campus shooting

2007-04-28  戈壁边缘人
campus shooting
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Virginia Tech massacre: Information from

Gun control debate

See also: Gun politics in the United States

The massacre reignited the gun control debate in the United States, with proponents of gun control legislation arguing that guns are too accessible, citing that Cho, a mentally unsound individual, was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols. Proponents of gun rights and the Second Amendment argued that Virginia Tech‘s gun-free "safe zone" policy ensured that none of the students or faculty would be armed, guaranteeing that no one could stop Cho‘s rampage. Others said that adequate communication between government entities could have prevented Cho from acquiring the weapons, without compromising Second Amendment rights.


Law enforcement officials have described finding a purchase receipt for at least one of the guns used in the assault.[100] The gunman had apparently waited one month after buying his Walther P22 .22 caliber pistol before he bought his second pistol, a Glock 19.[101] Cho used a 15-round ammunition magazine in the Glock.[102] The serial numbers on the weapons were filed off, but the ATF National Laboratory was able to reveal them and performed a firearms trace.[102]

Virginia Tech has a blanket ban on possession or storage of firearms on campus, even by state licensed concealed weapons permit holders. However, this policy has been challenged in recent years: In April 2005, a student licensed in Virginia to carry concealed weapons was discovered possessing a concealed firearm in class. While no criminal charges were filed, a university spokesman said the University had "the right to adhere to and enforce that policy" as a common-sense protection of students, staff and faculty as well as guests and visitors."[103]

Virginia bill HB 1572, intended to prohibit public universities from making "rules or regulations limiting or abridging the ability of a student who possesses a valid concealed handgun permit … from lawfully carrying a concealed handgun" was introduced into the Virginia House of Representatives by delegate Todd Gilbert. The university opposed the bill, which died in subcommittee in January 2006.[104] Spokesman Larry Hincker responded, "I‘m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly‘s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."[104]

The sale of firearms to permanent residents in Virginia is legal as long as the buyer shows proof of residency.[105] Additionally, though, Virginia has a law that limits purchases of handguns to one every 30 days.[106] Federal law requires a criminal background check for handgun purchases from licensed firearms dealers, and Virginia checks other databases in addition to the Federally-mandated NICS. Federal law also prohibits those "adjudicated as a mental defective" from buying guns, and Seung-Hui Cho should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment.[107]

Virginia state law on mental health disqualifications to firearms purchases, however, is worded slightly differently from the federal statute. So the form that Virginia courts use to notify state police about a mental health disqualification addresses only the state criteria, which list two potential categories that would warrant notification to the state police: someone who was “involuntarily committed” or ruled mentally “incapacitated.”[107]

The federal law defines adjudication as a mental defective to include "determination by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority" that as a result of mental illness, the person is a "danger to himself or others."[107] Because of gaps between federal and Virginia state laws, the state failed to report Cho‘s legal status to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and thus failed to prevent Cho‘s purchases.[107] The week following the tragedy, Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell called for changes in state law to close those gaps.[108]

Virginia Tech massacre: Information from

Historical context

See also: School shooting and List of school massacres

This incident is the deadliest shooting on a college campus, exceeding the 16 deaths[94] of the University of Texas at Austin shooting by Charles Whitman in 1966. It is the second deadliest school-related killing in U.S. history, behind the 1927 Bath School disaster which claimed 45 lives, including 38 school children, through the use of explosives.[94]

With a death toll of 32 victims plus the killer,[94] this is the deadliest single-perpetrator shooting in United States history, surpassing the Luby‘s massacre of 1991, in which 24 people were killed.[94] Internationally, it is surpassed by the 1982 massacre in South Korea of 57 innocent people by off-duty police officer Woo Bum-kon and the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in the Australian state of Tasmania where 35 people were killed by gunman Martin Bryant. Although deadlier shootings have occurred in the U.S., they have occurred during times of war or insurrection that predate WWII, largely involving militias or military groups.[95]

The shooting has been likened to the Columbine High School massacre,[96] the 1999 school massacre in which two students killed 12 students, one teacher, and wounded 24 others before turning the guns on themselves. In the media package sent to NBC, Cho discussed "martyrs like Eric and Dylan" apparently referring to the Columbine High School gunmen.[35] This massacre occurred just four days before the eight-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

Inaccurate media reports

Many inaccurate media reports were noted following the tragedy:

  • Early media reports, notebly Chicago Sun-Times journalist Michael Sneed among several others, had incorrectly identified a Chinese American and a Chinese national as the suspected shooter. The erroneous report was released to the public twelve hours before the correct identity of the gunman was officially disclosed by the Virginia Tech authorities.
  • The New York Times incorrectly stated that the package to CBS news was addressed from "Ismail" [97], when it was actually addressed from "A. Ishmael". [10] The NYT mistake was copied by several secondary media sources. [98]
  • Upon airing and releasing the videos, NBC claimed that Cho was "railing against Christianity," and numerous media reports claimed that Cho “spewed anti-Christian rhetoric.” [99] After the release of the videos, numerous media downgraded this to “mentioned Christianity,” as the released statements did not contain anti-Christian messages and included self-comparisons to Jesus and Moses. [10]
Virginia Tech massacre: Information from
Main article: List of victims of the Virginia Tech massacre

During the two separate attacks the gunman shot 61 people, killing 27 students and 5 faculty members, and wounding 29.


Main article: Seung-Hui Cho
One of the photographs of Seung-Hui Cho sent to NBC News on the day of the massacre.

The shooter was identified as 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho,[4] a South Korean citizen with U.S. permanent resident status living in Virginia. An undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Cho lived in Harper Hall, a dormitory west of West Ambler Johnston Hall. A spokesman for Virginia Tech has described him as "a loner."[2] Several former professors of Cho have stated that his writing was disturbing, and he was encouraged to seek counseling.[7][35] He had also been investigated by the university for stalking and harassing female students.[6] In 2005, Cho had been declared mentally ill by a Virginia special justice and ordered to seek outpatient treatment.[8] According to Cho‘s grand aunt in South Korea, Cho‘s parents had offered autism as an explanation for his behavior.[36] However, the notion that autism was the cause of Cho‘s behavior has been thrown into doubt ("no records show such a diagnosis").[37][38][39]Cho‘s flat emotional affect was evident through middle and high school years, during which he was bullied for speech difficulties.[40] "Relatives thought he might be a mute. Or mentally ill," reported the New York Times.[41] Cho‘s underlying psychological diagnosis remains a matter of speculation. [42] Media outlets routinely compared Cho‘s motives and mental state to those of the Columbine killers, despite the fact that Harris and Klebold‘s motives and mental states were not even similar to each other.[43]

Early reports had suggested that the killing was the venting of a domestic dispute between the killer and his supposed former girlfriend Emily Hilscher, whose friends said she had no prior relationship with Cho.[44] In the ensuing investigation, police found a suicide note in Cho‘s dorm room, which included comments about "rich kids," "debauchery," and "deceitful charlatans" on campus. On April 18 2007, NBC News received a package from Cho time-stamped between the first and second shooting episodes. It contained an 1,800-word manifesto,[45] photos, and 27 digitally recorded videos, in which Cho likened himself to Jesus Christ and expressed his hatred of the wealthy.[10]

Some family members of the victims were upset that the photos and video sent by the killer were broadcast and canceled interviews with NBC in protest. A Virginia State Police spokesman said he was "rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images,"[46] adding that he regretted that "[people who] are not used to seeing that type of image had to see it."[47]

Fox News, which replayed NBC‘s information extensively, defended NBC‘s release of the materials. Bill O‘Reilly asserted that while he sympathized with the victims‘ families, it was necessary for "evil" to "be exposed" and to inspire lawmakers to take corrective action.[48]

The American Psychiatric Association, however, urged the media to withdraw the footage from circulation, arguing that publicizing it "seriously jeopardizes the public’s safety by potentially inciting ‘copycat‘ suicides, homicides and other incidents."[49] NBC defended itself by stating its staff had intensely debated releasing the footage before deciding to broadcast it and asserted it had covered this story with extreme sensitivity.[47]

Virginia Tech massacre: Information from
Virginia Tech massacre

The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting that unfolded as two separate attacks about two hours apart on April 16, 2007, on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. A gunman killed 32 people[3] and wounded a further 29 before committing suicide,[4] making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.[4][5]

The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was a South Korean who had moved to the U.S. at age eight. At the time of the shootings, he was a senior majoring in English at Virginia Tech.[4] He had a history of incidents at the school, including allegations of stalking,[6] referrals to counseling,[7] and a 2005 declaration of mental illness by a Virginia special justice.[8]


Aerial photo showing location of Norris and West Ambler Johnston Halls.
Further information: Virginia Tech massacre timeline

West Ambler Johnston shootings

Cho shot his first victims at around 7:15 a.m. EDT in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a co-ed dormitory that houses 895 students. A young woman, Emily J. Hilscher of Woodville, Rappahannock County, Virginia, and a male resident assistant, Ryan C. Clark of Martinez, Columbia County, Georgia, were shot and killed[4] in Room 4040, the room Hilscher shared with another student.[9] Cho left the scene and soon thereafter mailed a package to NBC News, postmarked 9:01 a.m., containing various writings and recordings.[10]

Norris Hall shootings

About two hours after the initial shootings, Cho entered Norris Hall, which houses the Engineering Science and Mechanics program, and chained the main entrance doors shut. He went to the second floor and began shooting students and faculty members.[2][11]

By the end of this second attack, 30 people lay dead in four classrooms and a second-floor hallway. Cho then shot and killed himself.[12] The exact number of shots fired is estimated at "between 175 and 225."[13]

Five professors died in the attack. Eleven students died in the intermediate French class in Norris Room 211. Nine students died in an advanced hydrology class in Room 206. Four students died in an elementary German class in Room 207. One student died in a solid mechanics class in Room 204. [12] Erin Sheehan, an eyewitness and survivor of Norris 207, told reporters that the shooter "peeked in twice," earlier in the lesson, like he was lost or looking for someone, before he began shooting. Sheehan said that only four students in the German class were able to leave the room on their own, with two of them bearing injuries; the remaining survivors in the class were severely injured.[14][15][16]

French class students take cover in Holden Hall.

