Online Mob Seeking VT Killer Got The Wrong Guy

'Based on the description that was out there, I know I matched it exactly,' says Wayne Chiang.

He is a tall Asian male and a 2006 graduate of Virginia Tech. He once lived in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory, where the first shootings on campus took place. His Facebook, LiveJournal and Xanga profiles display numerous pictures of him posing, smiling, with a cachet of large semiautomatic weapons.

The discovery of Wayne Chiang’s online identity Monday evening seemed to condemn the 23-year-old as the culprit behind the tragic events in Blacksburg — at least online.

(See Matt Sunbulli talk about how the VT tragedy was represented in blogs and memorial Web pages, right here and watch Kurt Loder detail the timeline of the day’s tragic events right here.)

“Based on the description that was out there, I know I matched it exactly,” Wayne Chiang told MTV News on Tuesday. Chiang was clearly shaken by the events of the last 24 hours, not just due to the tragedy at his alma mater but because he was soon fingered by thousands of people as the prime suspect behind the shootings that rocked the Virginia Tech campus.

On Tuesday morning, local and federal authorities confirmed that the killer was Cho Seung-Hui (see “Virginia Tech Gunman Was 23-Year-Old Student, ‘A Loner’ “ ).

“I was five for five,” Chiang said, referring to the descriptions of the killer being reported in the hours immediately following the killings. “I’m Asian. I went to [Virginia] Tech. I used to live in the dorm [where the first shootings occurred]. There’s the infamous pictures of me with my guns.” Chiang also had written on his LiveJournal blog last week that he had broken up with his girlfriend.

“It sure sounds like me,” he said evenly. “I joked about it with a friend online. I didn’t think it would go anywhere — but obviously, it did.”

The most stark reports coming out of Blacksburg on Monday were firsthand accounts on blogs, photos and videos online (see “Virtual Memorial, MySpace Pages Help VT Mourners Cope Online” ). But just as people were sharing information on the tragedy and checking in on friends and loved ones, so too were people looking for answers — a reason or person behind the violence.

Anyone scouring the Facebook profiles of Virginia Tech students on Monday — nearly 40,000 students past and present — could have come across Chiang’s profile. It was indeed startling.

His profile picture features him, smiling, with nearly a dozen rifles hanging around his neck. Several more photos of Chiang with guns were on the page, added just days before Monday’s shootings.

A quick Internet search revealed his other online profiles and his LiveJournal page, each showing several more pictures demonstrating his love of guns. There was also an entry about a recent breakup with a girl named Janice and a reprinted letter of acceptance to Virginia Tech’s graduate school, where Chiang wrote he was “going back for more hell.”

Shortly before 9 p.m. ET on Monday, two bloggers independently posted links to Chiang’s profiles and fingered him as the suspect. One blog wrote of his Facebook profile, “I’d add him to see his whole profile but he’s dead in disgrace, along with [32] others.” Within an hour, hundreds of people were leaving comments on Chiang’s online profiles, ranging from angry and hostile to saddened and puzzled. Several other blogs shared the link, and within an hour, an angry online mob had formed.

“I usually get 4-5 comments a day, but I started noticing a hundred, then a thousand. That’s when I knew something was up,” said Chiang, who works at IBM in Washington, D.C., and lives in Chantilly, Virginia, about four hours from the VT campus. He said he was working from home on Monday when the shootings occurred.

At around 10:30 p.m., after hours of online silence, Chiang finally posted on his LiveJournal page. “This situation has now spiraled out of control,” he wrote. “I am now confirming that I am not the shooter.”

At around the same time, though, on the Fox Network, Geraldo Rivera broadcast Chiang’s Facebook page — though not his name — stating, “people might suspect that this might have been the perpetrator.” Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly then explained how, upon discovery of Chiang’s profile, the channel searched for him.

“It made me realize that the Internet is extremely powerful,” Chiang said. “[But] Geraldo — I wasn’t too keen on that. They portrayed me in not such a [good] light.” Chiang said he’s talking to legal representatives to “see what I can do.”

One puzzling element of Chiang’s story is his failure to address the accusations online during the day, which only fueled suspicions. Throughout the day, Chiang had commented on a couple of friends’ LiveJournal blogs, proving that he was alive and well.

During the evening’s hysteria, though, he deleted the posts, prompting a friend to ask, “Are you trying to look like the killer?”

“I figured it could get more people to get to my Web site, and I was planning on setting up AdSense to get money to donate to charity,” he said. “I know that sounds unconvincing and people [think I] want the money for myself. But I have a good job, I don’t need the money.”

Still, the images of Chiang and his guns are striking. Chiang calls himself a “Second Amendment activist,” and said his firearms are properly registered. He is careful to state that he doesn’t want to exploit the tragedy in any way, but opines, “If any of those 30 students were armed, this situation would’ve ended differently.”

“In Virginia, you can carry a concealed handgun with a permit,” he explained. “The board of directors at Virginia Tech have ruled that students don’t need such protection on campus. They say that Tech police provide enough protection and students wouldn’t need to be armed. Many student groups have tried to revoke that in recent years and in hindsight, [it could have changed Monday's events].”

Given his recent notoriety, Chiang has altered some — but not all — of his online profiles, such as changing his main Facebook profile picture. “I’m proud of who I am and I will stay true to that,” he explained. “As long as my livelihood isn’t affected, my life will go on.

“So many people out there are asking why and how this could have happened,” he said. “It’s human nature to find a scapegoat, and I understand that feeling.”

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