Wed 18 Apr 2007 17:45
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — More than a year before the Virginia Tech massacre, Cho Seung-Hui was accused of stalking two female students and was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of fears he was suicidal, authorities said Wednesday.
The disclosure added to the rapidly growing list of warning signs that appeared well before the 23-year-old student shot 32 people to death and committed suicide Monday. Among other things, Cho’s twisted, violence-filled writings and sullen, vacant-eyed demeanor had disturbed professors and students so much that he was removed from one English class and was repeatedly urged to get counseling.
In November and December 2005, two women complained to campus police that they had received calls and computer messages from Cho, but they considered the messages "annoying," not threatening, and neither pressed charges, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.
Neither woman was among the victims in the massacre, police said.
But after the second complaint, the university obtained a temporary detention order and took Cho away for psychiatric evaluation because an acquaintance reported he might be suicidal, authorities said. Police did not identify the acquaintance.
Around the same time, one of Cho’s professors informally shared some concerns about the young man’s writings, but no official report was filed, Flinchum said.
The chief said he was not aware of any other contact between Cho and police after those episodes.
According to court papers, on Dec. 13, 2005, a magistrate ordered Cho to undergo an evaluation at Carilion St. Albans Hospital. The magistrate signed the order because of evidence Cho was a danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness. The next day, according to court records, a special justice approved outpatient treatment for Cho.
A medical examination conducted Dec. 14 found that Cho’s "affect is flat. … He denies suicidal ideations. He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder. His insight and judgment are normal."
It is unclear how long Cho stayed at Carilion, though court papers indicate he was free to leave as of Dec. 14. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said Cho had been continually enrolled at Tech and never took a leave of absence.
A spokesman for Carilion St. Albans would not comment Wednesday.
After the first stalking incident, police referred Cho to the university’s disciplinary system, Flinchum said.
But Ed Spencer, assistant vice president of student affairs, would not comment on any disciplinary proceedings, saying federal law protects students’ medical privacy even after death. In any case, Cho remained enrolled up until his death.
"There is no blame from students," said Elizabeth Hart, a communications major and a spokeswoman for the student government. "Who would’ve woken up in the morning and said, ‘Maybe this student who’s just troubled is really going to do something this horrific?’"
She added: "There’s no way to know which kids are just troubled students and who’s going to develop into something greater."
Campus police on Wednesday applied for search warrants for Cho’s medical records from the campus health center and an off-campus facility. "It is reasonable to believe that the medical records may provide evidence of motive, intent and designs," investigators said in court papers.
Police searched Cho’s dorm room and recovered, among other items, two computers, books, notebooks, a digital camera, and a chain and combination lock, according to documents. The front doors of Norris Hall, the classroom building where most of the victims died, had been chained shut from the inside during the rampage.
Fourteen people remained hospitalized Wednesday.
Cho’s roommates and professors portrayed him as a creepy, solitary figure who rarely even made eye contact with his roommates, much less speak to them.
His bizarre behavior became even less predictable in recent weeks, roommate Karan Grewal said. Grewal had pulled an all-nighter on homework the day of the shootings and saw Cho at around 5 a.m., a few hours earlier than normal.
As usual, Cho didn’t look him the eye or say anything, Grewal said.
He said Cho usually worked alone on his computer and watched TV, including Friday night wrestling. He was always alone – in the dining hall, watching television, working out with weights in the gym. He rarely spoke to anyone.
"I had no idea he was capable of this," Grewal said. "We were never told his teachers had concern about him committing suicide and all these dark feelings.
"We were never told that our suitemate was depressed or suicidal."
Authorities said he left a rambling note raging against women, religion and rich kids. News reports said that Cho, a South Korean immigrant who came to the U.S. as a boy and whose parents worked at a dry cleaners, may have been taking medication for depression.
Professors and classmates were alarmed by his class writings – pages filled with twisted, violence-drenched writing.
"It was not bad poetry. It was intimidating," poet Nikki Giovanni, one of his professors, told CNN.
"I know we’re talking about a youngster, but troubled youngsters get drunk and jump off buildings," she said. "There was something mean about this boy. It was the meanness – I’ve taught troubled youngsters and crazy people – it was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak."
Giovanni said her students were so unnerved by Cho’s behavior, including taking pictures of them with his cell phone, that some stopped coming to class and she had security check on her room. She eventually had him taken out of her class, after threatening to quit if he wasn’t removed.
Lucinda Roy, a co-director of creative writing at Virginia Tech, said she tutored Cho after that. She said she tried to get him into counseling in late 2005 but he always refused.
"He was so distant and so lonely," she told ABC’s "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "It was almost like talking to a hole, as though he wasn’t there most of the time. He wore sunglasses and his hat very low so it was hard to see his face."
Roy also said she arranged to use a code word with her assistant to call police if she ever felt threatened by Cho, but she said she never used it.
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