Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > News > 

Va. Tech officials tell why shooter allowed back on campus


April 20, 2007
Print Comment RSS

Va. Tech officials tell why shooter allowed back on campus

The San Francisco Chronicle

Blacksburg, Va. - Officials at Virginia Tech defended on Thursday their decision to allow the gunman in Monday's rampage to return to campus after he was released from a psychiatric facility, even though they were aware of his troubled mental history and potential for violence.

Cho Seung-Hui, 23, the student who killed himself and 32 others, received outpatient psychiatric care ordered for him after he was involuntarily hospitalized and reportedly suicidal in late 2005.

Christopher Flynn, director of the campus counseling service, said the university had played no role in monitoring Cho's psychiatric treatment.

"The university is not part of the mental health system nor the judiciary system, and we would not be the providers of mandatory counseling in this instance," Flynn said at a news conference. "This is not a law enforcement issue. He had broken no law that we know of. The mental health professionals were there to assess his safety, not particularly the safety of others."

Also Thursday, a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified said it now appeared that Cho had fired more than 100 . The official said investigators believed that most of the 32 dead were shot a minimum of three times, and that many of the 28 wounded were shot more than once.

Investigators now believe that after Cho left the scene of the first shooting, where two people were killed in a dormitory just after 7 a.m., he went to the post office to mail a package of writings and videos to NBC News, the official said, and then returned to his dormitory room before going to Norris Hall, where 31 people died, including Cho.

He chained shut a door to the building from the inside, using chains he had bought at Home Depot, the official said. The police who first responded to the shootings were able to force their way in by firing at the door with a shotgun, the official said.

Investigators believe the shotgun blast alerted the gunman to the arrival of the police, and he shot himself before they were able to get to him.

In the weeks before the violence, the investigator said, Cho went to a shooting range in Blacksburg, not far from campus, spending an hour practicing with the weapons and buying more magazines there.

Investigators believe, based on interviews with an employee at the range, that Cho recorded part of his video statement in a van in the range parking lot because, they said, the employee described an Asian youth recording himself there.

Soon after the shootings, university officials and police were criticized for taking too long to alert students to the danger after the first attack.

Wednesday, criticism increased after court documents, classmates and professors indicated that Cho had a long history of disturbing and menacing behavior. On Thursday, even President Bush joined the chorus of those questioning whether more could have been done to avoid the tragedy, although he did not specifically mention university officials.

"One of the lessons of these tragedies is to make sure that when people see somebody or know somebody that is exhibiting abnormal behavior, to do something about it," he said. "To suggest that somebody take a look; that if you are a parent and your child is doing strange things on the Internet, pay attention to it."

Also on Thursday, Gov. Timothy Kaine of Virginia said the state, rather than the university, would oversee a review panel that plans to examine how the university handled Cho's mental health needs and the shootings.

The panel, which Kaine said would seek to make recommendations before classes start in the fall, will be led by retired Col. Gerald Massengill, a former state police superintendent, and includes Tom Ridge, the former secretary of homeland security, Kaine said.

In defending their actions, university officials pointed out that Cho was legally an adult and that a doctor at the psychiatric center in nearby Radford where Cho was sent in 2005 determined that he was mentally ill but not an imminent danger to himself or others.

"I know that we followed all of our policies correctly in the past, and we acted on information that we had at the time," said Edward Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs.

He added that Cho had lived in a suite with five other students, and "none of them expressed any concern to us of any violence, danger or whatever. I think that gives you a view of the inner world of mental illness."

Former classmates who grew up with Cho recalled his peculiar behavior, and said that he was teased and picked on, apparently because of shyness and his strange, mumbling way of speaking.

Once, in English class at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., when the teacher had the students read aloud, Cho looked down when it was his turn, said Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior and high school classmate. After the teacher threatened him with an F for nonparticipation, 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,' '' Davids told the Associated Press.

Stephanie Roberts, 22, a classmate of Cho's at Westfield High, said she never witnessed anyone picking on Cho in high school. But she said friends of hers who went to middle school with him told her they recalled him getting bullied there.

"There were just some people who were really mean to him, and they would push him down and laugh at him," Roberts told AP. "He didn't speak English really well, and they would really make fun of him."

Police officials said that while the multimedia manifesto that Cho sent to NBC News on Monday provided them with little new information to help their investigation, they were disappointed in the broadcasting by the media of the hateful diatribe, which they said provided the killer with a wide platform.

"We appreciate NBC's cooperation, and they're cooperating with all of the authorities, though we're rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images," Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said during a news conference.

NBC defended its decision to release parts of Cho's video. The network also announced it was limiting the use of the material.

Also on Thursday, police obtained two search warrants for a Dell laptop computer and a Verizon cell phone belonging to freshman Emily Jane Hilscher, who was killed in the first shooting at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory. Authorities are attempting to see if Cho, with his history of stalking women by e-mail and phone, contacted her before the shooting.

Police officials said they were continuing to explore whether Cho had any special connection with any of his other victims or possible motives. Flaherty said on Thursday that the authorities were finishing the on-scene investigation.

Crime scene technicians recovered 17 spent magazines of ammunition, the majority of which were for Cho's 9mm handgun, a law enforcement official said.

"He ended up buying a load of mags from Wal-Mart and Dick's Sporting Goods," said an official, who asked not to be identified. "This was a thought-out process. He thought this through."

Classes were scheduled to resume on Monday, but officials said students will have the option of removing themselves from the campus for all or part of the semester without penalty to their academic standing,

The students killed on Monday will be posthumously awarded the degrees they were pursuing.

Of more than a dozen people injured in Monday's shootings, 10 remained hospitalized.

Copyright 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle

Full story: Va. Tech officials tell why shooter allowed back on campus





PoliceOne Offers

Breaking Police News

P1 on Facebook

Get the #1 Police eNewsletter

Police Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
See Sample

Connect with PoliceOne

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google

PoliceOne Exclusives

Featured Videos