18-Month Lapse In Judgment At V-Tech
April 20, 2007 § 1 Comment
Coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre has dominated the news since the tragedy struck Monday morning. Aside from describing the tragedy as one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, many media outlets are describing it as a lapse in judgment on the part of Virginia Tech University–who waited two hours after the first two students were shot and killed in a dormitory to notify students.
By that time, Cho Seung Hui had already mailed dozens of disturbing photographs of himself and a profanity-laced tirade on videotape airing out his grievances about “rich kids,” religion, and how he was going to make people pay to NBC News. “When the time came, I did it. I had to,” he professes in the video. And he did. Worst of all, by that time Cho had already began walking into classrooms in Norris Hall shooting students and professors. By the time the bloodbath ended with Hui’s suicide, he had killed 32 people.
Yes, waiting two hours to notify students of the violence that had already ensued on campus may not have been a good move. But, how was Virginia Tech supposed to know that the person who shot and killed two students, in what they believed was an isolated domestic violence dispute would venture off to Norris Hall and kill 30 more people. Plus, the authorities said they had no reason to believe the suspect was still on school grounds. Most killers, culprits of any kind, usually flee the scene. Some have expressed that notifying students before clearly assessing the situation may have lead to even more chaos, although I don’t know what could have been more chaotic than what unfolded at Virginia Tech.
But, you know what, I’m not going to fault Virginia Tech for what many media outlets are describing as a momentary lapse in judgement–at least not for how they handled the events of April 16. Virginia Tech may be at fault for the way they neglected to take a second glance at Cho Seung Hui in the 18 months prior to the deadly shootings.
As more information surfaces about Cho Seung Hui and the events leading up to the shootings, it becomes clear that he was a student that shouldn’t have remained at Virginia Tech University.
According to an ABC news report, in December 2005 a district court in Montgomery County, Va., ruled that Cho presented “an imminent danger to self or others.” This came after Cho was accused of stalking at least two female classmates. Presenting “an imminent danger” to oneself or others is the criteria that makes it possible for a person to be evaluated by a state doctor and ordered to undergo outpatient care. Cho was temporarily sent to a psychiatric hospital on a court order as a result of his evaluation. He was later released.
The stalking accusations by his two female classmates were also a known fact to the university, although in the end the two women decided not to press charges. In separate incidents, campus police said two women said Cho harrassed them in person, via instant messenger, and telephone. Police interviewed Cho, and referred the case to the university’s internal disciplinary board. It is not known what actions, if any, were taken afterwards.
If the women accused Cho of stalking them, then one can assume that their reasoning for not pressing charges probably stemmed from being intimidated by Cho. This is where the university should have taken control of the situation. They could have expelled him, or at least placed him on temporary probabtion.
Around this same time, one of Cho’s suitmates notified the police that he was suicidal after he made several statements saying he wanted to kill himself. In a CNN interview with two of Cho’s suitmates, one of which was the one who notified police of his suicide plans, the two men said Cho was reclusive, quiet, and often behaved erraticly. Many times he would refer to himself as “Question Mark,” in conversation, they said. He would go on bike rides late at night and they said that he had stalked three different women on campus. Even after all of this, Cho still wasn’t on the university’s radar. Virginia Tech neglected to take a second look at a student who clearly had behavioral problems.
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An english major at Virginia Tech, Cho was enrolled in several creative writing courses. His disruptive behavior along with his extremely violent, profane, and grotesque writings even got him kicked out of famous poet and distinguished professor, Nikki Giovanni’s class. Giovanni told CNN that she told her supervisor that either Cho had to go, or she would. She described him several times as a “mean” student who “intimidated” her and his fellow classmates on a weekly basis. Giovanni also revealed that she often saw him taking pictures of female students with his camera phone during classes. According to her, he created a very tense and disturbing class environment, leaving many students afraid to comment on his frequently macabre writings. In one of his morbid plays, “Richard McBeef,” a teenage boy accuses his stepfather of molesting him and killing his father. At the end of the play, the teenager tries to choke his stepfather with a half-eaten cereal bar and the stepfather retaliates by striking the teenager with “a deadly blow.” In his other play, “Mr. Brownstone,” three students show morbid contempt for their high school teacher, who they accuse of molesting them.
Lucinda Roy, the former chairwoman of the English Department, whom began instructing Cho one-on-one once he was kicked out of Giovanni’s class, told CNN she was deeply disturbed by his writings. So disturbed that she went to the police and counselors “and everywhere else, and they would say, but there’s nothing explicit here. He’s not actually saying he’s going to kill someone.”
From reading Cho’s plays, which one of his classmates released to AOL News, it is obvious that Cho was deeply disturbed and all of the violent images and venomous dialoge had menacing undertones. But, police and the university administration did not see it as a threat, because it just wasn’t explicit enough. In his writings, he never said he was going to kill anyone. Their assessment of Cho made sense in this light because fiction, no matter how disturbing, is not real and cannot necessarily be construed as Cho’s way of telling Virginia Tech that he was about to invest in a murderous spree.
Regardless, Cho’s intimidating behavior in class, stalking accusations, hospitalization, and suicide threats should have been enough for administrators at Virginia Tech to take notice. Instead they turned a blind eye to professors and students–all who seemed to be under the same impression that something just wasn’t right with Cho. Unfortunately, 32 innocent people had to pay the price.