Were the signs always there?


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.”


12 thoughts on “Were the signs always there?

  1. I suffer from social anxiety disorder and it sounds like he may have also. It is a hard disease to understand and from living with it most of my life I can understand how he could of done this.

  2. This is so sad . . . a young man suffering from depression has killed 33 other innocent people. My prayers go up for the victims and the family of the perpetrator.

  3. Fredog:
    PLEASE don’t even think about doing something like this. Find a counselor, a friend or a clergyman to help you with your social anxiety. It is not a disease, and it is a rather common situation that we all face. Best wishes.

  4. we need t0 stop the violent games and music that degrades people
    we need to stop pomoting clicks in schools

  5. just sad.. everyone has bad days and just maybe a bad life but there is always somone who wants to listen and maybe he rejected them , i wish they could have reached out further,because that is all people need -friendship love and god could have saved him.death is no answer unless you are going to heaven..i feelbad for him AND EVERY VICTIM..please may some peace be with you

  6. I hate to ask this question, but where are his parents?
    No statements? Not attending the candle lit ceremony?
    Why are the police not talking to the parents????
    He was a VERY sick Student…..
    I am so so sad for all of you at VT

  7. Video games did not have much of a role in the killings as Cho spent much of his time in real shooting ranges before he went on his planned rampage.

    Its always easy to dismiss a social outcast as a loser or a loner instead of trying to take measures to keep him from slipping into the deep end. His roommates seemed to have taken some measures but didn’t really care since he was just the guy who just helped them get a suite or just an acquaintance

    His Korean parents appeared to be surprised and humiliated by the actions of their son, which makes them reluctant to speak for fear of criticism and further humiliation.

    I have taken anti-depressants in the past and they really don’t solve the underlying problems causing depression. All they do is create a numb feeling in one’s mind without taking away all the unpleasant thoughts and ideas that still linger in one’s mind.

    Its times like these I recommend staying with good company/friends that will look out for you, treat you with respect and not think any less of you regardless of the extent you have been ravaged by depression or related disorders. Changing environments and interests can also help with the process

  8. When do we do something about cases like this. Any person who writes things like he did in a creative writing class should be removed from school. He keep repeating it over & over. Students & teachers knew something was wrong. Someone should have had contact with his parents & his doctors. There’s a difference in being alittle strange and down right sick. He talks alot about being raped, molested, & his characters descibes it. He focuses on school teachers & step dads. There’s a good possibility that tells a story of a boy who probably had it done to him. If I were the parents of the dead I would be very angry at the college. Cho should have been removed from the school. His parents had to know he was disturbed. People on meds should be monitored at all times. Students, staff members, his parents just all brushed it off to just being strange. When a person will not talk back to you and will not communicate when spoken to, it should have made counsolers very concerned. Maybe now when they see a extervert who writes out a cry for help they will listen. He was telling everyone around him “Hey I’m not right” “leave Me Alone” “I want nothing to do with any of you”. This are all reason why someone like that should not be left in a public enviroment. They are dangerous. How many more time will this happen before we take proper action. The schools did handle the situation wrong. When a gunman is on the loose all the school should have shut down and all students immidetly evacuated. Those kids should have had a chose to leave they knew nothing. It should be a mandatory response to clear the area even if it’s on another campus if they are close together. These days when the world is crazy just prepare for the worst and hope it’s not. Atleast you want have so many dead.

  9. Something should have been done the moment he got in trouble with university authorities in 2005 or when he seemingly made a snap decision to switch majors after doing 3 years of business to creative writing, where he was able to express himself in the worst ways.

    Living away from parents makes it harder for them to track his moods and feelings. Every student in the university is treated as an independent adult, this is partly the reason parents are usually not in the loop when he was given meds or mental therapy.

    His downward spiral was witnessed by his roommates, who he did not kill. THey did the bare minimum, but other than that, they left him to his own devices.

    The University is also at fault for taking their sweet time in stopping him in light of school violence in these past years. Instead of making a public announcement to get everyone out of danger, they simply sent a discreet mass mail that made it seem like an isolated incident in the early hours when everyone is either sleeping or in class.

    This could of been stopped either when Cho started to act up or when he made the first kills, but they failed

  10. Could the massacre that took place at Virgina Tech Monday morning be the result of a life-long speech impediment — and the ridicule of classmates?

    Read the linked blog for evidence and my hypothesis! BTW, I would post it here, but the info is too long for a comment.

  11. Its years of bullying for being an ethnic minority, rejection from peers and ridicule from speech impediment could have led to him first becoming depressed and then psychotic…

    Others have speculated similar reasons as well. It still does not justify the crimes, but it helps others reach out and prevent them in the first place.

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