Gunman's Last Words

Days later, killer tries to explain his acts

Virginia Tech Shootings

April 19, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz, Melissa Harris and Bradley Olson | Julie Bykowicz, Melissa Harris and Bradley Olson,Sun Reporters

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Aiming two black handguns at the camera and muttering rambling accusations, the college student who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus Monday before killing himself made sure that his voice would be heard after the worst mass shooting in the nation's history.

"This didn't have to happen," Cho Seung-Hui, 23, said in one clip from what anchorman Brian Williams described as a "multimedia manifesto" mailed to NBC News in the two hours between the bursts of gunfire that morning.

Last night, on the NBC Nightly News, the network broadcast some of what it received. In an image evocative of a video game character stance, Cho wears a backward black ball cap, military-style vest and black gloves and aims two guns.

"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today," Cho says in the video. "But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."

NBC's Williams said the network received the package yesterday and immediately notified authorities. The package was mailed from Blacksburg at 9:01 a.m. Monday - after two students had been shot to death in a dormitory and before the mass killings in a lecture hall. The package was incorrectly addressed to NBC News' New York headquarters at "30 Rockefeller Ave.," rather than plaza, and had an incorrect ZIP code.

The network said the package contained a rambling and often profane video and 43 photographs, including 11 that showed him aiming guns at the camera.

In addition to analyzing the material that NBC received, investigators were delving into the mind of the killer in other ways - researching his troubled past and poring over the writings that the senior English major left behind in his dorm room and in his classes.

Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, would not describe the documents left in Cho's dorm, but in the video mailed to NBC, Cho rails against rich "snobs," their materialism and their "debaucheries."

Police also sought Cho's medical records, saying that they "may provide evidence of motive, intent, and designs," according to an application for a search and seizure warrant.

A December 2005 court report obtained yesterday says that Cho's behavior triggered an order to have him detained and evaluated for suicide risk. In the report, a physician wrote that Cho's "affect was flat and mood is depressed." It said: "He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder. His insight and judgment are normal."

The Dec. 14 report states that the physician deemed Cho mentally ill, but did not believe he was a danger to himself or others and could be released from psychiatric commitment after just a day.

Cho's behavior that fall also had alarmed at least two female students who accused him of stalking them, and members of the English department faculty, police said yesterday.

That November, a young woman told police that Cho had been calling her and had approached her. The next month, another woman told police that Cho was contacting her via computer instant messages.

Neither woman wanted to press charges, said Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum. Both called Cho's behavior "annoying but not threatening," he said.

Neither woman was among Monday's victims, Flinchum said. He said Virginia Tech police had no further contact with Cho after the two incidents.

Gov. Tim Kaine has formed an independent panel to investigate Monday's rampage and the events leading to it.

Eight wounded students remained hospitalized yesterday at Montgomery Regional Hospital, which treated 17 people after the shootings, CEO Scott Hill said. Kaine has declared tomorrow a statewide day of mourning.

Police released more details yesterday about the university's dealings with Cho.

In 2005, about the same time the harassment complaints were filed, Flinchum said, then-English department chairwoman Lucinda Roy "informally shared her concerns" about Cho's work in a poetry class. Flinchum said the creative writing students were encouraged to be imaginative and artistic and that authorities saw no direct threat of violence.

But Roy pulled him out of the class and taught him on her own. She "chose to reach out to him out of concern for his mental health and well-being," Flinchum said.

The application to seize Cho's medical records notes that Roy had referred Cho to a university health center for psychiatric care "and she believes that he did in fact seek treatment at that facility."

Other students who encountered Cho didn't know what to make of his classwork - even as recently as last semester, when he took a playwriting class with Professor Ed Falco.

Late Tuesday, a classmate posted two of Cho's plays, called Richard McBeef and Mr. Brownstone, on the Internet. A review of those documents shows they are filled with profanity and themes of sexual abuse and violence.

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