Gunman was both methodical and angry
By Erika Hayasaki and Richard A. Serrano
Times Staff Writers
April 17, 2007, 9:03 PM CDT
BLACKSBURG, Va. — It was 5:30 Monday morning and Karan Grewal was finishing a break after a long night of cramming for his classes at Virginia Tech. As he left the bathroom at Harper Hall, his dormitory mate, Cho Seung-Hui, wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt, entered for his morning ritual of applying lotion, inserting his contact lenses and taking his medication.
“He was, like, normal,” Grewal, a 21-year-old accounting major, said today, describing the ordinary start to what turned out to be an extraordinary day.
Grewal said he went back to sleep but, according to authorities, Cho stayed awake. In fewer than five hours, Cho was dead, having killed himself after shooting 32 others to death at two locations on the Blue Ridge Mountain campus.
“He did not seem like a guy that’s capable of anything like this,” Grewal said.
A day after the deadliest gun massacre in modern U.S. history, students, friends and officials were trying to understand how Cho, a 23-year-old senior who was majoring in English, came to kill. It was a hazy picture of a man, whose last note was a rant against rich kids and debauchery, but who also appeared organized enough to secure weapons and stage his rampage.
According to school officials, Cho even had time to post a deadly warning on a school online forum.
“im going to kill people at vtech today,” they said he wrote. The validity of the quote could not be independently verified.
The Chicago Tribune reported on its website that Cho left a note in his dorm that included a rambling list of grievances. The note included rants against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.
Cho arrived in the United States as an 8-year-old boy from South Korea in 1992, Korean Embassy officials said.
His parents, who are in seclusion refusing to talk to the media, run a dry cleaning business in Centreville, Va., according to federal investigation sources. Cho’s sister is a graduate of Princeton.
His only previous contact with the law was a recent speeding ticket for doing 74 mph in a 55-mph zone, federal sources said. But the officials said he once set fire to his dorm room and was taking medication for depression.
By around 7:15 a.m. Monday, Cho had left his Harper Hall dorm for West Ambler Johnston dormitory. There he went to see Emily Hilscher, described as a friend by officials. Hilscher and the resident advisor, who came to investigate, were shot to death.
As police investigated, Cho was on the move. He had a backpack containing knives and ammo magazines, sources said. He was armed with two handguns.
One, a .22-caliber handgun, was bought in February at JND Pawn in Blacksburg, federal sources said. The other gun, a 9-mm Glock, was bought from a Roanoke firearms store.
After leaving the scene of the first shooting, Cho telephoned authorities with a threat, saying there was a bomb at Norris Hall, about half a mile away from Johnston.
At Norris, officials said Cho barricaded the doors with chains, then began shooting people. Thirty were killed before Cho turned the gun on himself, officials said.
At Harper, Cho shared a second-floor apartment-style suite with six other students. The suite has three bedrooms for two students each. The suite is connected with one living room and a shared bathroom. Its living room has a burgundy couch and tan coffee table, and today it was littered with empty water bottles and Dr. Pepper cans.
Cho shared a bedroom with Joseph Aust, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. Aust said he knew barely anything about him, and the two hardly spoke. When they moved in together, Aust said that Cho told him he was a business major.
Aust said Cho was always on his computer listening to rock, pop and classical.
“He would spend a lot of time downloading music,” he said.
But Aust said Cho was away from the room more often than he was there. Aust didn’t know where he went. Sometimes, Aust said, he walked into their room and Cho would be sitting in his chair.
“I would come into the room and he’d just kind of be staring at his desk, just staring at nothing,” he said. “I would pass it off like he was just weird.”
Aust said that Cho worked out every day and went to bed at 9 p.m. every night. The last couple of weeks he started getting up at 7 a.m., Aust said. But recently he had been waking up at 5:30 or 6 a.m.
He said Cho didn’t appear to have any friends or a girlfriend. He also didn’t have any decorations, posters or photos in his room, just his laptop, books and clothes. Aust said he tried talking to him a couple of times.
“He would just give one-word answers, not try to carry on a conversation.”
Cho was an English major and the English department is in Shanks Hall, one of the smaller buildings on campus.
It’s a two-story brick building and, like much of the campus, was ghostly quiet. Inside, the chair of the English department, Carolyn Rude, sat in her office.
Rude said she couldn’t comment in detail because attorneys for the college advised the faculty not to speak. But, she said, she thought that there was a business major who switched his major to creative writing. She thought he may have taken a class with the esteemed poet Nikki Giovanni, who spoke at today’s on-campus convocation.
Virginia Tech has a fairly robust English department for a technical college, with 500 undergraduate students. They can follow three tracks: literature, language and culture, professional writing (technical and business writing) and creative writing
“It horrifies us to know that one of our students could have reaped such horror on our family and friends,” she said.
Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, was in a playwriting class with Cho taught by acclaimed professor Ed Falco this semester.
“His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Derry said.
“I remember one of them very well. It was about a son who hated his stepfather. In the play the boy threw a chainsaw around, and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a Rice Krispy treat,” she said.
“When I got the call it was Cho who had done this, I started crying, bawling,” Derry said. “I kept having to tell myself there is no way we could have known this was coming. I was just so frustrated that we saw all the signs, but never thought this could happen.”