Virginia Tech student Jamal Albarghouti used his mobile phone to capture video footage of part of the attack from the exterior of Norris Hall; this was later broadcast on many news outlets.[17]

Student Nikolas Macko described to BBC News his experience at the center of the shootings. He had been attending an issues in scientific computing [1]mathematics class (near the German class) and heard gunshots in the hallway. At least three people in the classroom, including Zach Petkewicz, barricaded the door using a table. At one point, Macko said, the gunman attempted to open the classroom door and then shot twice into the room; one shot hit a podium; the other went out the window. The gunman reloaded and shot into the door, but the bullet did not penetrate into the room. Macko stated there were "many, many shots" fired. [2] [11]

Cho was found dead in Jocelyne Couture-Nowak‘s classroom, Room 211, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple, having shot himself as police closed in.

In the aftermath, high winds related to the April 2007 nor‘easter prevented emergency medical services from using helicopters for evacuation of the injured.[18] Victims injured in the shooting were treated at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Radford, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, and Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem.



by Adam Gopnik April 30, 2007

The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why. As the police cleared the bodies from the Virginia Tech engineering building, the cell phones rang, in the eccentric varieties of ring tones, as parents kept trying to see if their children were O.K. To imagine the feelings of the police as they carried the bodies and heard the ringing is heartrending; to imagine the feelings of the parents who were calling—dread, desperate hope for a sudden answer and the bliss of reassurance, dawning grief—is unbearable. But the parents, and the rest of us, were told that it was not the right moment to ask how the shooting had happened—specifically, why an obviously disturbed student, with a history of mental illness, was able to buy guns whose essential purpose is to kill people—and why it happens over and over again in America. At a press conference, Virginia’s governor, Tim Kaine, said, “People who want to . . . make it their political hobby horse to ride, I’ve got nothing but loathing for them. . . . At this point, what it’s about is comforting family members . . . and helping this community heal. And so to those who want to try to make this into some little crusade, I say take that elsewhere.”

If the facts weren’t so horrible, there might be something touching in the Governor’s deeply American belief that “healing” can take place magically, without the intervening practice called “treating.” The logic is unusual but striking: the aftermath of a terrorist attack is the wrong time to talk about security, the aftermath of a death from lung cancer is the wrong time to talk about smoking and the tobacco industry, and the aftermath of a car crash is the wrong time to talk about seat belts. People talked about the shooting, of course, but much of the conversation was devoted to musings on the treatment of mental illness in universities, the problem of “narcissism,” violence in the media and in popular culture, copycat killings, the alienation of immigrant students, and the question of Evil.

Some people, however—especially people outside America—were eager to talk about it in another way, and even to embark on a little crusade. The whole world saw that the United States has more gun violence than other countries because we have more guns and are willing to sell them to madmen who want to kill people. Every nation has violent loners, and they tend to have remarkably similar profiles from one country and culture to the next. And every country has known the horror of having a lunatic get his hands on a gun and kill innocent people. But on a recent list of the fourteen worst mass shootings in Western democracies since the nineteen-sixties the United States claimed seven, and, just as important, no other country on the list has had a repeat performance as severe as the first.

In Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, a gunman killed sixteen children and a teacher at their school. Afterward, the British gun laws, already restrictive, were tightened—it’s now against the law for any private citizen in the United Kingdom to own the kinds of guns that Cho Seung-Hui used at Virginia Tech—and nothing like Dunblane has occurred there since. In Quebec, after a school shooting took the lives of fourteen women in 1989, the survivors helped begin a gun-control movement that resulted in legislation bringing stronger, though far from sufficient, gun laws to Canada. (There have been a couple of subsequent shooting sprees, but on a smaller scale, and with far fewer dead.) In the Paris suburb of Nanterre, in 2002, a man killed eight people at a municipal meeting. Gun control became a key issue in the Presidential election that year, and there has been no repeat incident.

So there is no American particularity about loners, disenfranchised immigrants, narcissism, alienated youth, complex moral agency, or Evil. There is an American particularity about guns. The arc is apparent. Forty years ago, a man killed fourteen people on a college campus in Austin, Texas; this year, a man killed thirty-two in Blacksburg, Virginia. Not enough was done between those two massacres to make weapons of mass killing harder to obtain. In fact, while campus killings continued—Columbine being the most notorious, the shooting in the one-room Amish schoolhouse among the most recent—weapons have got more lethal, and, in states like Virginia, where the N.R.A. is powerful, no harder to buy.

Reducing the number of guns available to crazy people will neither relieve them of their insanity nor stop them from killing. Making it more difficult to buy guns that kill people is, however, a rational way to reduce the number of people killed by guns. Nations with tight gun laws have, on the whole, less gun violence; countries with somewhat restrictive gun laws have some gun violence; countries with essentially no gun laws have a lot of gun violence. (If you work hard, you can find a statistical exception hiding in a corner, but exceptions are just that. Some people who smoke their whole lives don’t get lung cancer, while some people who never smoke do; still, the best way not to get lung cancer is not to smoke.)

It’s true that in renewing the expired ban on assault weapons we can’t guarantee that someone won’t shoot people with a semi-automatic pistol, and that by controlling semi-automatic pistols we can’t reduce the chances of someone killing people with a rifle. But the point of lawmaking is not to act as precisely as possible, in order to punish the latest crime; it is to act as comprehensively as possible, in order to prevent the next one. Semi-automatic Glocks and Walthers, Cho’s weapons, are for killing people. They are not made for hunting, and it’s not easy to protect yourself with them. (If having a loaded semi-automatic on hand kept you safe, cops would not be shot as often as they are.)

Rural America is hunting country, and hunters need rifles and shotguns—with proper licensing, we’ll live with the risk. There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun. At some point, that simple truth will register. Until it does, phones will ring for dead children, and parents will be told not to ask why.

What the Killers Want -
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What the Killers Want

By Lionel Shriver
Sunday, April 22, 2007; B01

When Seung Hui Cho shot himself in the head, he so obliterated his features that he was unrecognizable. Thus there proceeded a brief, merciful interval during which the identity of the perpetrator of last Monday‘s killing spree at Virginia Tech was unknown. He was literally faceless.

Would that he had remained so. Instead, that strangely slack, absent-eyed countenance is now permanently burned into our collective cultural consciousness.

Even more than these gruesomely gratuitous incidents themselves, I have come to dread the campus shooting‘s ritual media aftermath -- a secondary wave of atrocity, all conducted under the guise of grief, soul-searching concern and an ostensible determination to ensure that no demented loner ever opens fire on his classmates again. Yet the bloated photographs on front pages, the repeating loops of interviews on cable news, the postings of warped creative writing assignments on the Web, and perhaps above all the airing of Cho‘s self-pitying, quasi-messianic video clips on every network all help ensure that similar incidents will indeed recur -- and soon.

When researching a depressingly copious array of real-life campus massacres for a fictional variation on those macabre melees in my last novel, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," I grew to appreciate that every school shooter has his own sorry story. Yet the one motivation that seems to tie all these misguided characters together is a yearning for media recognition. In an era that has lost touch with the distinction between fame and infamy, so driving is the need to be noticed -- for any reason -- that even posthumous attention will do. Much like those fun-fair photo booths in which one can push one‘s face through a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can be sure that more than one American kid has already mentally snipped out the zomboid face on those front pages and poked his own mug through the newsprint instead. Cho‘s video "manifestos" may stir revulsion in most, but they will stir envy in a dangerous few.

Moreover, Cho has deliberately upped the ante; exceeding Dylan Klebold‘s and Eric Harris‘s body count by more than a factor of two on the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, nearly to the day, was surely calculated. So how many victims will our next shooter figure he has to claim in order to merit the same delicious scale of coverage? Sixty-four?

Despite all the searching-for-an-answer hand-wringing we have been subjected to this last week, the most obvious ounce of prevention would be to stop allowing the likes of Cho to play the media like a piano. As it is, we gave him everything he would have wished for. In so doing, journalists who claim only to be helping us to "understand," the better to prevent future rampages, are hypocritical. Ask any Skinnerian psychologist: Reward behavior, and it rises.

As a novelist, I covet that "understanding." As a citizen, I resist it. Pity for Cho‘s purportedly tormented childhood and fascination with his psychotic, solipsistic universe only entice other disturbed characters to make a bid for the same sympathy.

I also get the willies when I hear that, in response to this single massacre, campuses across the country are now undergoing "security reviews." Anxious that no one in the future claim that they, too, should have caught the "warning signs," school administrators nationwide will be tempted to institute policies that infuse their institutions with a climate of fear, suspicion and creative repression so at odds with the purpose of education.

Consider what we have done to airports. Thanks to Richard Reid, we‘re obliged to dump our sneakers on the belt, struggle to tie our laces on the other end and sacrifice our cigarette lighters -- since otherwise, so goes the default presumption, we will all set our explosive shoes on fire. Thanks to a handful of British would-be terrorists who have yet to be convicted, we travel with humiliating Ziploc bags of no more than 3 ounces of shampoo, since otherwise we would obviously combine our full-size Herbal Essences with our chamomile conditioner and blow out the side of the plane. I doubt I‘m alone in not feeling one whit safer as a result of this theatrical pretense of "security." Is this what we want to do to our schools?

