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Timeline of the Virginia Tech campus shooting
with new information released Wednesday. (MCT)
BLACKSBURG, Va. - Days before he massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech and took his own life, Cho Seung Hui concocted a vicious and meticulous multimedia plan for how he hoped to be remembered. He got his wish Wednesday night.
Chillingly, according to a U.S. Postal Service time stamp, Cho mailed a package of documents and images to NBC News in New York during a two-hour break in his shooting spree Monday morning.
NBC News Wednesday evening released some of the 27 videos and 43 photographs that accompanied an 1,800-word screed of hate and resentment that “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams described as a “multimedia manifesto” from a “uniquely sick mind.” While the material doesn’t contain any images from Monday’s shootings, Williams said much of it is too graphic to be shown on television.
In addition, a more detailed picture emerged Wednesday of Cho’s mental health record and run-ins with campus police and teachers, indications that there were many signs that he was headed for trouble. Documents uncovered by ABC News showed that in December 2005, a Virginia magistrate had deemed Cho mentally ill, in need of hospitalization and “an imminent danger” to himself and others.
After NBC employees opened the posted package from Cho on Wednesday morning, the network swiftly turned over the original material to FBI agents in New York, said NBC News president Steve Capus in an interview given to MSNBC.com. He characterized the material, which NBC made copies of for itself, as “disturbing, very angry, profanity-laced.”
Much of the material contains rants against Christianity, the rich and the hedonistic lifestyle of his fellow students, mocking their interest in things like “golden necklaces” and vodka.
Apparently made over six days before the massacre, according to electronic time stamps, the videos show Cho with vacant, glassy eyes and no affect to his soft voice. “You’ve had everything you want,” he says at one point. “This didn’t have to happen.”
At another point, he observes, “You had 100 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.”
Speaking at an afternoon news conference on the Virginia Tech campus, Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said the material, which is being analyzed by the FBI, “may be a very new, critical component of this investigation.”
Although the audio accompanying much of the video, in which Cho often speaks directly to the camera, is rambling and sometimes inaudible, there was no mistaking the message sent by the still photographs.
Most arresting perhaps was the first photo released by NBC late Wednesday afternoon. It showed Cho in an aggressive pose with outstretched arms and a gun in each hand. Wearing a black T-shirt under a khaki camera-style vest, a backward black baseball cap and fingerless black gloves, Cho created an image evocative of those often included in farewell videotapes made by suicide bombers in the Middle East.
It was an image also reminiscent of the paramilitary garb worn by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the troubled teenagers who killed 13 classmates and faculty at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999. In fact, Cho, who appeared to be as much the angry outsider as the Colorado teens, makes reference to the Columbine shooters in his material as “martyrs,” Williams said.
Some of the photos, however, appear to portray as much self-loathing as hatred for others. There are shots of Cho holding a gun to his head or a hunting knife to his own throat. It is unknown whether Cho or someone else took the photos and videos, some of which show him sitting in the back of a small car.
From the time stamp on the package, NBC News said it appeared that Cho sent the material out on Monday at 9:01 a.m. That was after he killed freshman Emily Jane Hilscher, 19, and resident assistant Ryan Clark, 22, in the Ambler Johnston West dormitory at about 7:15 a.m. and shortly before he killed another 30 students and faculty and himself in the Norris Hall engineering building some two hours later.
School and law enforcement officials at news conferences Wednesday painted a more precise portrait of Cho’s apparent mental state, confirming that Cho had been involved in two incidents of stalking in late 2005, and hospitalized after one of them, but had had no further contact with campus police since then.
Two female students alerted campus police to “annoying, but not threatening” messages left for them by Cho through instant messaging and a phone call, as well as personal contact in at least one case, said Chief Wendell Flinchum of the Virginia Tech police.
One of the complaining students received her message on Nov. 27, 2005, the other on December 15, 2005, according to Flinchum. Neither student pressed charges, but the campus police interviewed Cho in both cases.
On Dec. 15, a friend of Cho alerted campus police that Cho might be suicidal. Police transported him to Access, a state mental health agency, which arranged for him to be committed for mental health treatment. Flinchum said he did not know the duration of the treatment or whether it was a voluntary or involuntary commitment.
In addition, poet and Virginia Tech English professor Nikki Giovanni said she had banned Cho from her class because of bizarre behavior that was scaring her students. Lucinda Roy, the English professor who then took him on as her student, filed an informal report with university authorities expressing concern about Cho’s behavior and the violence depicted in his writing for class. But, she has said she was told nothing could be done because no explicit threat had been made.
Campus police had no further contact with Cho after December 2005, Flinchum said.
Flaherty of the Virginia State Police, said there was nothing in Cho’s mental health record that would have prohibited him from buying a gun. He bought two of them in recent months.
Larry Hincker, associate vice president of university relations, said that although the school knew Cho was treated for mental illness in December, 2005, it was news to him that such a serious designation as “imminent danger” had been made.
The school already is being criticized by students and others for not acting more swiftly after Cho’s first shooting incident Monday morning and now questions are being raised about why Cho’s apparently blatant and long-standing problems were not more aggressively addressed.
While the material may give investigators a motive for Cho’s shooting spree, unrivalled in U.S. history, many questions remain unanswered. Why did he begin his murderous spree by shooting Hilscher and Clark, with whom police say he had no known connection? Why did he decide to do it on Monday?
In all those dozens of pages, videos and photos, all he says is, “The time came and I did it. I had to do what I did.”