was the subject of bullying. The panel could not confirm whether or not he was bullied or threatened. His family said that he never mentioned being the target of threats or intimidating messages, but then neither did he routinely discuss any details about school or the events of his day. His guidance counsellor had no records of bullying or harassment complaints.

It would be reasonable, however, to assume that Cho was a victim of some bullying, though to what extent and how much above the norm is not known. His sister said that both of them were subjected to a certain level of harassment when they first came to the United States and throughout their school years, but she indicated that it was neither particularly threatening nor ongoing.

Nearly all students experience some level of bullying in schools today. Much of this behaviour occurs behind the scenes or off school grounds?and often electronically.

Girls figured somewhere in his yearnings, but always from a distance.

In his junior year, Cho told his then-roommates that he had a girlfriend. Her name was Jelly. She was a supermodel who lived in outer space and traveled by spaceship, and she existed only in the dimension of his imagination.

When Andy Koch, one of his roommates, returned to their suite one day, Cho shooed him away. He told him Jelly was there. He said she called him Spanky. Spanky Jelly became his instant-message screen name.

He became fixated on several real female students. Two of them complained to the police that he was calling them, showing up at their rooms and bombarding them with instant messages. They found him bothersome but not threatening. After the second complaint against him in December 2005, the police came by and told him to stop.

A few hours after they left, he sent an instant message to one of his roommates suggesting he might as well kill himself. The campus police were called, and Cho was sent to an off-campus mental health facility.

After a counselor recommended involuntary commitment, a judge signed an order deeming him a danger and he was sent for evaluation to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital in Radford, Va. A doctor there declared him mentally ill but not an imminent threat. Rather than commit him, the judge allowed him to undergo outpatient treatment. Officials say they do not know whether he did.

His junior-year roommates mostly ignored him because he was so withdrawn. If he said something, it was weird. During Thanksgiving break, Mr. Koch recalled, Cho called him to report that he was vacationing in North Carolina with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president; Cho said he had grown up with him in Moscow.

Sometimes Cho introduced himself as ?Question Mark,? saying it was the persona of a man who lived on Mars and journeyed to Jupiter. On the sign-in sheet of a literature class, he simply scribbled a question mark instead of his name.

But he wrote. Those who read his stories, his poems, his plays ? they were the ones who wondered.

English teachers were disturbed by his angry writings and oddness. In a poetry class in his junior year, women said he would snap pictures of them with his cellphone beneath his desk. Several stopped coming to class.

He took a playwriting class in which he submitted two one-act plays, ?Richard McBeef? and ?Mr. Brownstone,? both foulmouthed rants. In ?Richard McBeef,? a 13-year-old threatens to kill his stepfather. Steven Davis, a senior in the class, said he finished reading the play one night, turned to his roommate and said, ?This is the kind of guy who is going to walk into a classroom and start shooting people.?

Before Cho left high school, the guidance counsellor made sure that Cho had the name and contact information of a school district resource who Cho could call if he encountered problems at college. As is now known, Cho never sought that help while at Virginia Tech. As Cho looked to the fall of 2003, he was preparing to leave home for the first time and enter an environment where he knew no one. He was not on any medication for anxiety or depression, had stopped counselling, and no longer had special accommodations for his selective mutism. Neither Cho nor his high school revealed that he had been receiving special education services as an emotionally disabled student, so no one at the university ever became aware of these pre-existing conditions.

In August of 2003, Cho began classes at Virginia Tech as a Business Information Technology major. Mr. and Mrs. Cho were concerned about his move away from home and the stress of the new environment, especially when they learned he was unhappy with his roommate. His parents visited him every weekend on Sundays during that first semester, which was a major time commitment since they both worked the other 6 days of the week. They noted that the dorm room trash can was full of beer cans (allegedly, from the interview with Cho?s parents, the roommate was drinking) and the room was quite dirty. Cho, in contrast, had kept his room neat at home and had good hygiene. He requested a room change?a move that his parents and sister saw as a positive sign that he was being proactive and taking care of his own affairs. It seemed as though college was working out for him because he seemed excited about it. Cho settled in, got his room changed by the beginning of the second semester, and seemed to be adjusting. Parental visits became less frequent. According to a routine they established, every Sunday night he spoke with his parents by telephone who always asked how he was doing and whether he needed anything, including money. Mr. and Mrs. Cho said that he never asked for extra money and would not accept any. He was very mindful of the family?s financial situation and lived frugally. He would not buy things even though his parents encouraged him occasionally to purchase new clothes or other items. They reported that he did not appear envious or angry about anything.

Monday, April 16, 2007

5:00 a.m.: While in Suite 2121 of Harper Hall, Joe Aust, one of Cho’s five roommates, notices that Cho is awake and at his computer.