As disturbing as Cho‘s writing may be, I dread yet another wave of paranoia in American English departments, so that every aberrant poem or offbeat short story is forensically examined for signs of deviance. In the supersensitive post-Columbine period, numerous kids were expelled for writing work that their teachers became convinced displayed "warning signs." Any student who wrote my own seventh novel, which climaxes in a grisly school killing with a crossbow, would be thrown off campus and dragged onto a psychiatrist‘s couch in a heartbeat.

As ritualistic as the institutional overreaction to one high-profile shooting in schools is the brutal casting about for someone to blame who isn‘t already dead, a vicious tradition that‘s now well underway. The finger of blame is already circling wildly -- at the campus‘s police, administrators and teachers. For the first time, it has even pointed at me. Because Cho, like my own fictional character Kevin, bought locks and chains to trap his victims in their school rooms, numerous blogs and even the London Paper have speculated that he may have been imitating "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Take it from me: Even such a glancing accusation that the death of 32 people is all your fault is not an enjoyable experience.

The sole nominally productive reaction to Cho‘s rampage is yet another call for stricter gun control in America. But it‘s unlikely that going through the motions of national anguish on this point will bear much fruit. Cho had no criminal record and had clearly done his planning well ahead, thus making him capable of lasting out any waiting period. He would surely have been able to buy a gun in states with even the most rigorous restrictions in place. Until the United States shifts the burden of proof -- so that the purchaser has to prove that he needs a gun, rather than the state having to prove why he can‘t have one -- American gun control is destined to be more gesture than substance.

Similarly, calls for more attentive care for the mentally ill are harmless enough, unless they translate into a leeriness of anyone who is quiet, impenetrable, peculiar, hostile and isolated (which well describes me on a bad day) and into a corresponding over-eagerness to lock them up.

In all, the cheap hindsight insistence that if we‘d had the right rules, laws and procedures in place, Cho and his unfortunately numerous predecessors could have been stopped puts me in mind of the film "Minority Report," in which psychics have visions of homicides yet to be committed. Thus Tom Cruise and his fellow troopers arrive in the nick of time to arrest a "murderer" before he has a chance to kill. I don‘t trust our psychics in any guise, and I am more afraid of ham-handed preventive measures than I am of stray lunatics with guns.

Repeatedly this past week, news anchors have asked the "experts" (one of whom, hilariously, this mere fiction writer is considered), "What is to be done?" Even the barmiest answers offer the illusion of control. Get the answer right, so goes the reasoning, and we will never see headlines of this sort again. Yet leaving aside the seemingly intractable business of gun availability in America, the grim truth is that there is nothing to be done.

A discrete subsection of the human race is insane. A larger subsection may not be clinically psychotic but is still sufficiently resentful, vengeful, envious, grandiose and myopically self-pitying to be dangerous. Even if you zapped every gun off the planet, these folks could still get hold of knives, baseball bats, jagged shards of glass or machetes (think of Rwanda). We live in a world of multiple risks -- traffic accidents, lightning bolts, avalanches -- and the biggest risk we live around every day is other people. The unhinged, the angry, the malevolent circulating in our midst amount to social bad weather. Whenever we walk out the door, we take the chance that malice will rain on our heads.

Stop giving these shooters blanket coverage and banner headlines? My personal choice of solution, but a pipedream; and media censorship would be one more cure worse than the disease. Tighten up gun laws, and offer more counseling in schools? Fine. But beyond such common-sense practice, responding to Monday‘s massacre with a host of tyrannical and doubtless ineffectual "security" procedures and "warning sign" codes would bring no one in Virginia back to life, would make going to school even more unpleasant and would hand Cho Seung Hui a perverse sort of victory.

Lionel Shriver‘s new novel, "The Post-Birthday World," was published last month by HarperCollins.

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Before Deadly Rage, a Life Consumed by a Troubling Silence - New York Times

April 22, 2007

Before Deadly Rage, a Life Consumed by a Troubling Silence

From the beginning, he did not talk. Not to other children, not to his own family. Everyone saw this. In Seoul, South Korea, where Seung-Hui Cho grew up, his mother agonized over his sullen, brooding behavior and empty face. Talk, she just wanted him to talk.

“When I told his mother that he was a good boy, quiet but well behaved, she said she would rather have him respond to her when talked to than be good and meek,” said Kim Yang-Soon, Mr. Cho’s 84-year-old great-aunt.

When his parents announced when he was 8 that they were going to America, their relatives were gladdened. “We thought that it would help the boy gain confidence if he moved to the United States’ open society,” said an uncle who asked to be identified only by his last name, Kim.

And yet when he and others heard from Mr. Cho’s mother, it was the same dismal story, a buried life of silence. In church, she told them, she prayed for God to transform her son.

By now, the world knows what Seung-Hui Cho became, how on a gusty, snowy morning last Monday at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., he massacred 27 students and 5 teachers before killing himself.

No one could understand why. On Friday, his sister issued a statement of apology and sorrow that revealed the family’s own bewilderment. “This is someone that I grew up with and loved,” she said. “Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.”

Interviews with investigators, relatives, classmates and teachers offer inklings of how he progressed from silence to murderous rage, and show how he meticulously prepared for his final hours.

In Seoul, there was never much money, never enough time. The Cho family occupied a shabby two-room basement apartment, living frugally on the slender proceeds of a used-book shop. According to relatives, the father, Seung-Tae Cho, had worked in oil fields and on construction sites in Saudi Arabia. In an arranged marriage, he wed Kim Hwang-Im, the daughter of a farming family that had fled North Korea during the Korean War.

Their son was well behaved, all right, but his pronounced bashfulness deeply worried his parents. Relatives thought he might be a mute. Or mentally ill. “The kid didn’t say much and didn’t mix with other children,” his uncle said. “ ‘Yes sir’ was about all you could get from him.”

In 1984, relatives who had moved to the United States invited the family to join them. It took eight years to get a visa. In 1992, they arrived in Detroit and then moved on to Centreville, Va., home to a bustling Korean community on the fringe of Washington. They found jobs in the dry-cleaning business and worked the longest of hours. Dry cleaning is a favored profession among Koreans — some 1,800 of the 2,000 dry cleaners in the greater Washington area are run by Koreans — because it means Sundays off for church and sparse need for proficient English, exchanges with customers being brief and redundant.

The goal, of course, was to own one’s own business. But it did not happen for Seung-Tae Cho. He began as a presser — an 8 a.m.-to-10 p.m. job — and that is what he is today. His wife worked in the same capacity until a few years ago, when she accepted a job in a high school cafeteria so the family could have medical insurance.

They lived in a nondescript row house in a modest section of town, friendly but not overly sociable. Jeff Ahn, president of the League of Korean-Americans of Virginia, said the family was uncommonly private among the throbbing Korean-American community of about 200,000 in and around Washington. They shunned the more prominent Korean-language Christian churches, and prayed at a small church outside of town.

High school did not help Seung-Hui Cho surmount his miseries. He went to Westfield High School, one of the largest schools in Fairfax County. He was scrawny and looked younger than his age. He was unresponsive in class, and unwilling to speak.

And that haunted face.

Classmates recall some teasing and bullying over his taciturn nature. The few times he was required to speak for a class assignment, students mocked his poor English and deep-throated voice.

And so he chose invisibility. Neighbors would spot him shooting baskets by himself. When they said hello, he ignored them, as if he were not there. “Like he had a broken heart,” said Abdul Shash, a next-door neighbor.

The Korean community of Centreville is a high-aspiring one, and nothing matters more than bright futures for its children. The area is speckled with tutoring academies — “Believe & Achieve,” “Ivy Academy” — high SAT scores and road maps to elite colleges. The local Korean papers publish lists of students admitted to Ivy League institutions. Mr. Cho’s older sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, went to Princeton and made the lists, but not him. She now works as a contractor for the State Department.

When Mr. Cho entered Virginia Tech, which is crouched in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, his parents drove him to school with guarded expectations. Perhaps he would no longer retreat to video games and playing basketball alone the way he did at home. Perhaps college might crack the mystery of who he was, extract him from his suffocating cocoon and make him talk.

Girls figured somewhere in his yearnings, but always from a distance.

In his junior year, Mr. Cho told his then-roommates that he had a girlfriend. Her name was Jelly. She was a supermodel who lived in outer space and traveled by spaceship, and she existed only in the dimension of his imagination.

When Andy Koch, one of his roommates, returned to their suite one day, Mr. Cho shooed him away. He told him Jelly was there. He said she called him Spanky. SpankyJelly became his instant-message screen name.

He became fixated on several real female students. Two of them complained to the police that he was calling them, showing up at their rooms and bombarding them with instant messages. They found him bothersome but not threatening. After the second complaint against him in December 2005, the police came by and told him to stop.

A few hours after they left, he sent an instant message to one of his roommates suggesting he might as well kill himself. The campus police were called, and Mr. Cho was sent to an off-campus mental health facility.

After a counselor recommended involuntary commitment, a judge signed an order deeming him a danger and he was sent for evaluation to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital in Radford, Va. A doctor there declared him mentally ill but not an imminent threat. Rather than commit him, the judge allowed him to undergo outpatient treatment. Officials say they do not know whether he did.

His junior-year roommates mostly ignored him because he was so withdrawn. If he said something, it was weird. During Thanksgiving break, Mr. Koch recalled, Mr. Cho called him to report that he was vacationing in North Carolina with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president; Mr. Cho said he had grown up with him in Moscow.

