As 2005 came to a close, Cho’s family was in the dark about their son’s deteriorating mental health. The troubled student’s parents had consistently and persistently monitored their son’s health. As they had taken actions to help him in the past, there is no reason to believe they would not have done the same again had they been told of the seriousness of the problem. The Governor’s Review Panel asked Cho’s parents what they would have done had they been informed of their son’s behavior. They responded, “We would have taken him home and made him miss a semester to have this looked at … but we just did not know … about anything being wrong.”
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Cho was thus left to fend for himself. His parents knew nothing and those who did—for large part—kept it to themselves. Cho continued to descend into his non-communicative, paranoid world.
More Warning Signs
The problems continued in 2006 and more red flags went up, this time in Robert Hicok’s Fiction Workshop. The violent content of Cho’s stories, combined with his lack of communication, again raised concerns. Hicok consulted with Professor Roy about the problems he saw, but in the end decided to keep Cho in the class.
Hicok was not the only one to have problems with Cho that semester. Cho was also enrolled in Professor Carl Bean’s Technical Writing course. Bean later told the Review Panel that Cho was always quiet, wore his hat down over his head and spoke softly. Bean also suggested that Cho got pleasure from learning how to “play the game—do as little as he needed to do to get by.”
For one assignment in Hicok’s class, Cho decided to write an objective real-time experience based on Macbeth and corresponding to serial killings. On April 17, 2006—one year to the day before Cho’s murderous rage—Hicok talked with Cho after class, telling him the proposed subject was not acceptable. Hicok suggested that Cho drop the class. Cho, however, followed Hicok to his office and began arguing loudly that he did not want to drop the course. Hicok told him to leave and said he would not talk to Cho again until he was more composed. Cho later sent an email to Hicok saying he had dropped the class.
In the fall of 2006, Cho enrolled in Professor Ed Falco’s playwriting workshop. The opening day of class, when the students were asked to introduce themselves, Cho got up and left before it was his turn. When Cho appeared for the second class, he was told he would have to participate—he did not respond. After the massacre, students from Falco’s class were quoted in the press as saying Cho “was the kind of guy who might go on a rampage killing.”
The warning signs, then, continued apace. Cho’s roommate told the Review Panel that he barely knew him. They slept in the same room, but apparently hardly ever talked. The Resident Advisor in Harper Hall, where Cho lived, knew there were issues with Cho. She knew of his unwanted advances toward a female student, but she did not have any problems with him.
Cho also enrolled in Professor Lisa Norris’s Advanced Fiction Workshop. Norris knew Cho, he had taken one of her courses on contemporary fiction. When he showed up wearing a ball cap pulled down over his face and making no eye contact, Norris was concerned and contacted the dean’s office. According to the Review Panel Report, she wanted to know if he was ok and asked for someone to intervene on his behalf. We do not know what “intervene” means and the Review Panel Report does not explain the word.
What we know is that the English Department knew nothing about Cho’s dealings with the police, nor did they know anything about his stalking behavior. Unequivocally, they should have been told.
Norris told Cho he would have to see her if he was to make it through the class. Norris believed that Cho had trouble communicating in both English and Korean and offered to help him get in touch with the Disability Services Office. After the meeting, Norris emailed Cho to repeat her offer to go with him to student counseling—he did not follow up on the offer.
Cho apparently finished the class with few problems, although he did not show up for the last two weeks and ended up with a B+ for the semester.
The spring semester of 2007, Cho continued to sink deeper and deeper into his word of isolation and darkness. He began to buy guns and ammunition. In February he bought a .22 caliber Walther P22 handgun online and a handgun from J-N-D Pawnbrokers in Blacksburg. In March he bought a 9 mm Glock 19 handgun and a box of 50 9mm full metal jacket practice rounds at Roanoke Firearms. Also in March, Cho bought two 10-round magazines for the Walther P22 on eBay. Later that month he purchased three additional 10-round magazines from another eBay seller.
And finally, on March 31st he bought additional ammunition magazines, ammunition, and a hunting knife from Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods. He bought the chains he used on Norris Hall’s doors from Home Depot. There were, however, apparently no outward signs of the depths of his mental illness. And even if there had been, I believe it is highly improbable the school would have taken effective measures, given its track record. (To be continued)