Officials confirmed on Tuesday that 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui of Centreville, Virginia, was the person who killed 32 people and then himself on the school’s campus on Monday. However, they did not rule out the possibility that he may have had accomplices.
“It certainly is reasonable for us to assume that Cho was the shooter in both places, but we don’t have the evidence to take us there at this particular point in time,” said Colonel Steven Flaherty of the Virginia State Police, adding that law-enforcement officials were following “a myriad of leads that take us in many different directions,” and were still reviewing a great deal of information about the case.
University police chief Wendell Flinchum said earlier in the day that ballistics tests on the 9mm and 22-caliber handguns recovered from Norris Hall confirmed that one of two weapons seized in Norris was used in both shootings. Fox News reported that officials had made a fingerprint match between the guns and Cho’s visa information.
Cho, a South Korean native, was living in the United States as a legal permanent resident on a resident-alien visa. He was an English major at the university and his body was found in Norris Hall among the bodies of his victims.
Flinchum also discussed the unnamed “person of interest” who was detained by police shortly after the first shootings at the West Ambler Johnston dormitory, who he said was an acquaintance of the female victim murdered at the dormitory. He said the shootings at Norris Hall took place as officers were interviewing the man. He also said there was no further information on whether the bomb threats called in to the campus last week were related to the shootings.
Though officials are still wading through what they described as a horrific and chaotic crime scene at Norris Hall, where personal effects were scattered about wildly as students scrambled to escape, the names of the first officially identified victims were released.
Among them, according to Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times, were: Daniel Albardo; Ross Alameddine; Christopher James Bishop, 35, German-language instructor; graduate student Brian Bluhm; senior Ryan Clark, 22, a resident adviser in West Ambler Johnston dormitory; freshman Austin Cloyd; Jocelyne Couture-Nowark, French professor; Kevin Granata, professor of engineering science and mechanics; sophomore Caitlin Hammaren; graduate student Jeremy Herbstritt; freshman Emily Hilscher; freshman Matt La Porte; senior Jarrett Lane; freshman Henry Lee; Liviu Librescu, 76, professor of engineering science and mechanics; G.V. Loganathan, 51, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Lauren McCain; graduate student Dan O’Neil; graduate student Juan Ortiz; Erin Peterson; freshman Reema Samaha; sophomore Leslie Sherman; senior Maxine Turner; and junior Nicole White.
While the names of all the deceased students have yet to be released, students had their own way of identifying them. According to one student, local sorority and fraternity houses held roll call within hours of the Norris Hall shootings, and whoever wasn’t present and accounted for was presumed dead.
Librescu’s son told Fox News that his father, a Holocaust survivor, died while trying to block the door as students climbed out of classroom windows.
Doctors treating the 29 wounded described the injuries sustained by students and staff to CNN as horrific, with most of the victims suffering from three or more gunshot wounds and Cho felled by a self-inflicted gunshot wound that was “brutal.”
Three of the victims who were described as critical yesterday had been upgraded as of Tuesday morning (April 17) to stable condition, according to a CNN report, and one of the victims was slated to be released from a hospital Tuesday.
More details emerged about Cho as Tuesday went on, including descriptions of him as a quiet loner who had attracted some attention on campus for a seemingly silent violent streak. The Chicago Tribune reported that Cho left a rambling, angry note in his dorm room, reportedly written between the two shootings.
In it, law-enforcement sources told the Tribune, the 23-year-old English major railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus. Law-enforcement sources told ABC News that Cho also wrote: “You caused me to do this,” although authorities did not explain who he was referring to specifically.
Flaherty declined to comment about the note, saying that it was “part of the evidenciary process now.” But he did state that there was no evidence to suggest that Cho left what Flaherty carefully defined as “a suicide note,” and added that police had executed a search warrant on Cho’s dorm room, seizing “considerable writings” in the process.
Police have also determined that the serial numbers were filed off the two guns used in the incidents, lending more credence to the suspicion that the shootings were meticulously planned and not a spur-of-the-moment action. FBI officials were able to reconstruct the three serial numbers scraped off the guns and, using a receipt for the Glock 19 9mm handgun found in Cho’s backpack at the crime scene, trace the purchase to a Roanoke gun store.
CNN reported that Cho bought the gun 36 days ago, using three forms of ID and paying $571 for the weapon, which he was able to purchase after an instant background check because Virginia does not have a waiting period for gun purchases.
“He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him,” Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations, told CNN. Cho came to the United States from South Korea in 1992, and in addition to his dorm room on campus, he shared a small townhouse with his family in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Centreville, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
The New York Times reported that Virginia Tech is well-known in South Korea and that the country’s Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences and wishes that the incident would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.” According to The Associated Press, Cho Byung-Se, a ministry official handling North American affairs, said, “We are in shock beyond description. … We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people.”