In class, some students thought he might be a deaf-mute. A classmate once offered him $10 just to say hello but got nothing. He hunched there in sunglasses, a baseball cap yanked tight over his head. Sometimes Mr. Cho introduced himself as “Question Mark,” saying it was the persona of a man who lived on Mars and journeyed to Jupiter. On the sign-in sheet of a literature class, he simply scribbled a question mark instead of his name.

But he wrote. Those who read his stories, his poems, his plays — they were the ones who wondered.

English teachers were disturbed by his angry writings and oddness. In a poetry class in his junior year, women said he would snap pictures of them with his cellphone beneath his desk. Several stopped coming to class.

Lucinda Roy, then head of the English Department at Virginia Tech, began to tutor him privately. She, too, was unnerved. She brought him to the attention of the counseling service and the campus police because she thought he was so miserable he might kill himself.

During their private sessions, she arranged a code with her assistant. If she uttered the name of a dead professor, the assistant was to call security.

Last semester, he took a playwriting class in which he submitted two one-act plays, “Richard McBeef” and “Mr. Brownstone,” both foulmouthed rants. In “Richard McBeef,” a 13-year-old threatens to kill his stepfather. Steven Davis, a senior in the class, said he finished reading the play one night, turned to his roommate and said, “This is the kind of guy who is going to walk into a classroom and start shooting people.”

The first gun he bought was a Walther .22-caliber pistol. He ordered it from an Internet gun site and picked it up at a pawnshop near campus on Feb. 9.

Why then? Investigators say they are trying to discover if there was some precipitating event. Evidently, though, a plan had been hatched and was in motion.

On March 12, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Mr. Cho rented a van from Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the Roanoke Regional Airport that he kept for almost a month. The next day, he bought the second gun at Roanoke Firearms, where he laid out the requisite three pieces of identification: his Virginia driver’s license, his green card and a personal check. He paid by credit card: $571 for a 9-millimeter Glock pistol, one of the store’s best sellers, a favorite for target shooting and self-defense. He took 50 rounds of ammunition.

On March 22, Mr. Cho showed up at the PSS Range, advertised as “Roanoke’s only indoor pistol range,” $10 an hour. Mr. Cho spent an hour practicing and bought four ammunition magazines for the Glock. Range employees, investigators said, remembered a young Asian man videotaping himself inside a van in the parking lot.

Over the next few weeks, he fulfilled the rest of his shopping list. Investigators said he went to the Wal-Mart in Christiansburg on March 31, April 7, April 8 and April 13. During those visits, he bought cargo pants, sunglasses and .22-caliber ammunition. He also bought a hunting knife, gloves, a phone item and a granola bar. He visited Dick’s Sporting Goods for extra magazines of ammunition. He got chains at Home Depot.

On March 28, he stayed at the MainStay Suites in Roanoke, according to Ed Wray, the general manager. On April 8, he spent the night at the Hampton Inn in Christiansburg. Investigators think that some of his videos were shot in this hotel room, because a gold extension cord for a lamp that is visible in one of the images resembles one in the room.

All told, investigators calculate that Mr. Cho spent several thousand dollars getting ready for April 16, most of it charged to a credit card.

In the last few weeks, Mr. Cho’s roommates noticed a few new oddities in this most odd man. He cropped his hair to a military buzz cut. In the evenings, he was working out with a certain frenzy at the gym.

None of his roommates had known him until this academic year. He was a senior, an English major, and someone who, at 23, was older.

Throughout the term, they had not seen him with anyone who might constitute a friend. He ate his meals in the dining hall in solitude, embracing what they took to be a subaltern status they assumed he preferred.

The six roommates occupied Suite 2120 in Harper Hall, designed in requisite college bland: a cinderblock common area, three compressed bedrooms, a single bathroom. Sharing a bathroom lets you learn things about your roommates, but not everything. They knew that he took medication but did not know what it was for. He had acne.

It was common for him to go to sleep at 9 p.m., unthinkable for a college student, and to awaken at 7 a.m. But lately he had been getting up earlier and earlier, as if there were insufficient time to do what he needed to do.

It was not yet 5 a.m. on Monday when Joe Aust, a sophomore who shared Mr. Cho’s room, heard his rustlings. He was already crouched at his computer, where, from his copious music downloads, he liked to repeatedly play “Shine,” a song of spiritual longing from the Georgia alternative rock band Collective Soul.

Karan Grewal, 21, another suitemate, bumped into Mr. Cho in the bathroom. Not a word.

Mr. Cho dabbed moisturizer on his eyes and slid in contact lenses. He brushed his teeth.

The groggy Mr. Aust went back to sleep. When he got up about 7 to prepare for class, Mr. Cho was gone.

Emily Hilscher, a freshman, lived in Room 4040, near the elevators on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston Hall, one building from Harper. Shortly after 7 a.m., she was killed by bullets from Mr. Cho’s gun. The same fate met Ryan Clark, one of the dorm’s resident advisers. Mr. Clark is believed to have come out of his room to investigate the noise, only to stumble into death.

Officials say they know of no connection between Mr. Cho and Ms. Hilscher, and remain baffled about why he began there and why he chose not to end there. “The biggest thing for us is Location One,” a law enforcement official said. “Why Location One? Why did he stop at two killings there?”

The campus police received a 911 call at 7:15, when the rest of the campus was still opening its eyes, the thousands of students who commuted to school not yet on the grounds.

Classes had not begun, and the campus was not alerted to the dormitory killings. The university police quickly picked up some information, and the nature of it led them to make a decision and follow a trail. Ms. Hilscher’s roommate, Heather Haughn, had shown up at 7:30 to meet her and accompany her to class. Instead, she encountered the campus police.

One of the things she told them was that Ms. Hilscher had a boyfriend, Karl D. Thornhill, a senior at nearby Radford University; Ms. Hilscher had spent the weekend with him at his off-campus townhouse, and he had dropped her off at her dorm that morning. Ms. Haughn also told them that Mr. Thornhill had guns and had been shooting them at a range two weeks earlier.

Based on what she said, the police concluded that they had the most clichéd script of all — the lovers’ quarrel. They went looking for Mr. Thornhill, and found him on the highway, driving home from a class. They pulled him over and started interrogating him.

But he was the wrong man, and the police were at the wrong place.

That gave Mr. Cho time, and he had uses for it.

The police know he returned to his dorm room because he accessed photo files there. He harbored messages of hate, and now was when he chose to offer them to the world.

He assembled a package, and in it were QuickTime videos of himself, 43 photographs and an 1,800-word statement outlining his place in a world he saw arrayed against him. Many of the snapshots were of him brandishing guns — at nothing, at the camera, at himself. One showed him with a hammer. There was a photo of bullets standing lined up as if soldiers awaiting inspection.

His rage was brutally transparent in his multimedia screed and suicide note. He ranted against hedonism and trust funds, against high-class taste for vodka and cognac. He praised the Columbine High School killers as martyrs, and styled himself a Christ figure.

He said, “You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience.”

“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today,” he said. “But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.”

He took his package to the small post office a few blocks from the main gates of campus and arranged with the postal clerk to send it by overnight mail to NBC in New York. The postage was $14.40. It was time-stamped at 9:01 a.m. Then, investigators say, he went back to the dorm to arm himself.

At 9:26 a.m., the university issued this e-mail message to the campus: “A shooting incident occurred at West Ambler Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating. The university community is urged to be cautious and are asked to contact Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case.”

By then, though, the calculus of the day had already set in motion the next sequence, and there was nothing to stand in its way.

Norris Hall is a brown, cavernous, L-shaped classroom building situated across the drill field on the other side of campus from Harper Hall. It can be walked from Harper Hall in less than 15 minutes.

Sometime around 9:30, Mr. Cho stepped inside Norris Hall. He was wearing cargo pants, a sweatshirt, an ammunition vest and a maroon cap, the school color. He carried a backpack — a receipt for one of the guns stuffed inside — and he was carrying chains and some knives. On one arm was inscribed Ax Ismael, a name whose significance has not been determined but might be a Biblical allusion.

He unfurled the chains and wrapped them around the interior handles of the doors. The entrance secured, he mounted the stairs to the second floor and the classrooms. Second period had begun.

The stairs he took emptied into the short end of the L, where there were seven classrooms. Two were vacant, and five were in session: Rooms 204, 205, 206, 207, 211. Gun drawn, he forged into four of them. Inside of 10 to 15 minutes, forensics evidence concluded, he fired more than 175 rounds in killing 30 people, the worst slaughter of its kind in the history of the country.

The first police officers on the scene forced their way in by blasting open the front doors with a shotgun. That blast, investigators believe, alerted Mr. Cho that he had time for only one more shot.

They found his body sprawled in the stairwell. He had turned one of his guns around and shot himself. The officers shouted, “Shooter down! Shooter down! Black tag!” Black tag is police code for dead.

And that was all the killing there would be at one mountainside college campus on one awful Monday.

In death, Seung-Hui Cho finally spoke, but it was through the QuickTime videos received by NBC and broadcast on Wednesday. A pastor at a Korean church in Centreville watched the tapes on television with his family. He told the Seoul newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, “All my family said that was not the Seung-Hui we knew. It was the first time we saw him speaking in full sentences.”

Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul, South Korea; Sarah Abruzzese, Serge F. Kovaleski and Katie Zezima from Blacksburg, Va.; Cara Buckley and Suevon Lee from Fairfax County, Va.; and William K. Rashbaum from New York.

An Isolated Boy in a World of Strangers -
An Isolated Boy in a World of Strangers
Cho‘s Behavior Alarmed Some Who Knew Him; Family ‘Humbled by This Darkness‘

By David Cho and Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 21, 2007; A01

Warning signs about Seung Hui Cho came early in his life.

Cho was unusually quiet as a child, relatives said. He did not respond to greetings. He did not want to be hugged. But when Cho fought with his older sister, he would punch her with shocking violence.

