Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Suspect Identified - Plenty of Warning Signs

The Virginia Tech shooting suspect has been identified.

Warning Signs Overlooked Again?

According to classmates and instructors, there were plenty of warning signs that indicated something was wrong. However, an effective reporting system may not have been in place.

Various Articles

Suspect identified: Report from the Guardian and the NY Times.

Suspects Writings Raised Questions: From the Houston Chronicle

The blog entry below is from Ian MacFarlane, a former classmate of the suspect and current AOL employee.

What happened yesterday:

When I first heard about the multiple shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday, my first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was "I bet it was Seung Cho."

Cho was in my playwriting class last fall, and nobody seemed to think much of him at first. He would sit by himself whenever possible, and didn't like talking to anyone. I don't think I've ever actually heard his voice before. He was just so quiet and kept to himself. Looking back, he fit the exact stereotype of what one would typically think of as a "school shooter" – a loner, obsessed with violence, and serious personal problems. Some of us in class tried to talk to him to be nice and get him out of his shell, but he refused talking to anyone. It was like he didn't want to be friends with anybody. One friend of mine tried to offer him some Halloween candy that she still had, but he slowly shook his head, refusing it. He just came to class every day and submitted his work on time, as I understand it.

A major part of the playwriting class was peer reviews. We would write one-act plays and submit them to an online repository called Blackboard for everyone in the class to read and comment about in class the next day. Typically, the students give their opinions about the plays and suggest ways to make it better, the professor gives his insights, then asks the author to comment about the play in class.

When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him. When the students gave reviews of his play in class, we were very careful with our words in case he decided to snap. Even the professor didn't pressure him to give closing comments.

After hearing about the mass shootings, I sent one of my friends a Facebook message asking him if he knew anything about Seung Cho and if he could have been involved. He replied: "dude that's EXACTLY what I was thinking! No, I haven't heard anything, but seriously, that was the first thing I thought when I heard he was Asian."

While I "knew" Cho, I always wished there was something I could do for him, but I couldn't think of anything. As far as notifying authorities, there isn't (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say "Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!" If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday's tragedy more than anything.

While I was hesitant at first to release these plays (because I didn't know if there are laws against it), I had to put myself in the shoes of the average person researching this situation. I'd want to know everything I could about the killer to figure out what could drive a person to do something like this and hopefully prevent it in the future. Also, I hope this might help people start caring about others more no matter how weird they might seem, because if this was some kind of cry for attention, then he should have gotten it a long time ago.

As far as the victims go, as I was heading to bed last night, I heard that my good friend Stack (Ryan Clark) was one of the first confirmed dead. I didn't want to believe that I'd never get to talk to him again, and all I could think about was how much I could tell him how much his friendship meant to me. During my junior year, Ryan, another friend and I used to get breakfast on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Shultz Dining Hall, one of the cafeterias on campus, and it was always the highlight of my day. He could talk forever it seemed and always made us laugh. He was a good friend, not just to me, but to a lot of people, and I'll miss him a lot.


Below are 2 plays written by suspect, Cho Seung-Hui.

WARNING: Writings Contain Profanity and Disturbing Events


Nolan said...

I think this tragedy need to be focused on problems of our society not on how to prevent, prevention comes when we care about those in our community. I suggest trying to get a hold of the Oprah episode for today as it was a second episode of a town hall talk about misogyny in rap. Russel simmons said it's easier for middle and upper class America to say that rap doesn't reflect the poverty that many of those artists grew up in.

Brian said...


I agree that there should be more attention paid to caring for other folks....so that they don't become so ostracized that they reach a point where they could do something like this. But the reality is... there will always be a risk of this happening. Sometimes people don't respond to attempts at socialization, or even medication, counseling, etc.... as was apparently the case here. People did try to reach this young man and it still didn't work.

Practical security measures AS WELL AS improving social and mental health conditions should both be a focus in order to prevent these kinds of events. But you cannot ignore practical security measures.

Proper planning and adequate security measures are the only kinds of variables that we control in these situations... therefore, we must take advantage of the opportunity. On the other hand... we cannot always control what is going on in someones mind... these are variables that we generally cannot control.

Brian said...

Mirror On America has been picked up by the UK's Telegraph newspaper.

Link Here

Thanks to Toby Harnden of the paper's Washington DC bureau.

Pam said...

I feel that there is something being missed in the discussion. We go on about the usual things: gun control, the need to spot this kind of isolated individual, security. All these because we want to be responsible people. But what about the drugs? Again and again, this type of shooter has been found to be on some prescribed medication, some "psychiatric" drug. I think it's time we started investigating that whole area.