Va. Tech Records Located

Files Pertaining To Shooter Are Found In Top Counselor's Home

July 23, 2009|By Brigid Schulte and Rosalind S. Helderman | Brigid Schulte and Rosalind S. Helderman,The Washington Post

The missing mental health records of Seung-Hui Cho, who was responsible for the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, at Virginia Tech in 2007, resurfaced last week in the home of the former director of the university's counseling center.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced Wednesday that the records, which neither the state police nor a state investigative commission had been able to locate, turned up as the result of pretrial discovery in two lawsuits that have been filed by families of Cho's victims. University officials received the records July 16 but did not inform state police of the development until Monday and did not provide copies of the records to state police until Tuesday, five days after they were recovered, according to Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police.

Neither state officials nor the university have revealed the contents of the records, but the governor said he hopes they will be made public within days, either with permission from Cho's estate or through a subpoena.

Kaine did not identify the Virginia Tech employee who had the records, but a memo written by the university's counsel revealed that he is Robert Miller, who headed the Cook Counseling Center until 2006, one year before the shootings that left 32 students and teachers dead and injured many more. Miller took Cho's records, along with those of "several other students," when he was transferred from the counseling center, according to the memo from Virginia Tech's Mary Beth Nash to Kaine's office.

The records may help shed light on Cho's troubled mental state as well as clarify whether Virginia Tech counselors complied with a court order seeking mental health treatment for the student. Relatives of victims, who have long argued that the university allowed a dangerously unbalanced student to fall off its radar screen, expressed new concern about how the school handled the case.

Virginia Tech families whose children were killed or injured in the attack said they were particularly disturbed that the documents turned up during a records search for two pending lawsuits, rather than during previous state investigations. Kaine's special commission on the shootings did not interview Miller, chairman Gerald Massengill said Wednesday.

"The words that come to mind are cover-up, collusion, obstruction," said Mike Pohle, whose son was killed in the shootings. "I'm spinning. Who knows what could be in those records, but this is just potentially more information that says: Virginia Tech, you failed to do your job."

Pohle and Suzanne Grimes, whose son was shot and still has a bullet in him, said the revelation may call into question the $11 million settlement that all but two victims' families signed with the university. "It just infuriates me that all of a sudden now, these records have magically appeared from a former director," she said. "When you retire, you take the pictures off the wall. You don't take records. It doesn't make sense. And it raises a whole new set of questions about accountability for Virginia Tech."

Kaine promised a full criminal investigation and said he was eager to learn more about the circumstances under which Cho's records were taken to Miller's home.

Neither Miller, who retired last year, nor his attorney responded to phone and e-mail messages Wednesday.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said the university questioned Miller about Cho and the records shortly after the shootings. "Miller was asked if he knew the whereabouts of those files and he said he did not," Owczarski said.

Geller, the state police spokeswoman, could not confirm whether Miller had been interviewed because the investigation into the 2007 massacre is still open. "The state police are now investigating the circumstances, whereabouts and the discovery of the missing documents in order to determine if, in fact, a criminal act was committed," she said.

Owczarski said the university received Cho's records "from Miller or his attorney" at 5 p.m. July 16. Kaine was informed through the attorney general's office on Monday.

Miller is named in a civil lawsuit that two families who lost children in the shooting have filed against the university, alleging "gross negligence."

Robert Hall, the Fairfax lawyer representing the families of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, said he had not seen the records, but from what he knows of the contact between Cho and the therapist who saw him, it was an unexceptional encounter for her.

But he called for investigation of Miller's departure from the counseling center and of why Cho's records were removed from university property. "We now have ruled out that some low-level clerical person inadvertently placed them in the wrong file," Hall said. "We now find instead that the very top of the Cook Counseling Center had them."

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