Kim Yang Soon, a great-aunt in Korea, said Cho‘s mother told her the boy had autism. After the family immigrated to the United States in 1992, when Cho was 8, Kim would call his mother and ask how the boy was doing. "She only talked about her daughter," Kim said. "We knew something was wrong."

Because Cho did well in school, his mother did not seem very determined to get treatment for him, Kim added.

It is unknown what, if any, help the parents sought for their son before he attended Virginia Tech, where this week Cho killed 32 schoolmates and teachers. The Chos left their home in western Fairfax County the day of the shootings and are staying at an undisclosed location. Only a few friends are in contact with the family, and most have declined to talk, upon the Chos‘ request.

The Chos spoke for the first time yesterday, releasing a statement to the Associated Press through an attorney, saying they feel "hopeless, helpless and lost" and "are so deeply sorry for the devastation" caused by the gunman.

"We are humbled by this darkness," wrote Cho‘s sister, Sun Kyung Cho, 25. "This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn‘t know this person. . . . My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."

Before Monday, when Cho went on his shooting rampage, the family‘s story was not so different from that of other Korean immigrants.

Seung Tae Cho and his wife, Hyang In, told friends they came to America for the sake of their children‘s education. They settled in a townhouse in Centreville near good public schools. The father worked long hours pressing pants at a dry cleaner in Manassas. The mother occasionally went to church.

And when their firstborn, Sun Kyung, got into Princeton in 1999, it seemed as if all their sacrifices had paid off. The parents, once adrift in poverty in South Korea, now had an anchor for the good life in America through their Ivy League daughter.

Beyond these broad brush strokes of Cho‘s life in Fairfax, only bits and pieces have emerged from relatives. The local ethnic organizations that typically gather Korean immigrants -- churches, social clubs and civic associations -- say the Chos were largely unknown and disconnected in the Washington area, which is unusual for the tight-knit community.

"They‘re like ghosts," said Ron Kim of the Korean-American Dry Cleaners Association of Greater Washington. "It is really strange for a family not to be known."

A World of His Own

Cho, likewise, was difficult to know, his classmates in Fairfax said. He often seemed to be in a world of his own.

Students who knew him as far back as middle school remember a dramatically uncommunicative boy who never spoke, not even to teachers. Some remember classmates derisively offering dollar bills to Cho if he would just talk. The band director would urge him to play his trombone more loudly and to hold his head up.

"Teachers would call on him, and he wouldn‘t respond," recalled Sam Linton, 21, a freshman at New River Community College near Virginia Tech, who attended classes and shared a homeroom with Cho at Stone Middle School in Centreville. "He would just sit there until they would call on somebody else."

James Duffy, 21, a Virginia Tech junior who also attended Stone, said the first time he ever heard Cho speak was on television Wednesday night, when NBC aired the recordings he had mailed in the middle of the rampage.

"That was also the first time I ever saw an expression on his face," Duffy recalled.

Other students recalled that he carried violent writings in his notebooks. He wore "geeky" clothes, not stylish or popular, the kind his parents might have picked out, Linton recalled.

When Cho was a sophomore, he was a member of the Westfield High School Science Club, according to the school‘s 2001 yearbook. In his sophomore and junior year portraits, he is dressed identically: light-colored T-shirt with a plaid button-down shirt on top.

In Cho‘s senior year, neither his name nor his picture appears anywhere in the yearbook.

David Gearhart, 21, a junior at Virginia Tech who attended Stone Middle with Cho, said Cho‘s antisocial behavior prompted teasing from other kids.

"We might have cracked a couple of jokes, nothing to his face for sure. Nothing very serious. We would just say, ‘Did you see Seung say nothing again today?‘ Something like that."

Gearhart remembers a friend seeing a paper fall out of Cho‘s notebook. "It had all kinds of hate writing," he said.

Shame and Blame

Not since the Los Angeles riots in 1992, when one of the nation‘s largest Korean enclaves was ransacked and burned, has an event gripped the Korean American community like the massacre at Virginia Tech. Several area Koreans said that when they heard that the shooter was an Asian American male, they were desperately hoping he was not Korean. Their hearts sank when police announced the name as Cho Seung Hui.

Investigators said Cho was a Korean national with a green card and used the Asian style of putting his last name first, which the news media generally followed. But Cho had spent nearly twice as much time in the United States as in Asia. He is part of what Korean Americans call the "1.5 generation" -- children who immigrated to the United States and who live in both Korean and American cultures but sometimes feel completely at home in neither.

As his name was broadcast to the world, Koreans abroad and in the United States struggled with their reactions, cultural analysts say. The South Korean government expressed fears of a backlash against all Koreans. Korean pastors and civic leaders who had no relationship to the family or Virginia Tech apologized on behalf of the shooter. Academics said the reactions revealed how personal the shooting has been for Koreans and Korean Americans. It was as if Cho was one of their own family members. Shame and blame boiled to the surface.

Cho‘s isolation as a youth may have been exacerbated by the strains of the Korean immigrant life, sociologists said. Parents, working one or two jobs to provide for their families, often have little time to spend with their children, let alone have meaningful talks with them. Cultural stigmas make it difficult to deal with the mental illness or emotional stress of a child.

"Korean immigrants would feel shame," said Sang Lee, director of the Asian American Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. "There would be some reluctance and some hesitancy in admitting [a mental illness] and openly seeing a doctor."

Josephine Kim, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the Korean American community should not feel responsible for an incident it had nothing to do with. Instead, it should reexamine how it addresses mental health issues, she said.

"Here is this person at Virginia Tech who may have been an adult academically, but emotionally and socially, he‘s clearly a child who‘s been stunted," said Kim, who is also a licensed mental health professional. "He didn‘t know how to deal with people. He lived in pure isolation."

Busy Parents, Little Money

Within his family, Cho did not appear to have a lot of supervision, relatives and associates of the family said. His parents were busy at work. Money was tight.

Before immigrating to the United States, his father ran a secondhand bookstore that never made much money, relatives said. In a suburb of Seoul, the family rented a three-room basement that was no larger than 430 square feet. The apartment, now unoccupied and full of mildew, was the least expensive rental in the building, according to Korean news reports.

The Chos began to dream of America, but it took years to get the necessary immigration papers. Much of their savings were gone by the time they arrived in 1992, according to an aunt, and they barely made ends meet. Fortunately, they had plenty of relatives in the United States who could teach the father dry cleaning skills.

By 1997, the Chos had saved enough to buy a $145,000 townhouse on Truitt Farm Drive in Centreville. Seung Tae Cho changed jobs several times and recently worked at Green Cleaners in Manassas, where he pressed pants.

Moon Hee Lee, one of his bosses there, said the elder Cho never took more than a day off at a time and worked Monday through Saturday.

"He was working too hard, just working, working," she said.

But during lunch breaks, over Korean meals, he would often boast of his daughter. "He was very proud of her. He always talked about her," she said.

About almost anything else, she said, the family remained quiet.

Others in the local Korean community, including pastors of the largest Korean churches, civic leaders and members of the dry cleaners association, examined their records and talked to associates to see whether the Chos had any relationship with their groups. So far, none has been found.

Some classmates at Princeton said they couldn‘t remember Sun Kyung Cho, the killer‘s sister, ever talking about her family.

Sun Kyung, who now works as a contractor for the State Department, was part of a 25-member "food co-op," or eating club, during her senior year, where students met for dinner every night and often stayed for hours talking about current events and philosophical issues. Those in the club described her as a driven and focused student.

Francis Pickering, who was in the same eating club, said Sun-Kyung was a "very, very hard worker" who seemed to keep to herself, seldom discussing her family or much about herself.

Another friend said this week that he was surprised to learn that she had a brother, as she rarely, if ever, mentioned her family. In a telephone interview, the friend spoke anonymously because Sun Kyung had passed a message through Princeton‘s Manna Christian Fellowship asking her friends not to talk to the media. Others added that the family appeared to struggle with the media frenzy and what to say publicly before finally issuing the statement through Raleigh, N.C., lawyer Wade Smith.

Some relatives said the family has kept its distance even from them.

Sung Ryol Cho, an uncle who runs a dry cleaner in Anne Arundel County, said he hasn‘t talked to the family in years. His wife said she has tried to call them this week but has received no response.

"We don‘t know where they are," she said. "We hope they are okay."

Staff writers Tom Jackman, Robert O‘Harrow and Josh White and special correspondent Joohee Cho in Goyang City, South Korea, contributed to this report.

David Cho and Joohee Cho are not related to the family of Seung Hui Cho.

Los Angeles Times: For hospitalized students, Hokie spirit marches in,1,1142020.story
From the Los Angeles Times


For hospitalized students, Hokie spirit marches in

By Adam Schreck
Times Staff Writer

April 20, 2007

BLACKSBURG, VA. — The raindrops had just started falling late Thursday afternoon in front of Montgomery Regional Hospital when the Marching Virginians showed up, instruments in hand.

Inside, six of their Virginia Tech classmates — including four who remained in intensive care — were being treated for gunshot wounds. Three others were being treated at nearby hospitals. All had witnessed Monday‘s carnage firsthand, both in body and in spirit.

And so, in full orange and maroon marching regalia, some three dozen members of the band raised their tubas, trumpets and trombones toward the patient rooms above and belted out the Virginia Tech fightsong.

From one of the windows, 19-year-old freshman Hilary Strollo peered out, her arms clutched across her hospital gown. An IV tube trailed from her neck. But on her face was a radiant smile.

"Let‘s go!" she called out after one of the songs. True to their school, the band boomed back: "Hokies!"

