A professor warned authorities about Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui after the student turned in violent creative writing pieces and exhibited troubling behavior, but she was told intervention would require overcoming too many legal hurdles.
Officials today identified the 23-year-old South Korean student as the killer of up to 32 people at the Virginia school, the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.
Lucinda Roy, who taught Cho in a poetry class in fall of 2005, told ABC News she later worked with him one-on-one after becoming concerned about his behavior and themes in his writings.
Roy, co-director of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech, said she asked Cho to go to counseling, but he never went.
She said while she found nothing explicit in Cho’s writings, threats were there under the surface.
Roy also said she was concerned for her safety when she met with Cho.
She told ABC the student seemed “extraordinarily lonely – the loneliest person I have ever met in my life.”
He wore sunglasses indoors with a cap pulled low over his eyes, whispered, took 20 seconds to answer questions and took cellphone pictures of her in class, Roy said.
Cho wrote a play called “Richard McBeef” in which he describes a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of pedophilia. The story ends with the boy’s death.
Another piece, called “Mr. Brownstone,” has three high-school students facing an abusive teacher.
“I wanna kill him,” says one character.
“I wanna watch him bleed like the way he made us kids bleed,” says another.
Note rails against ‘debauchery’
Cho was a resident alien enrolled as a senior English major at Virginia Tech. His U.S. residence was established in Centreville, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, according to the Chicago Tribune. He left an invective-filled note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances and died with the words “Ismail Ax” in red ink on the inside of one of his arms.
He had shown recent signs of violent, aberrant behavior, an investigative source told the Chicago paper, including setting a fire in a dorm room and allegedly stalking some women.
A note found in Cho’s dorm room railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.
The Tribune said the student came to the U.S. in 1992. His family runs a dry cleaning business and he has a sister who attended Princeton University.
The gunman found dead yesterday by authorities from apparently self-inflicted wounds had been described to MSNBC by an injured student as a college-aged Asian with a maroon hat and black leather jacket.
Authorities found a cellphone at the scene that initially led them to believe the killer was a Virginia Tech student from China.
There were two separate shooting incidents on the campus, hours apart, but it is still unclear whether the same shooter was involved in all instances, officials said today. The first 9-1-1 call came at 7:15 a.m. from a residence hall where two people reportedly had been shot. The second shooting spree was at Norris Hall, an engineer building, where 31 people were killed and Cho took his own life with a gunshot to his face.
Another 15 people were wounded.
Virigina Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said this morning lab results confirm one of the two weapons seized in Norris Hall was used in both shootings.
Police are not looking for a second shooter, but they do not rule out the possibility an accomplice may have been involved.
Cho was carrying a backpack that contained receipts for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol, sources told ABC News.
Police said Cho also had a .22 caliber pistol. He was eligible to buy a handgun because he was a permanent legal resident of the U.S. without a felony conviction.
ABC News said sections of chain similar to those used to lock the main doors at Norris Hall, the site of the second shooting, also were found inside a Virginia Tech dormitory.
Cho’s family lived in an off-white, two-story town house in Centreville, according to the Tribune.
A neighbor described the family as quiet and said Cho wouldn’t respond if someone greeted him.
“He was very quiet, always by himself,” Abdul Shash told the paper.
Court records show Cho received a speeding ticket April 7 from Virginia Tech Police for going 44 mph in a 25 mph zone and had a court date set for May 23.
Cho lived at Harper Hall where students said they had little interaction with him and no idea why he carried out the attack.
Student Timothy Johnson told the Tribune people would say hello to him in passing but nobody knew him well.
“People are pretty upset,” Johnson said. “He’s a monster; he can’t be normal. I can’t believe I said ‘hi’ to him in the hall and then he killed all those people.”
Two hours to notify
It took authorities more than two hours to notify the campus, by e-mail, of the first incident.
Virginia Tech campus
Asked yesterday by reporters to explain, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said initial information led officials to believe it was an isolated event and that the shooter had fled the campus. Only the residence hall, West Ambler Johnston, was locked down, he said.
University President Charles Steger defended his handling of the tragedy, saying he and other officials “had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur.”
“We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time,” he said. “You don’t have hours to reflect on it.”
Steger said it was difficult to inform everyone on campus, with about 11,000 people arriving in the morning.
Earlier yesterday, Steger said the grieving campus was quickly organizing a convocation of faculty, staff and students.
“Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions,” he said. “The university is shocked and horrified that this would befall our campus. … I cannot begin to convey my own personal sense of loss over this senseless of such an incomprehensible and heinous act.”
The deadliest U.S. campus shooting, until yesterday, took place at the University of Texas in 1966 when 16 people were killed by Charles Whitman, who opened fire from a clock tower. In 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students at Columbine High School near Denver.
But yesterday’s shooting was the deadliest mass shooting of any kind in U.S. history, a prominent criminologist told the Roanoke Times.
James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston said the death toll, which stands at 33, surpasses the 22 people killed in 1991 when a gunman opened fire at a cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.
ABC News reported Virginia Tech students and an employee say the first e-mail warning they got from the university came at 9:26 a.m. By that time, the gunman had struck again.
Another ABC News report said there were two separate bomb threats in the past two weeks at Virginia Tech that targeted engineering buildings.
The first was in early April and the second at the end of last week, which prompted evacuation of students and staff. The university had offered a $5,000 reward for information.
Officials said today they have no information to link the threats to yesterday’s attack.
The 2,600-acre campus in Blacksburg, in the western part of the state near West Virginia and Tennessee, has more than 28,000 full-time students.
Virginia Tech student Blake Harrison witnessed the chaos while on his way to a class near Norris Hall.
“This teacher comes flying out of Norris, he’s bleeding from his arm or his shoulder … all these students were coming out of Norris trying to take shelter in Randolph [Hall]. All these kids were freaked out,” Harrison said, according to Fox News.
The students and faculty were barricading themselves in their classrooms.
The shooter was “wearing a vest covered in clips was just unloading on their door, going from classroom to classroom … they said it never seemed like it was going to stop and there was just blood all over,” Harrison said.
The shooter had two handguns and several clips of ammunition, according to NBC News. Flinchum confirmed an earlier report that the shooter chained the doors of a classroom to make it almost impossible for the students to escape.
University officials have closed the campus for the week and directed families and students to meet at the Inn at Virginia Tech today.
Last August, classes were canceled on the opening day at Virginia Tech when an escaped gunman, William Morva, allegedly killed a hospital guard off campus and fled to the campus area.
President Bush said he was “horrified” after hearing news of the shootings, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
“It is difficult to comprehend senseless violence on this scale,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families and friends of these victims, and members of the extended Virginia Tech community.”