Va. Tech Ignored More Cho Warning Signs
It's been clear almost from the start that Virginia Tech's counselors, administrators and professors had seen far too many warning signals about Seung-Hui Cho's unstable mental condition in the months before he shot dead 32 students and professors in April, 2007.
But a new investigation by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, based on an archive of records to be made public this month under the state's legal settlement with families of the victims, reveals that the number of chances the university had to see that something was terribly wrong was larger--and the failure to act more appalling--than we had previously known.
In a three-part series, Times-Dispatch reporter David Rees traces Cho's troubles back to middle school, finding that the future shooter was already talking about suicide and murder as an early adolescent, that (unknown to Virginia Tech) he had weekly therapy sessions during his first two years in high school in Fairfax County, and that even the Virginia Tech professors who did take the time to notice Cho's troubles and reach out to help him ended up doing little more than coddling him--rewarding his most troubling writing with grades of B and even A.
The series reveals disturbing efforts by university administrators to keep news of the shootings quiet, even in the crucial minutes before the school was locked down that spring morning. Twenty minutes before campus officials ordered a lockdown of the campus, "an assistant vice president [of the university] asked counseling-center staff to keep news of the first shootings confidential," the Richmond paper writes. One hundred and five minutes elapsed between when the Tech police chief learned of the first shooting and when the campus was shut down.
A timeline assembled by the newspaper reveals that there were several more incidents than have been reported until now that should have launched actions to help Cho and to separate him from those who felt threatened by him.
As early as September, 2005, Cho was complaining about bug bites, but there were no bugs to be found. He harassed a fellow Tech student who had also attended his high school--and when he was confronted, Cho blamed his non-existent twin brother. No one from the university's disciplinary office bothered to follow up on the incident.
Cho kept knives in his room, unsettling his dorm director so much that she wrote to the college's chief of dorm discipline asking that someone pay attention--there's no record that anyone did.
Despite a long series of incidents, a Tech official noted for the record in the summer of 2007 that somehow the "system worked" in Cho's case. And an English professor, Lisa Norris, praised Cho for a story he wrote about a young man named Ax Manson who is killed by his father to end the story. "Your stories are original & memorable, & you handle violence in interesting ways," the professor wrote. She gave Cho a B.
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