As other students injured in Seung-hui Cho‘s shooting rampage were released from area hospitals Thursday, the community of Blacksburg continued to grieve — while taking the first steps on a long road of healing.

Six students — three men and three women — being treated at Montgomery Regional were listed in stable condition.

"They appear to be heading in the right direction," said Demian Yakel, an orthopedic surgeon treating some of the patients.

Four of the students underwent major surgery when they arrived Monday, Yakel said. Several arrived with gunshot wounds to the back, legs and buttocks.

"I haven‘t seen any anger. I haven‘t seen any shock," he said. "They‘re all very calm and collected."

One patient remained in serious condition Thursday at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital; two others at Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, Va., were in good condition.

Yakel said that some Montgomery Regional staff members came in to work without being asked after learning of the shootings on television. And they are drawing inspiration, he said, from the progress students are making.

"They‘re holding in there," Yakel said of the staff. "They‘re all feeding off each other‘s energy."

Still, there were signs that this community — not just the university campus, now largely empty — remained severely shaken. The tragedy evoked an outpouring of support from the town, and several businesses downtown have posted signs pledging solidarity with the university. But there is also anger and fear, and an overwhelming sense of innocence lost.

A local mental health association invited residents to what it billed as the first of several "community grief gatherings" Thursday night. Turnout was light, but those who attended vented their frustration at the intense media spotlight, their anger at the university, their sadness at lives lost and their regret that a mentally ill young man didn‘t get the help he needed. And they talked about their guilt — about loved ones‘ safety, about not doing enough to help, about surviving at all.

"Everybody here is tied to Tech in some way or another," whether it‘s through work, school or church, said Carl Pauli, a resident of nearby Christiansburg who with his family watched the band serenade students outside the hospital. "Emotionally this has put a big black mark on us. Practically, it‘s put a stop to everything."



Where they fell

Here is where the dead, wounded and the gunman were found Monday after the shootings at Virginia Tech. The locations indicate where authorities found the victims or the class they were scheduled to attend at the time of the shootings.


Ambler Johnston dormitory


Ryan C. Clark, senior

Emily J. Hilscher, freshman


Norris Hall

French class, Room 211


Jocelyne M. Couture-Nowak, French professor

Ross A. Alameddine, sophomore

Austin M. Cloyd, student

Daniel A. Perez Cueva, sophomore

Caitlin M. Hammaren, sophomore

Rachel M. Hill, freshman

Matthew J. La Porte, freshman

Henry J. Lee, studentErin N. Peterson, freshman

Mary Karen Read, freshman

Reema J. Samaha, freshman

Leslie G. Sherman, junior

Gunman Seung-hui Cho took his own life



Colin L. Goddard, student, shot in leg and shoulder

Kristina Heeger, sophomore, shot in stomach

Kevin T. Sterne, senior, shot in leg

Hilary C. Strollo, freshman, shot in stomach, head and buttocks


German class, Room 207


Christopher James Bishop, German professor

Lauren A. McCain, student

Michael Pohle, student

Maxine Turner, senior

Nicole White, junior



Derek J. O‘Dell, student, shot in arm

Garrett Evans, senior, shot in leg


Solid mechanics class, Room 204


Liviu Librescu, engineering professor

Minal H. Panchal, graduate student



Matthew R. Webster, student, shot in arm


Hydrology class, Room 206

Killed G.V. Loganathan, engineering professor

Brian R. Bluhm, graduate student

Matthew G. Gwaltney, graduate student

Jeremy Herbstritt, graduate student

Jarrett L. Lane, senior

Partahi Lombantoruan, doctoral student

Daniel P. O‘Neil, graduate student

Juan R. Ortiz, graduate student

Julia Pryde, graduate student

Waleed M. Shaalan, doctoral student


Second-floor hallway


Kevin P. Granata, engineering science and mechanics professor


Note: Complete list of dead, partial list of wounded


Sources: Times staff and wire reports.

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Los Angeles Times: Cross ethnic lines to stop violence,0,...,0,6121295.story
From the Los Angeles Times

Cross ethnic lines to stop violence

A sense of responsibility follows news that a Korean American was the Virginia Tech gunman.
By Edward Taehan Chang
EDWARD TAEHAN CHANG, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside, writes frequently about Los Angeles‘ Korean American community.

April 18, 2007

LIKE SO MANY Americans, I was glued to the television Monday, watching horrifying images of wounded students at Virginia Tech as the day unfolded. But I grew even more troubled when I heard the first reports that the shooter might be Asian.

Here we go again, I thought. My wife and I watched nervously, desperately hoping that he would not turn out to be Korean or Korean American. When the media speculated that he was from China, I must admit to some relief. To my dismay, police on Tuesday confirmed that he was Korean American. His name was Seung-hui Cho.

My initial reaction to the shootings was, like anyone else, shock, disgust, sadness and disbelief. Then I began to worry about the possible backlash. Would the mainstream media portray this troubled man not as an individual on a rampage but as a racialized and stereotyped Asian? Would they fall back on the usual characterizations: quiet, hardworking but seething under tremendous pressure to excel in school?

Cho‘s ethnic background will undoubtedly trigger questions about what set off this Asian American male. But how much, if anything, does his ethnicity really have to do with what happened?

Cho had a history of anger and emotional problems, according to media accounts. He reportedly was taking medication for depression. Many people, and certainly a lot of overworked, stressed young students, suffer from similar conditions. Something snapped in this young man, and something went terribly wrong.

According to some reports, Cho‘s parents own and operate a dry-cleaning business, and they were so shocked by the events they have been hospitalized.

I‘m sure that, in the weeks ahead, many Korean Americans will feel somehow responsible for this one Korean American student‘s action, even though it appears that this was the action of one apparently disturbed young man. This could have been done by anybody who suffers from severe depression or a mental disorder and is not properly treated. And yet, I too somehow feel responsible. Why? As someone of Korean ancestry, I feel a cultural connection and almost a moral responsibility for his actions. Many in the Korean community are already mourning the very idea that a Korean is responsible for these senseless deaths.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the civil unrest in Los Angeles, the Korean American community here still vividly remembers how the mainstream media portrayed Korean immigrant merchants as gun-toting vigilantes, defending their stores as Los Angeles burned in 1992 — and we are still trying to overcome that stereotype. There are more than 500,000 Koreans in Los Angeles, the largest enclave outside of Asia, and this is the image many Americans have of them.

The Asian American community has long complained about the absence of Asian American faces in popular media. Even the initial media report of the shooter as Chinese reminds me of how Asian Americans all "look alike" to those outside the community. It would be grossly unfair to blame an entire community for the act of one member, but all Asian American communities — not just Korean ones — may be tainted by this tragedy.

The reality, however, is that Cho came to the U.S. when he was 8 years old and, at the time of his death, was 23 and an English major at Virginia Tech. In other words, he probably spoke fluent English and was culturally Americanized. He probably didn‘t know much about Korea and Korean culture. And yet the headlines will read: "Seung-hui Cho from South Korea."

I don‘t mean to suggest that there‘s no truth at all to some of the stereotypes about Asian Americans. It is often true that Asian Americans are hardworking or academically successful. Cho‘s parents probably did struggle to send him to college. Many Korean American students do grow up under heavy pressure to excel in school. Growing up as typical "model minority" students, many Asian American students find themselves having to cope with repressed anger, anxiety and rage.

Maybe Cho was under tremendous pressure to succeed. Or maybe his rampage had nothing to do with academic pressure but was caused by a failed romance or a deep depression. We may never know what triggered these senseless shootings.

I will not be able to completely shake my sense of responsibility as a Korean American for this tragedy. But I‘m going to try. And when young people are stressed or depressed, let us reach out across all ethnic and racial boundaries and try to help them see that, in every culture, violence is not the solution.

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The Aftershock
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Not since American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon -- and not for many years before that -- has anything so horrible shaken the commonwealth the way the massacre at Virginia Tech has. Monday‘s searing, senseless atrocity beggars any attempt to explain or even comprehend it. Even now, two days later, stunned disbelief reverberates like the thunderous silence of a shattered eardrum.

Reaction on campus has run the gamut, and many students are angry -- either at the adminis- tration, or at other students for being angry at the administration. Some are angry without focus, and understandably so: Anger is a mask we put on pain and fear to make them manageable. Those in the Tech community or close to it should remember that abraded nerves are raw and even a gesture meant in kindness might inadvertently sting.

To their great credit, many students have coped by rallying -- some reportedly planning a vigil of their own and gathering Hokie stones for the purpose. They seem to have learned already the crucial lesson that adversity can also be a refiner‘s fire that melts away impurities and forges steel.

. . .

As more details emerged from the chaos yesterday, the nation learned the gunman was Cho Seung-Hui: a South Korean, a resident alien, and an English major. Some will, no doubt, exploit these facts to saddle up their anti-immigration hobbyhorse -- just as media bottom-feeders such as Bill O‘Reilly seized on the Virginia Beach collision last month in which an illegal immigrant was charged with aggravated manslaughter in the deaths of two teenagers.

But single instances are instructive only about single instances, nothing more. No one knows what demons tormented Cho‘s sick and malignant soul. Charles Whitman, who shot to death 16 people from the University of Texas clock tower, was not an immigrant, legal or otherwise. Neither was Timothy McVeigh -- or Charles Manson or Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris or Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer or . . . .All of those mass killers were white males -- and yet it would be just as foolish to extrapolate from that fact a need for a crackdown on white males as it is to use the tragedy at Tech as an excuse for immigrant-bashing.

Likewise, the Tech tragedy already has advocates and opponents of gun control lunging for one another‘s throats and climbing over the bod- ies of the dead to get in their licks at the other side. Perhaps some of them simply are trying to cope as best they can, too. But it would be a blessed relief if everyone would have the decency, just once, to hold off on the point-scoring until the funerals have con- cluded. No doubt the trauma at Tech will provide plenty of further fodder for arguments on both sides. But it is far too soon to treat ground zero of so much grief as just another ammunition dump in the policy wars. The time will come.

