Cho shunned friendliness, roommate from Md. says

The gunman

Virginia Tech Shootings

April 18, 2007|By Melissa Harris and Julie Bykowicz | Melissa Harris and Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporters

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- He was a quiet English major - a loner who avoided eye contact and conversation and whose creative writing so disturbed one professor that she sought intervention for him.

Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman in the Virginia Tech shooting rampage that left 33 dead and more than a dozen injured, was described by those who knew him as troubled and anti-social.

The 23-year-old South Korean native lived in a residence hall, sharing a three-bedroom suite with young men who said they barely knew him.

"I never saw him with anyone," said Cho's roommate, Joe Aust, 19, a sophomore from Westminster. "He ate alone in the dining hall and shunned any attempts at friendship."

Cho shot himself as police closed in on Norris Hall, the engineering building where police believe he opened fire in at least four classrooms, killing 30. Two hours earlier, police believe, he shot to death a freshman woman and a popular residence hall adviser across campus, at a residence hall near his own dormitory.

When police searched Cho's undecorated room late Monday, they found a note with "a rambling list of grievances" against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus, sources told the Chicago Tribune.

There was no evidence that Cho left behind a suicide note, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said at a news conference yesterday.

A search warrant return filed in Montgomery County (Va.) Circuit Court shows that police seized a chain and padlocks - investigators said several entrances to Norris Hall had been chained shut from the inside - and dozens of books, notebooks and computer items from Cho's room Monday night.

Police said the two guns found at Norris Hall, a Walther P22 and a Glock 9 mm handgun, were purchased legally, one as recently as last month.

Cho had shown recent signs of disturbing behavior, setting a dormitory room on fire and allegedly stalking women, an investigative source told the Tribune.

Also, in an application to search Cho's dorm, authorities wrote that Virginia Tech had received two previous bomb threat notes, and that they were seeking to determine whether they were written by Cho.

A third note with a bomb threat - this one against engineering department buildings - was found near Norris Hall and was believed to have been written by Cho, the search application says.

His roommates in Harper Hall said that Cho's behavior around them was unusual - but not alarming.

When the shootings occurred, said Karan Grewal, 21, a senior from Falls Church, Va., "No way did I think it would be him."

"He didn't seem like a guy who could even hold up a gun," Grewal said. "He seemed like a shy foreign exchange student."

Cho worked on "normal school projects" and downloaded music and music videos of all sorts on his computer, said Aust, his roommate.

Aust said that Cho's parents helped him move into the suite last fall, but that Cho seemed to have few, if any, friends.

Aust and Grewal said they rarely heard Cho speak - even when they tried to make conversation with him.

"He would not even look at me," Aust said. Grewal said he couldn't get a response from Cho last fall when he asked him his name.

Recently, Grewal said, he spotted Cho lifting weights at a gym. He also would see him downstairs in the common area of Harper Hall watching Spike TV and Friday night wrestling matches.

A speeding ticket issued to Cho on April 7, while he was traveling 44 mph in a 25 mph zone in his 2007 Kia van, describes him as 5 feet, 8 inches and 150 pounds.

Cho's family moved to Centreville, Va., in Fairfax County, in 1992, an investigator told the Tribune. His parents run a dry-cleaning business, and a sister graduated from Princeton University, the investigator said.

The family lives in a townhouse on a well-kept cul-de-sac under a flight path to Dulles International Airport. Cho attended nearby Westfield High School in Chantilly, graduating in 2003. Mary Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County public schools, said yearbooks indicate that Cho's only extracurricular activity was the science club during sophomore year.

Neighbors described Cho as quiet, and said they did not know him or his family well.

"I rarely saw him, so I don't know much about him," said Bruce Green, 18, who lives across the street from the family. "It's just a shock."

Gabriela Tasende, 34, who has lived around the corner for seven years, said she took her children trick-or-treating to the house, but doesn't recall Cho.

"We passed by [the house] every day. We might have seen each other," said Tasende, waiting to pick up her first-grader at a bus stop. "Yesterday, it seemed so far. Today, it's in our backyard."

The neighborhood is "a family-oriented community," Tasende said.

Virginia State Police came to the Cho home Monday night, said Officer Camille Neville, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman. Fairfax police accompanied the state officers there and elsewhere in the county, she said.

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