School Climate & Safety

Two Va. Tech. Victims Attended Same High School as Shooter

By Adam Geller — April 17, 2007 5 min read
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The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead apparently killed two female students who had graduated from the same Northern Virginia high school as the shooter, but there was no information available from law enforcement on whether he knew the two women and singled them out.

Meanwhile, a chilling portrait of the gunman as a loner and misfit is beginning to emerge, according to various media reports.

Police identified the gunman in the classroom attack as 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui (pronounced Choh Suhng-whee). Cho held a green card—meaning he was a legal, permanent U.S. resident—and had been in the United States for about 15 years, federal officials said.

Mr. Cho, who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., in 2003, had been living in the United States since 1992. The two female victims from Westfield High, Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson, graduated from the high school in 2006.

Mr. Cho’s family lives in Centreville, Va., a Washington suburb, but he was living on campus, in a different dorm from the one where the bloodbath began, university officials said.

One law enforcement official said Mr. Cho’s backpack contained a receipt for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol. As a permanent legal resident of the United States, Cho was eligible to buy a handgun unless he had been convicted of a felony.

Investigators stopped short of saying Mr. Cho carried out both attacks. But ballistics tests show one gun was used in both, Virginia State Police said.

Mr. Cho, an English major, was referred to the university’s counseling service because some of his creative writing was seen as disturbing by his professors.

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university’s English department, said she did not personally know the gunman. But she said she spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department’s director of creative writing, who had Mr. Cho in one of her classes and described him as “troubled.”

“There was some concern about him,” Ms. Rude said. “Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they’re describing things, if they’re imagining things or just how real it might be. But we’re all alert to not ignore things like this.”

She said Mr. Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was. Ms. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws.

The Chicago Tribune reported on its Web site that he left a note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances. The Tribune said he had recently shown troubling signs, including setting a fire in a dorm room and stalking some women. ABC reported that the note he left, several pages long, explains Mr. Cho’s actions and says, “You caused me to do this.”

Investigators believe Mr. Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, the Tribune reported.

Neighbors in the community where he attended high school also saw him as a troubled person. “He was very quiet, always by himself,” neighbor Abdul Shash said of the gunman.

Mr. Shash said the gunman spent a lot of his free time playing basketball, and wouldn’t respond if someone greeted him. He described the family as quiet.

South Korea Expresses Condolences

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences, and said South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”

Online Resources

An interactive map from CBSNews.com provides a detailed timeline and description of U.S. school shootings since 1997.

The Poynter Institute offers specific resources and news sources on school shootings from 1997-2007.

The Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families publishes a wealth of resources on school shootings and violence.

The White House has posted resources and information from the Conference on School Safety, convened by President Bush in October 2006 following the shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa.

The online resource, Keep Schools Safe, provides resources for school administrators, parents, and students on the issues of school safety and security.

“We are in shock beyond description,” said Cho Byung-se, a ministry official handling North American affairs. “We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people.”

A memorial service was planned for the victims today at the university, and President Bush planned to attend, the White House said. Gov. Tim Kaine was flying back to Virginia from Tokyo for the gathering.

Classes were canceled for the rest of the week.

Many Virginia Tech students were leaving town quickly, lugging pillows, sleeping bags and backpacks down the sidewalks.

Jessie Ferguson, 19, a freshman from Arlington, Va., headed for her car with tears streaming down her red cheeks.

“I’m still kind of shaky,” she said. “I had to pump myself up just to kind of come out of the building. I was going to come out, but it took a little bit of ‘OK, it’s going to be all right. There’s lots of cops around.’”

Will Nachlas, 19, a freshman from Hershey, Pa., sat on a bench, waiting for a ride.

“The majority of people are leaving campus, trying to get away,” he said. “Lots of people are going home, and lots of people’s parents took them home. They don’t even know when they’ll come back.”

E-Mail Warning Seen as Too Late

The first deadly attack was at a dormitory around 7:15 a.m., but some students said they didn’t get their first warning about a danger on campus until two hours later, in an e-mail at 9:26 a.m. By then the second attack had begun.

University President Charles Steger emphasized that the university closed off the dorm after the first attack and decided to rely on e-mail and other electronic means to spread the word.

He said that before the e-mail was sent, the university began telephoning resident advisers in the dorms and sent people to knock on doors. Students were warned to stay inside and away from the windows.

“We can only make decisions based on the information you had at the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it,” Steger said.

Derek O’Dell, his arm in a cast after being shot, described a shooter who fired away in “eerily silence” with “no specific target— just taking out anybody he could.”

Until Monday, the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard plowed his pickup truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

Previously, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower and opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16 people before he was shot to death by police.

Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell said his shop sold the Glock and a box of practice ammunition to Mr. Cho 36 days ago for $571. “He was a nice, clean-cut college kid,” Mr. Markell said. “We won’t sell a gun if we have any idea at all that a purchase is suspicious. To find out the gun came from my shop is just terrible.”

Associated Press Writer Justin Pope in Blacksburg contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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