BLACKSBURG, Va. – The gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre was a sullen loner who alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids.
A chilling picture emerged Tuesday of Cho Seung-Hui – a 23-year-old senior majoring in English – a day after the bloodbath that left 33 people dead, including Cho, who killed himself as police closed in.
News reports said he may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.
Despite the many warning signs that came to light in the bloody aftermath, police and university officials offered no clues as to exactly what set Cho off on the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
“He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him,” school spokesman Larry Hincker said.
A student who attended Virginia Tech last fall provided obscenity- and violence-laced screenplays that he said Cho wrote as part of a playwriting class they both took.”When we read Cho’s plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of,” former classmate Ian MacFarlane, now an AOL employee, wrote in a blog posted on an AOL Web site.
He said he and other students “were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.”>”We always joked we were just waiting for him to do something, waiting to hear about something he did,” said another classmate, Stephanie Derry. “But when I got the call it was Cho who had done this, I started crying, bawling.”
Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the University’s English department, said Cho’s writing was so disturbing that he had been referred to the University’s counseling service.
She said she did not know when he was referred for counseling, or what the outcome was. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws. The counseling service refused to comment.
Cho – who arrived in the United States from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in suburban Washington, D.C., where his parents worked at a dry cleaners – left a note that was found after the bloodbath.
Monday’s rampage consisted of two attacks, more than two hours apart – first at a dormitory, where two people were killed, then inside a classroom building, where 31 people, including Cho, died. Two handguns – a 9 mm and a .22-caliber – were found in the classroom building.
According to court papers, police found a “bomb threat” note – directed at engineering school buildings – near the victims in the classroom building. In the past three weeks, Virginia Tech was hit with two other bomb threats. Investigators have not connected those earlier threats to Cho.
Cho graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., in 2003. His family lived in an off-white, two-story townhouse in Centreville, Va.
At least one of those killed in the rampage, Reema Samaha, graduated from Westfield High in 2006. But there was no immediate word from authorities on whether Cho knew the young woman and singled her out.
“He was very quiet, always by himself,” neighbor Abdul Shash said. Shash said Cho spent a lot of his free time playing basketball and would not respond if someone greeted him.
Classmates painted a similar picture. Some said that on the first day of a British literature class last year, the 30 or so students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho’s turn, he didn’t speak.
On the sign-in sheet where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. “Is your name, ‘Question mark?'” classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.
Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell said his shop sold a Glock 9 mm pistol and a box of practice ammo to Cho 36 days ago for $571. Cho held a green card, meaning he was a legal, permanent resident. That meant he was eligible to buy a handgun unless he had been convicted of a felony.
State police ballistics tests showed one gun was used in both attacks.
Gov. Tim Kaine said he will appoint a panel at the University’s request to review authorities’ handling of the disaster. Parents and students bitterly complained that the University should have locked down the campus immediately after the first burst of gunfire and did not do enough to warn people.
On Tuesday afternoon, thousands of people gathered in the basketball arena for a memorial service for the victims, with an overflow crowd of thousands watching on a jumbo TV screen in the football stadium. President Bush and the first lady attended.Virginia Tech President Charles Steger received a 30-second standing ovation, despite criticism of the school administration.
On Tuesday night as darkness fell, thousands of Virginia Tech students, faculty and area residents poured into the center of campus to grieve together. They held thousands of candles aloft as speakers urged them to find solace in one another.