. . .

The time will come, too, for a calm and sober assessment of the crisis management by Virginia Tech‘s administration.

No one could have predicted the massacre. Perhaps nothing could have prevented it. As Tech President Charles Steger has said, "We can‘t have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day." John Bennett, the coordinator of emergency operations for Virginia Commonwealth University, is equally right to note that "nothing protects you from the totally unreasoned action of a single individual. The tragedy is by the time you know about it, it‘s already happened."

And yet there were warnings that the presence of a desperate gunman on the campus was not merely a theoretical threat. In the past two weeks Tech had received two bomb threats. What‘s more, in August the campus was thrown into chaos when William Morva escaped from Montgomery County Jail and was spotted on the grounds.

As this space noted in the August 24 editorial, "Hesitation": After the administration sent out an e-mail to that effect at 8:13, "students, faculty, and staff were then expected to report to class and work as normal . . . .This decision made little sense -- and endangered the lives of too many members of the Hokie family. Administrators treated the emergency created by the escape of William Morva as they would a run-of-the-mill snow day. But this was not an average weather event . . . .The anniversaries of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 draw attention to the nation‘s responses to catastrophe. Are we prepared? Are we safer? The news from Blacksburg serves as a sobering reminder that preparedness applies to more than terrorist attacks and calamitous storms."

After-action analysis will review the delay in locking down the campus after the intitial 7:15 shooting on Monday. Scrutiny of the wisdom of that delay seems entirely in order.

. . .

Such questions, and others, will have to be answered in due time. For now the task at hand is to offer comfort to the grieving and succor to the survivors.

If there is anything of a remotely positive nature to be gained from the atrocity, let it be this: that it yanks us from our complacent seats and reminds us that we are, all of us, graced with only a brief time on Earth -- and none of us knows how long. Let us make the most of the time we have. Let our sorrows be a refiner‘s fire that melts away our impurities of character, so that we can better serve our fellow man. Let us not lose our nobler selves in the petty cares of the passing day. And let us each night hold tight those most dear to us -- for we do not know how long they will be here to be held.

The Virginia Tech massacre

In the university of death
From The Economist print edition


The horror might have happened anyway. But gun control might have made it less easy

“YOU caused me to do this.” That was Cho Seung-hui‘s excuse for murdering 32 people. Police found an essay in the young student‘s room that appeared to blame everyone but himself for what he was about to do. In it, he raged against religion, women, rich kids, debauchery and the “deceitful charlatans” at Virginia Tech, where he was studying English.

It was the worst peacetime shooting in American history. Investigators are still scrambling to work out what happened when, but a combination of announcements, leaks and witnesses suggest that it went something like this. Around 7.15 in the morning on April 16th, in a dormitory called West Ambler-Johnston Hall, Cho shot and killed Emily Hilscher, an attractive 19-year-old would-be vet. Around the same time, he shot Ryan Clark, a popular member of the university marching band. Why he chose these two as his first victims is unknown. Rumours that he was attracted to Miss Hilscher are, inevitably, circulating. Mr Clark may have been shot because he tried to intervene.

On finding the bodies, the police assumed it was a domestic dispute and sought Miss Hilscher‘s boyfriend, who had dropped her off at the dormitory that morning in his pick-up truck. They found him, pulled him over and questioned him.

Meanwhile, Cho was mailing a manifesto to NBC News. It included pictures of him posing with guns, video clips and a rambling and obscene diatribe against wealthy people. At 9.05, while police were still pre-occupied with Miss Hilscher‘s boyfriend, Cho entered Norris Hall, a block of classrooms half a mile from Ambler-Johnston. He locked the doors with chains to stop people escaping. Then he walked into classrooms, one by one, and tried to kill everyone inside. He had two guns: a Glock 9mm and a Walther P22. Both are semi-automatic: they fire bullets as quickly as you can keep pulling the trigger. Each Glock magazine held 15 rounds; the Walther‘s held 10.

Survivors said the gunman killed without saying a word. He shot teachers and students at close range, in the face, in the mouth, anywhere. He put about three bullets into each victim, to make sure. Every time he emptied a magazine, he reloaded with skill and speed. He had plenty of ammunition. He kept on killing until police burst into Norris Hall. Then he shot himself. His face was so badly disfigured that police found it hard, at first, to identify him.

Some of his classmates had a hunch, though. When the news broke that a gunman was shooting people at random, several guessed it was Cho. He had always been quiet in class—in fact, he rarely spoke to anyone. He hid behind sunglasses, a hat and a blank expression. But his classmates found him intimidating. It was his imagination that alarmed them.

He wrote two short plays for a creative-writing class. Nearly every line speaks of gore. The cardboard dialogue suggests an author who never really listened to other people. And the plots are suffused with anxious fury: about money, sex, religion and overbearing adults.

In one play, called “Richard McBeef”, a 13-year-old boy sits in his bedroom throwing darts at his stepfather‘s picture, muttering: “You don‘t think I can kill you, Dick? You don‘t think I can kill you? Gotcha. Got one eye. Got the other eye.” The 13-year-old protagonist thinks his stepfather is a paedophile and a murderer, and that he has covered up his conspiracies. The play ends with the stepfather killing the boy.

In 2005 two female students complained to the police that Cho was stalking them, but declined to press charges. Police warned him off but did not arrest him because he had made no specific threats. A district court found reason to believe him “mentally ill” and “an imminent danger to self or others” and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric test. But the examination found “his insight and judgment are normal” and he was discharged.

He bought a gun on February 9th, at a pawnshop, and another on March 16th, at a gun shop in a nearby town. Both sales were legal. Cho was a native South Korean, but he had lived in America since he was eight years old. His family owned a dry-cleaning business in northern Virginia. Cho was a legal, permanent resident. He showed the gun dealer three forms of identification: a Virginia driving licence, a cheque book with a matching address and an immigration card.

A quick background check showed he had no criminal record, so he was entitled, under Virginia law, to buy one gun each month. The gunshop owner insisted he found nothing suspicious about the clean-cut college boy.

Cho‘s victims—and he injured as many as he killed—were a fair cross-section of Virginia Tech. There were teachers and students, engineers and international-studies majors. One professor, Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, blocked the door of his classroom with his body to slow Cho‘s entrance. This bought enough time for his students to jump out of the window. But not enough for Mr Librescu himself to escape.

Many people asked how the horror might have been averted. Some complained that Virginia Tech should have warned students immediately after the first shootings, rather than waiting two hours, that the campus should have been “locked down” straight away, and that security at universities in general is too lax.

With hindsight, it is clear that early warnings might have been useful. But police did not know who they were looking for or what kind of threat he posed until it was too late. Locking down the entire campus is tricky when the campus is the size of a small town. And American universities in general are extremely safe places. So guarding student dormitories is hardly the most urgent task for the police. Most Virginia Tech students seem to think that the university coped just about as well as it could have.

Some critics wondered why more could not have been done about Cho‘s obviously troubled mental state. The question is, what? Until this week he had harmed no one, so it is not clear that there was enough justification for medicating him against his will or locking him up. Probably the most fruitful lessons to be learned from Virginia Tech concern guns.

The day after the shooting, the flags were flying at half-mast outside the Virginia headquarters of the National Rifle Association (NRA). America‘s mighty gun lobby tries to keep a respectfully low profile at times like these. But it responds to the challenges that inevitably arise when the weapons it champions are used to kill innocents.

Some Democrats called for tighter gun controls. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California lamented that “shootings like these are enabled by the unparalleled ease with which people procure weapons in this country” and said she hoped that the tragedy would “reignite the dormant effort to pass common-sense gun regulations”. But most politicians showed little enthusiasm for this idea. President George Bush said that “now is not the time to do the debate [on gun control].” Harry Reid, the Senate‘s Democratic majority leader, warned against a “rush to judgment”.

There is little danger of that. The blood-letting in Blacksburg is unlikely to shift the debate about guns, because the two sides draw opposing conclusions from it. Those who already favour gun control argue that if Cho had been barred from buying semi-automatic weapons, he could not have killed so many people. Those who oppose gun controls argue that if only his victims had been armed, they could have shot him before he shot more than a few of them.

The academic debate about whether guns save more innocent lives than they cut short, or vice versa, may never end. Most Americans are inclined to believe the latter. But politicians bow to the gun enthusiasts because their beliefs are much more likely to determine how they vote.


Self-portrait between killings

In the 1990s, the Democrats tried to impose modest gun controls. For example, in 1994 President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons—military-type rapid-fire rifles with no conceivable civilian use except perhaps to defend one‘s home against a whole gang of drug-dealers. President Bush allowed this ban to lapse in 2004, however, and the Democrats are convinced that gun control helped them lose elections in 1994 and 2000.

The reason is that, no matter how often the Democrats promise not to take away hunters‘ rifles, the NRA treats any curb on gun rights as a first step towards complete disarmament. And without their 240m guns, it argues, Americans will be defenceless not only against criminals but also against tyranny. The NRA draws on history to support its arguments. The first European settlers conquered America with guns; British soldiers tried to confiscate them, but the Americans revolted and shot off the superpower‘s yoke.

This may be a selective view of history, but it is still relevant, for two reasons. One is that the notion of a right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution. The other is that the NRA constantly exaggerates threats to gun-owners. Its sells books such as “Thank God I Had a Gun: True Accounts of Self-Defence”. It relentlessly publicises the fact that police in New Orleans, during the looting spree that followed Hurricane Katrina, confiscated some legally-held guns. And its chief, Wayne LaPierre, has peddled for years the absurd theory that the United Nations is plotting to take away Americans‘ guns.

