April 16 was not the first day that Virginia Tech University police heard Cho Seung-Hui’s name.
University police Chief Wendell Flinchum revealed in a press conference on Wednesday morning (April 18) that police had interviewed Cho twice in 2005 after receiving complaints about him stalking female students. They also advised him to seek help from a mental-health counselor when they received word from one of his friends that he might be suicidal (see “Cho Seung-Hui, Virginia Tech Gunman, Described As ’Loner’ “ ).
Later Wednesday, NBC revealed portions of videos and photos Cho had sent to the network after the first shooting, when he killed two people in a dormitory, but before he carried out the second shooting. Contained in the oversize envelope, addressed to NBC News President Steve Capus, was a 22-page PDF document and 43 photos, as well as a DVD with 27 QuickTime files, Capus said on MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews.” According to Capus, Cho apparently taped the video and took the photos himself.
The network received the envelope — which was time-stamped in the two hours between shootings — on Wednesday and turned it over to the FBI before disclosing a portion of its contents, network officials said. The package had a postage stamp reflecting that it had been received at a Virginia post office at 9:01 a.m. Monday, an hour and 45 minutes after the residence-hall shootings, according to MSNBC.com.
In the video, which Capus called “rambling” but “absolutely horrifying,” the gunman says, “Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off,” “You just love to crucify me,” “This didn’t have to happen” and “When the time came, I did it. I had to.”
“I didn’t have to do this,” Cho says in one of the clips. “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 f—, I did it for them.”
In the vague ramblings, the gunman mentions “martyrs like Eric and Dylan” — an apparent reference to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Friday is the eighth anniversary of the Columbine killings. He also mentions Christianity, “hedonism” and his hatred of the wealthy.
Cho is portrayed holding guns in 11 of the photos. The materials do not include images of the shootings but contains references to them.
Virginia State Police Colonel Steve Flaherty said, “This may be a very new, critical component of this investigation. We’re in the process right now of attempting to analyze and evaluate its worth.”
In the press conference held Wednesday morning, Flinchum said police received a call in November of 2005 from an unidentified female student who said she had received “annoying” phone calls and had had a personal run-in with Cho. Police investigated the incident and no charges were filed.
Weeks later, on December 13, 2005, Flinchum said VT police received another complaint after Cho instant-messaged another female student. Although he didn’t threaten her, she spoke with police and asked that Cho not have any more contact with her. No charges were filed in that incident either.
The next morning, officers followed up and spoke to Cho “at length,” Flinchum said, about the second incident, and received a call later in the day from one of Cho’s friends, who reported that he thought Cho might be suicidal. Police asked Cho to seek mental-health counseling at the time out of their concern for his welfare and a temporary detention order was obtained, which resulted in Cho spending two days at a mental-health agency. Officials said the university was uncertain whether the detention was voluntary or involuntary.
As far as police know, neither of the women who filed complaints about Cho were victims of Monday’s shooting spree, and both women said they have not had contact with Cho since the 2005 incidents. No personal connection has yet been confirmed between Cho and Emily Jane Hilscher, the 18-year-old woman who was slain along with 22-year-old Ryan Clark at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory. Even though one of the two guns used in the Norris Hall murders was also used at Johnston Hall, police have not yet definitively tied Cho to the Johnston murders. Colonel Steven Flaherty of the Virginia State Police said Wednesday that there was no “hard evidence” placing Cho at the Johnston murder scene and no definitive personal connections thus far between Cho and any of the 30 victims at Norris Hall (see ” ’The Scariest Moment Of My Life': A Timeline Of VT Shootings” ).
University officials said they would not comment on any campus disciplinary record Cho may have had because the information is privileged, even after death, but police said there was nothing to indicate that the mental-health detention would have prevented Cho from obtaining a gun legally in Virginia. CNN reported, however, that a person involuntarily committed to an institution could be turned down for a gun purchase in Virginia.
Dr. Christopher Flynn, director of VT’s Cook Counseling Center (which helps students with mental health issues), would not comment specifically on Cho due to rules regarding health-record confidentiality, but he said that it is the center’s responsibility to warn officials about students they think represent a danger to themselves or others. He said the university is “extremely proactive” about students who may be distressed or about whom there is a concern.
As for whether the university could have — or should have — taken disciplinary action against Cho, officials said two factors can be cause for a student’s suspension: violating the academic honors system by cheating; and violating the policies for student life, which include abusive conduct. In addition to being found guilty by a court, a person would have to be found guilty of violating the student-life policy after a review by the student judicial system in order to be considered for suspension.
It appears that no such actions were initiated against Cho following the 2005 incidents.
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.
[This story was originally published at 12:50 p.m. on 04.18.2007]
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.