April 19, 2007 in Nation/World

Virginia Tech gunman’s video reveals his hatred

Richard A. Serrano and David Zucchino Los Angeles Times
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Cho in video clip
(Full-size photo)

BLACKSBURG, Va. – In a chilling video made public Wednesday, Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui declared: “This didn’t have to happen,” likening himself to the Columbine killers and talking of his hatred for the wealthy.

Cho mailed the package, which contained an 1,800-word diatribe and multiple photos of him aiming handguns at the camera, at 9:01 Monday morning. That was nearly two hours after he had killed two students in a dormitory and minutes before he stormed a classroom building and killed 30 people before turning a gun on himself.

He sent his parcel to NBC in New York, which made copies of the material before turning it over to authorities.

In an often incoherent monotone laced with obscenities, Cho says, “You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. … 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.”

In one of the more than 40 still photographs, Cho poses with arms outstretched, his hands in black gloves, as he points two firearms – presumably the Walther P22 and the 9-millimeter Glock he used to gun down students and teachers. Dressed in a black shirt and khaki military-style vest and wearing a black cap turned backward, Cho stares ominously into the camera.

“When the time came, I did it,” he says. “I had to.”

The dramatic disclosure came on a day when authorities also revealed that Cho was involuntarily hospitalized overnight in late 2005 for a mental evaluation after two female students complained to campus police that he was stalking them. Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said the women had received calls and computer messages from Cho that they considered annoying but not threatening, and neither pressed charges.

According to the December 2005 detention order, state officials thought there was “probable cause to believe” that Cho was “mentally ill and in need of hospitalization, and presents an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, or is seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for” himself.

The physician’s assessment of Cho noted that he appeared “flat” and that “his mood is depressed.”

According to many around the Virginia Tech campus who knew Cho, he kept up the visage of a loner uninterested in the world – until Monday morning.

Federal law-enforcement sources said Cho sent his manifesto, which was steeped in profanity and railed against the wealthy and the religious, by Express Mail from the Blacksburg post office just off campus. He listed his name on the package as “Ishmael.”

He apparently began working on the materials at least six days before the massacre, NBC said. But some of his rantings were recorded after the first two slayings occurred around 7:15 a.m. in West Ambler Johnston Hall.

About 40 minutes after mailing the package, Cho was on the second floor of Norris Hall. There, he burst into crowded classrooms and began shooting students and teachers indiscriminately, many at powder-burn range.

Armed with the two weapons and about 50 rounds of ammunition, the 23-year-old immigrant from South Korea nearly emptied both chambers before shooting himself.

But two days after the worst shooting in modern U.S. history, Cho’s mailing suggests he intended to be heard from beyond the grave.

Some of the video shows him talking from inside a car. At other times, he is shown in front of a cinderblock wall.

Karan Grewal, one of Cho’s roommates, said that when he saw the footage, he could not believe it was the same person he had shared a six-person suite with since last fall.

“It was a totally different person,” the 21-year-old accounting major said. “He was staring straight at the camera, and he never stared into our eyes or even looked at us.”

Cho apparently sent some materials in PDF files and recorded others onto computer discs. According to NBC, the package included 27 QuickTime video files showing Cho talking into the camera. He does not direct his anger at any specific person but does mention “sin” and “spilling” his blood. He speaks at length about how much he loathes the wealthy. His voice often is soft and uneven, difficult to understand.

“I could have left,” he says. “I could have fled. But no. I will no longer run. If not for me, for my children, for my brothers and sisters. I did it for them. … The time came and I did it. I had to do what I did.”

The son of parents who left a life of poverty in South Korea to run a dry-cleaning business and raise their children in Virginia, Cho turns his venom on people of privilege in the U.S.

“You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats? Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs? Your trust fund wasn’t enough?”

He adds, “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, who inspired generations of the weak and the defenseless people.”

It appears Cho spent some time putting the package together, said NBC News President Steve Capus. The shooter broke the video down into snippets that were embedded paragraph by paragraph into the main document.

In about a dozen of the photographs, Capus said, Cho aims handguns at the camera that are “consistent with what we’ve heard about the guns in this incident.”

In the written text, Cho likens himself to “Eric and Dylan” – a reference to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenage shooters who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 12 students and one instructor before taking their own lives.

Police and university officials said Wednesday that after the two women complained Cho was stalking them, an unidentified acquaintance of his called authorities to express concern that Cho might be suicidal.

According to student Patrick Song, 21, one of the women was Christina Lilick. “I just remember she was very concerned that he was contacting her,” he said.

Lilick could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But a message attributed to her that was left on Song’s Facebook.com page reads, in reference to Cho and the shootings: “the first thought that ran through my head that geez, please dont let it be him. … and sure enough, look who it turned out to be. i’m ok, and i hope you and everyone else you know is too.”

University police questioned Cho in November and December 2005 after one woman said he tried to contact her by phone and in person, and a second woman said he sent her instant e-mail messages.

On Dec. 13 of that year, campus police again talked to Cho. They obtained a temporary detention order based on his voluntary evaluation session with a local mental health counselor. He was evaluated at Carilion St. Alban’s, a private mental health facility in nearby Christiansburg, Va. According to records from that examination, Cho was “alleged to be mentally ill.”

Because Cho told them he had no plans or hallucinations about killing himself or others, he was held for 24 hours and then released on a court order recommending he volunteer for counseling. Cho apparently never sought help.

Some gun-control advocates and mental health experts Wednesday questioned why Cho was able to buy two handguns after having been declared mentally ill.

Authorities said that while Cho might have been extremely troubled, he was legally permitted to buy the guns because there was no record in his background check of him being involuntarily committed to a mental institution. In Virginia and many other states, even if someone voluntarily commits himself to a mental institution, he still might be able to purchase guns when he gets out.


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