Around 5:30 a.m.: Karan Grewal, one of Cho’s other roommates, notices Cho, clad in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, brushing his teeth and applying acne cream after Grewal finished an “all-nighter” of study in Suite 2121. Grewal does not see Cho after this point.

Before 7:00 a.m.: Cho was seen waiting outside an entrance to West Ambler Johnston Hall.

Before 7:15 a.m.: Emily Hilscher is dropped off at her dormitory by her boyfriend, Karl D. Thornhill, with whom she has spent the night.

Around 7:15 a.m. Cho allegedly 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.

Cho paused after the first two shootings. He returned to his room and wrote a manifesto of his loathing for the world. In it he praised the Columbine High School killers as ?martyrs?. Then he mailed it to NBC News. Meanwhile the police chased the wrong man, not bothering to tell the college of the nightmare ? currently arming himself with guns he?d collected in previous weeks ? stalking the campus.

Police had not positively stated that Cho was the perpetrator of that shooting in addition to the later one, although forensic evidence confirmed that the same gun was used in both shooting incidents.

Within the next two and a half hours, Cho returned to his room to re-arm himself and mailed a package containing pictures, digital video files and documents to NBC News. 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 area of the building where Cho attacked the faculty and students, Cho committed suicide in Norris 211 with a gunshot to his head. The police identified Cho by matching the fingerprints on the guns used in the shootings with immigration records. Cho’s rampage occurred on April 16, 2007, just four days before the 8th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

During February and March 2007, Cho began purchasing the weapons that he later used during the killings. On February 2, 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 purchase transaction and picked up the handgun.

Cho bought a second handgun, a 9 mm Glock 19 semiautomatic 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 in completing both handgun purchases, even though he failed to disclose on the background questionnaire information about his mental health history leading to court-ordered 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. Cho purchased additional ammunition magazines from the Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores. Based on a preliminary computer forensics examination of Cho’s eBay purchase records, investigators suspect that Cho may have purchased an additional 10-round magazine on March 23, 2007 from another eBay seller who sold gun accessories.

During the investigation, the police found a note in Cho’s room that 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 reports also speculated that Cho was obsessed with fellow student Emily Hilscher and became enraged after his romantic overtures were rejected.

During the investigation, law enforcement officials could not find evidence that Cho knew Hilscher or the other students killed during the rampage. According to Heather Haugh, Hilscher’s roommate, she also knew of no connection between Hilscher and Cho.

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 170 shots during the bloody killing spree, with evidence technicians finding at least 17 spent ammunition magazines at the scene. During the investigation, federal law enforcement investigators found that the serial numbers were filed off both the Walther P22 and the Glock 19 handguns used by Cho during the killing spree.

Investigators also learned that Cho practiced shooting during mid-March at a firing range in Roanoke, about 40 miles from the Virginia Tech campus. According to former FBI agent Brad Garrett, “This was no spur-of-the-moment crime. He’s been thinking about this for several months prior to the shooting.”

In the aftermath of the spree killing, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine appointed a panel to investigate the campus shootings. Governor 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 shootings. The panel plans to submit a report of its findings in approximately two to three months. To help investigate and analyze the emergency response surrounding the shootings at Virginia Tech, Governor Kaine also hired the same company that investigated the Columbine massacre.

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 to the New York headquarters of NBC News containing video clips, photographs and a manifesto explaining the reasons for his actions. The package was delayed in its delivery to NBC News because of an incorrect ZIP code in the address of the parcel.

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 broadcasted 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 were especially upsetting to those persons 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 Cho’s 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 Wellner, who also reviewed the materials, believed that Cho’s rantings offer little insight into the mental illness that may have triggered his rampage. Wellner 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.”

In his manifesto, Cho mentioned the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with respect and denigrated former teachers John Mark Karr and Debra Lafave. In one of the videos, Cho said:

?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.?

Pete Williams, a MSNBC justice correspondent, opined that Cho lacked logical governance, suggesting that Cho was under severe emotional distress. In the video, Cho also railed against materialism and hedonism while, in another video, he compared himself to Jesus Christ, explaining that his death will influence generations of people.

In an 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.

Shocking images of Cho Seung-Hui – New York Daily News

Seung-Hui Cho – Mass Murderer –


Killer’s Note: ‘You Caused Me to Do This’ – ABC News

A Year After Massacre, Family Lives ‘in Darkness’ – Washington Post

Seung Hui Cho’s “Manifesto” – School Shooters .info

Seung-Hui Cho – The New York Times

FBI ? Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui ‘deserved to die’, says his grandad …

Seung-Hui Cho: Who Is This Man? – The New York Times

Killer’s Parents Describe Attempts Over the Years to Help Isolated Son

Family of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-hui were concerned about …

Seung-Hui Cho – Wikipedia

Seung-Hui Cho’s –

Before Deadly Rage, a Life Consumed by a Troubling Silence – The …

He … made the world weep,’ Cho’s family says – NBC News