Friday, April 20, 2007


As a 'loner' Korean-American student, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, killed 28 campus classmates, four faculty members (including a Holocaust-surviving Jew and an Indian) and himself at Virginia Tech after perhaps failing to make out with a diminutive, sweet, popular and bubbly 18-year-old, veterinary student Emily Hilscher (pictured Sun, 18 iv), who became his first victim soon after a new boyfriend drove her back to her campus dormitory, it transpired that the South Korean (whose immigrant father and mother, both Christians, ran a dry-cleaning business in a prosperous Washington suburb and whose sister had got through Princeton and into contract work for the State Department) had for some two years given cause for concern (attempted arson, speeding [two arrests, court appearance pending], stalking, in treatment for depression) to such an extent that his 'creative writing' teacher had reported him to college authorities - only to be told that "legal hurdles" meant nothing could be done about the weirdo, who finally left a rambling diatribe against "rich kids," "deceitful charlatans" and "debauchery" on his campus (WorldNetDaily, 17 iv).

Cho's own parents had warned police he might be suicidal after being cautioned for stalking. As elsewhere in Western society, the reluctance to say that some people are stupid, mad or chronically recidivistic - partly for peecee reasons and partly so as to keep on making money out of them -- exerted a high price. Even bomb threats to Virginia Tech over the previous two weeks had not led to any inquiry into Cho, who had possibly converted to Islam (having tattooed 'Ismail Ax' on his arm) and certainly failed to attend court-ordered outpatient treatment (after his stalking episodes).

The skinny, acne-suffering and monosyllabic* Cho, who had come with his family to the United States from South Korea in 1992, had few if any campus friends, and even his roommates reported knowing little about him. He stayed alone as he ate his meals, watched TV wrestling shows and played at basketball. But his violent fantasies had been known since 2005. One screenplay he wrote about a fight between a stepson and a stepfather included an attack with a chainsaw, and another depicted students fantasizing about stalking and killing a teacher who had molested them. He once turned in a creative writing assignment so disturbing that he had been referred to counseling services, Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the Virginia Tech English department, told the Associated Press. But when he did not show up for counselling, no further action was taken.

"It's outrageous that a young man showing such symptoms to this dedicated teacher somehow never got the treatment that he so clearly needed," said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Arlington-based Treatment Advocacy Center, a national advocacy group for the mentally ill. Students had talked with each other of whether Cho might be a 'school shooter.'

Well-known American poet Nikki Giovanni, who had taught Cho creative writing, observed him in her class with dark sunglasses and a baseball cap jammed down over his face. He turned in assignments she found disturbing. Sometimes he snapped unwanted cellphone photos of classmates. Students stopped showing up for class, telling her, "The guy's really creepy." At one point Ms Giovanni had had guards stationed nearby. Giovanni, the former creative writing instructor, said she took some of Cho's writing to Director of Creative Writing, Lucinda Roy, and told her that she no longer could teach him. "I couldn't allow him to destroy my class," she said. British-born Roy agreed to teach Cho in a private tutorial setting on three occasions, Giovanni said. She arranged a codeword which she would mention to her assistant if she thought Cho was going to "erupt," at which her assistant would phone police. At one stage, 90% of his fellow students were refusing to attend classes with him out of fear. Giovanni said he was not just 'troubled' but had 'a really mean streak." Cho's only certain passion was for downloading music, though a room-mate said Cho claimed to have a supermodel girlfriend named Jelly who called him Spanky.

A Virginia Tech official had in 2006 actually praised the defeat of a legislative proposal to allow students with state-issued concealed handgun permits to carry their handguns on college campuses in Virginia. The bill would have prohibited state universities in Virginia from enacting "rules or regulations limiting or abridging the ability of a student who possesses a valid concealed handgun permit ... from lawfully carrying a concealed handgun." After the proposal was squelched, Tech spokesman Larry Hincker had been outspoken in his opposition to the bill: "I'm sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly's actions," Hincker said on Jan. 31, 2006, "because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."

Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, took a playwriting workshop class with Cho in 2007, according to the campus newspaper, Collegiate Times. Cho barely spoke to the other students, she said. "His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque."

In New York, NBC received a package from Cho, posted an hour after his first two murders, and ranting about 'the rich.' One photo showed Cho wearing a vest with pockets and a baseball cap worn backwards as he gripped two guns, one in each gloved hand, and scowled into the camera (New York Times, 18 iv). He wrote (Sun, 19 iv) "You sadistic snobs. I may be nothing but a piece of s***. You vandalised my heart, raped my soul and tortured my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy's life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you I died like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenceless people."

Calling himself Ismail (after Abraham's disinherited son, using the Arab spelling of the name), he attacked viewers of his hate-filled video: "You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn't enough. Your vodka and Cognac weren't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything." Cho's 'creative writing' play 'McBeef' had sounded off against fat beefburger-eaters, Catholic priests, paedophiles and Americans in general.

A Guardian columnist blamed American gun laws and worried (19 iv) that "if creative writing programmes excluded students with personality disorders, they would all have to close down."

The first that I myself knew of today's universities recklessly tolerating outright madness was around 1993 when the LUniversity of Edinburgh allowed a schizophrenic girl (intelligent, but obese and prone to sticking penknives into herself) to proceed to Final Honours examinations in Psychology. Her 'psychiatrist' had thought an honours degree would assist her 'recovery.' The entirely predictable stress of the exams in fact led to a suicide bid resulting in permanent liver damage if not death for her - news about Stella was in short supply after the embarrassing failure of her therapist's and her university's daft idealism.

* Cho's taciturnity had been notable from his earliest years, constantly worrying his sensible and hardworking parents and grandparents and even making them think him deaf and dumb (Guardian, 19 iv). Cho's maternal grandfather had been most surprised to learn that Cho had got into university. At age eight in America, Cho had been diagnosed as "clinically withdrawn" and "autistic"; and when he started at VT his mother took special trouble to ask his roommates to encourage him to get out more. Cho had sometimes been teased and bullied at school for his taciturnity (CBS, 19 iv) and some of his own former schoolmates were killed in the VT classes where he opened fire (after seeming to check for some people in particular being present).

Cho's maternal grandfather, Kim Hyang-Sik, 82, said Cho was a "trouble-maker who has destroyed his mother's life". Speaking from his South Korean home, Kim said: "Son-of-a-bitch! It serves him right he died with his victims. It's better not to have such a child in a family."