Few urban Americans swallow this twaddle, which is why many cities have stiff anti-gun laws. But some rural people do, and plenty more love hunting and think anti-gun Democrats are wusses. To counter this image and court rural votes, the Democratic Party has largely abandoned its gun-control crusade. Its presidential candidates now play up their love of hunting, real or otherwise. In several states, the party has recruited serious gun enthusiasts as candidates. The Democratic governor of Montana boasts that he has more guns than he needs, but not as many as he would like. And the Democrats won control of the Senate last year by fielding a pro-gun war hero to snatch a pro-gun state from a pro-gun Republican incumbent. That state was Virginia.

The Killer in the Lecture Hall - New York Times

April 19, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor

The Killer in the Lecture Hall


Rochester, Mich.

THE sticky note on my door was wiggling. It was a gift from a student.

Glued to the middle of it was a cockroach.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I was an unpopular professor. To the contrary — according to student evaluations, I might as well have had a sign on my forehead that said “Kindly.”

I was told later that the cockroach was a symbol of love from — well, let’s call him Rick. Rick had recently moved into the lab across the hall from my office, where he spent the night in a sleeping bag under one of the benches.

Rick, who had been a student for more than a decade, sometimes whiled away his time discussing guns and explosives with some of the more munitions-inclined faculty members. He admitted that he kept his basement stocked with a variety of “armaments.”

Sometimes I wished I had an armament, although, like Virginia Tech, my university does not allow firearms on campus. I wished that because, not only did Rick attach love-cockroaches to my door and live across the hall from my office and possess a small armory, but Rick watched me all the time. Sometimes he followed me out to my car — just to make sure I was safe.

When I complained about Rick to the dean of students, I was told there was nothing to be done — after all, “students have rights, too.” Only after appealing to that dean’s boss and calling a raft of fellow professors who had also come to fear Rick’s strange behavior was I able to convince the administration to take grudging action; they restricted his ability to loiter in certain areas and began nudging him toward the classes he needed to graduate.

In a strange way, I could see the administration’s point. Rick looked fairly ordinary, at least when away from his sleeping bag and pet cockroaches. It must have seemed far more likely that Rick could sue for being thrown out of school, than that I — or anyone else — could ever be hurt. The easiest path, from their perspective, was to simply get me to shut up.

Many professors have run across more than their share of Ricks. At least one Virginia Tech professor noticed that Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people on campus on Monday, was potentially dangerous and did her best to warn the administration and the police. (So did at least two female students.) But there is only so much a teacher can do — “students have rights, too.”

It’s a simple fact that, for every deranged murderer like Mr. Cho there are thousands more oddballs just below the breaking point. I know one quasi-psychopathic incompetent, for example, who remained on the campus payroll for over a dozen years simply because his supervisor was afraid of being killed if he was fired.

It’s long been in fashion to believe that people are innately good, and that upbringing and environment are responsible for nasty personalities. But research is beginning to show that mean, sometimes outright evil behavior has a strong genetic component. Some of us, in other words, are truly born bad.

Researchers at King’s College London have recently determined that if one identical twin shows psychopathic traits, the other twin, who coincidentally shares precisely the same set of genes, has a very high probability of having the same psychopathic traits. But among fraternal twins, who share only half their genes, the chance that both twins will show psychopathic traits is far smaller. In other words, there is something suspiciously psychopath-inducing in some people’s genes.

What could it be? Medical images of the brain give tantalizing clues — the amygdala, the “fight or flight” decision-making center of the brain, may be smaller than usual, or some areas of the brain may glow only dimly because of low serotonin levels. We may not know precisely what set Mr. Cho off, but we are beginning to home in on the unusual differences in certain neurochemistries that can make people act in bizarre and dysfunctional ways.

Still, the Virginia Tech shootings have already led to calls for all sorts of changes: gun control, more mental health coverage, stricter behavior rules on campuses. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be no guns, no mental illness and no Cho Seung-Huis. But the world is very imperfect. Consider that Britain’s national experiment with gun-free living is proving to be a disaster, with violent and gun crime rates soaring.

In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, is the author of the forthcoming “Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.”

Gun control
Mar 21st 2007

America’s love affair with guns claims roots in the Second Amendment, which gives citizens “the right to keep and bear arms”. Support for gun ownership is spearheaded by the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of America‘s most powerful lobbying groups and a backer of George Bush during his presidential campaign. The Bush administration returned the favour in 2002 by endorsing the right of individuals to bear arms. The NRA, meanwhile, is taking aim at global bureaucrats.

An epidemic of shootings at schools has prompted renewed outcries from gun-control advocates. Of the 50 states, only two refuse to let law-abiding citizens carry concealed firearms, though there is some debate about handguns in the workplace. But politicans have trouble agreeing on even modest restrictions. The NRA has used studies to argue that increasing gun ownership diminishes violent crime. On balance, however, the evidence suggests the opposite: more guns mean more deaths, including among children.

After the Virginia Tech massacre

America‘s tragedy
Apr 19th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Its politicians are still running away from a debate about guns

The Economist

Get article background

IN THE aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech university on April 16th, as the nation mourned a fresh springtime crop of young lives cut short by a psychopath‘s bullets, President George Bush and those vying for his job offered their prayers and condolences. They spoke eloquently of their shock and sadness and horror at the tragedy (see article). The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives called for a “moment of silence”. Only two candidates said anything about guns, and that was to support the right to have them.

Cho Seung-hui does not stand for America‘s students, any more than Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did when they slaughtered 13 of their fellow high-school students at Columbine in 1999. Such disturbed people exist in every society. The difference, as everyone knows but no one in authority was saying this week, is that in America such individuals have easy access to weapons of terrible destructive power. Cho killed his victims with two guns, one of them a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol, a rapid-fire weapon that is available only to police in virtually every other country, but which can legally be bought over the counter in thousands of gun-shops in America. There are estimated to be some 240m guns in America, considerably more than there are adults, and around a third of them are handguns, easy to conceal and use. Had powerful guns not been available to him, the deranged Cho would have killed fewer people, and perhaps none at all.

But the tragedies of Virginia Tech—and Columbine, and Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where five girls were shot at an Amish school last year—are not the full measure of the curse of guns. More bleakly terrible is America‘s annual harvest of gun deaths that are not mass murders: some 14,000 routine killings committed in 2005 with guns, to which must be added 16,000 suicides by firearm and 650 fatal accidents (2004 figures). Many of these, especially the suicides, would have happened anyway: but guns make them much easier. Since the killing of John Kennedy in 1963, more Americans have died by American gunfire than perished on foreign battlefields in the whole of the 20th century. In 2005 more than 400 children were murdered with guns.

The news is not uniformly bad: gun crime fell steadily throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. But it is still at dreadful levels, and it rose sharply again in 2005. Police report that in many cities it rose even faster in 2006. William Bratton, the police chief of Los Angeles (and formerly of New York), speaks of a “gathering storm of crime”. Politicians on both sides, he says, have been “captured” by the vocal National Rifle Association (NRA). The silence over Virginia Tech shows he has a point.

The Democrats have been the most disappointing, because until recently they had been the party of gun control. In 1994 President Bill Clinton approved a bill banning assault weapons (covering semi-automatic rifles plus high-capacity magazines for handguns) and the year before that a bill imposing a requirement for background checks. But Democrats believe they paid a high price for their courage: losing the House of Representatives in 1994 shortly after the assault-weapons ban, and then losing the presidency in 2000. Had Al Gore held Arkansas or West Virginia or his own Tennessee, all strongly pro-gun, he would have won the election. These days, with hopes for a victory in 2008 dependent on the South and the mountain West, it is a brave Democrat who will talk about gun control. Some of them dismiss the very idea as “insensitive”.

Mr Bush however, has done active damage. On his watch the assault-weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. New laws make it much harder to trace illegal weapons and require the destruction after 24 hours of information gathered during checks of would-be gun-buyers. The administration has also reopened debate on the second amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms. Last month an appeals court in Washington, DC, overturned the capital‘s prohibition on handguns, declaring that it violates the second amendment. The case will probably go to the newly conservative Supreme Court, which might end most state and local efforts at gun control.

No phrase is bandied around more in the gun debate than “freedom of the individual”. When it comes to most dangerous products—be they drugs, cigarettes or fast cars—this newspaper advocates a more liberal approach than the American government does. But when it comes to handguns, automatic weapons and other things specifically designed to kill people, we believe control is necessary, not least because the failure to deal with such violent devices often means that other freedoms must be curtailed. Instead of a debate about guns, America is now having a debate about campus security.

Americans are in fact queasier about guns than the national debate might suggest. Only a third of households now have guns, down from 54% in 1977. In poll after poll a clear majority has supported tightening controls. Very few Americans support a complete ban, even of handguns—there are too many out there already, and many people reasonably feel that they need to be able to protect themselves. But much could still be done without really infringing that right.

The assault-weapons ban should be renewed, with its egregious loopholes removed. No civilian needs an AK-47 for a legitimate purpose, but you can buy one online for $379.99. Guns could be made much safer, with the mandatory fitting of child-proof locks. A system of registration for guns and gun-owners, as exists in all other rich countries, threatens no one but the criminal. Cooling-off periods, a much more open flow of intelligence, tighter rules on the trading of guns and a wider blacklist of those ineligible to buy them would all help.

Many of these things are being done by cities or states, and have worked fairly well. But jurisdictions with tough rules are undermined by neighbours with weak ones. Only an effort at the federal level will work. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, has put together a coalition of no fewer than 180 mayors to fight for just that. Good luck to him.

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