Citing unidentified sources, the Chicago Tribune had the most detailed information about the clues left behind by the troubled gunman. In addition to the note, Cho had the words “Ismail Ax” written on one of his arms in red ink. A Web search of the term did not turn up any obvious explanations of the phrase, though speculation in the blogosphere centered on either a Biblical reference to the story of Ishmael (sometimes written as “Ismail”) and Abraham destroying idols with an ax, or the story of settler Ishmael Bush in James Fenimore Cooper’s story “The Prairie.” In that tale, Bush — in an attempt to escape civilization — sets out across the prairie with a gun and an ax, with the tools representing both creation and destruction, a literary reference that English major Cho might have known.
The Tribune also reported that Cho had previously shown signs of violent behavior, including setting a fire in a dorm room and allegedly stalking some women. His work for a creative-writing class was reportedly so disturbing that at one point he was referred to the school’s counseling service, according to AP.
According to CNN, fellow student Ian McFarland said Cho had authored two plays and that they were “very graphic” and “extremely disturbing.”
“It was like something out of a nightmare,” McFarland wrote in a blog. “The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.”
Professor Carolyn Rude, the chairwoman of the English Department, said there was “some concern” about Cho. Rude added that Lucinda Roy, the creative-writing department director, described Cho as “troubled.”
Students who recall Cho from class said he was a quiet student who sat in the back of the classroom, in the far right chair.
“He was really creepy,” said one female student who spoke on condition of anonymity. She said she was friends with Cho’s former roommate. “He was always at his computer, just staring at the screen,” she said.
Investigators also believe that Cho might have taken medication for depression at some point.
During a solemn convocation ceremony held Tuesday afternoon at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum, thousands of students wearing maroon and orange — the school’s colors — gathered to mourn together and hear speeches by school officials and President George Bush. Following an emotional speech from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who praised university students for the “incredible community spirit” they showed in the face of adversity, a somber Bush said in a six-minute speech that he and first lady Laura Bush came to Blacksburg “with hearts full of sorrow.”
Bush, who ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until Sunday evening, assured students that although their grief may feel overwhelming, it will pass. “On this terrible day of mourning, it’s hard to imagine a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal, but such a day will come,” Bush said. “And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them, and the lives that they hoped to lead.”
Wearing a bejeweled “Hokies” lapel pin in honor of the university’s nickname, poet Nikki Giovanni, who is on staff at the school, brought a moment of inspiring brightness to the affair with a rousing poem. It featured the lines, “We must laugh again/ We are Virginia Tech … We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid/ We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be/ We are alive to the imagination and the possibility/ We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears through all this sadness/ We are the Hokies/ We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail!” A standing ovation was followed by a spontaneous, heartfelt round of the sports chant, “Let’s go, Hokies!” with emotional students clapping and stomping their feet as if at a pep rally.
While the somber affair was an opportunity for the school to come together and grieve, some are debating whether Virginia Tech officials handled the incident properly. The media has besieged university officials with questions about why a loudspeaker alert or some other warning was not broadcast to the entire campus to warn them of a potential danger until nearly two hours after the dormitory shootings took place. A campuswide alert did not go out until 9:29 a.m., just 15 minutes before the Norris Hall shootings began.
One explanation given by authorities is that they believed the dorm shooting was an isolated domestic dispute. The unidentified “person of interest” was detained by police shortly after those shootings. Steger told CNN that police believed at the time that they were dealing with a “domestic fight, perhaps a murder-suicide” that was limited to one dorm room. Shortly after the dorm shootings, police cordoned off the dorm and all its residents were told about the shooting as officials looked for witnesses.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that another event was going to take place two hours later,” Steger told CNN, explaining that it would have been difficult to warn all of the university’s 25,000 students because the majority reside off-campus.
[This story was originally published at 10:40 a.m. ET on 04.17.2007.]
Read “Students From Across U.S. Respond To Shootings: ’It Is Beyond Unsettling’ “ , “On Virginia Tech Campus: ’I Can’t Believe This Happened Here’ “ , “Gunshots ’Sounded Like A Hammer’: Virginia Tech Students Speak About Shootings” and ” ’People Are Missing’: VT Student Reflects On Loss Of Friend” for firsthand accounts from the Virginia Tech campus and additional student reactions.
Go to “Virginia Tech Students Reach Out To One Another” and “Virtual Memorial, MySpace Pages Help VT Mourners Cope Online” to find out how students are coping with the tragedy.
And read ” ’The Scariest Moment Of My Life’: A Timeline Of VT Shootings” for a timeline of the tragedy.