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Massacre maker

Cho Seung-Hui was a ticking time bomb

Issue: "'Darkest moment'," April 28, 2007

The signs were there: He was a troubled 23-year-old everyone described as a loner. He was depressed. He relished violent video games. He took pictures of himself in combat gear. He was a social oddball and wrote strange emails to females. He almost always wore sunglasses, even in class. He ate alone in the dining hall. He would turn away when others greeted him. His formal writings came across as morbid, with violent imagery, deeply troubling his English teacher. He thought the world was out to persecute and harm him, and that angered him, but some day he would exact revenge and make things right. And there were other signs of bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness, as it's also called.

Cho Seung-Hui was a ticking time bomb at Virginia Tech that could explode any minute.

Lucinda Roy, VT's English department chair and one of his teachers, took her concerns about him to administrators and the campus police. Unless there were overt threats or acts, there was little that could be done, they explained.

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A court-appointed mental health professional in 2005 ordered an evaluation of Cho for mental illness. A psychiatrist the next day found him to be depressed and with possible suicidal tendencies, but not serious enough to be hospitalized. He could return to his dorm room and submit to voluntary treatment. The law doesn't require mandatory treatment. For Cho, nothing had changed. The persecution, anger, and revenge themes seemed to come through loudly in the package of writings and videos Cho sent by express mail to NBC the day of the killings.

Cho and his family came to the United States as legal immigrants in 1992, when he was 8. Starting out in Detroit, they later settled in Centreville, Va., a Washington suburb, where they run a dry-cleaning business. Cho's sister, a Princeton graduate, works under contract for the State Department. Cho graduated from Westfield High School in neighboring Chantilly in 2003. Classmates and neighbors alike remember him as withdrawn and "strange." The family's immediate neighbors said they had not seen the youth in a long time.

Many of the area's 52,000 Korean-American residents are members of thriving Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and other churches. The Cho family is unaffiliated with any church, Pastor Hank Hahm of Korean Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Va., told WORLD after speaking with a member who knows the family.

The Korean-American community, long known for hard work, education, and strong family values, is in shock and grief over the killings, Hahm said. He and other Korean-American church leaders helped to organize a well-attended prayer service at a county government center April 17. A campaign is under way to raise funds to help victims' families. Callers to area Korean-language radio talk shows expressed sorrow for the families of victims and concern for the Cho family. Some voiced fear of ethnic stereotypes.

Meanwhile, community and church leaders also organized counseling programs to reassure children and young people that they "belong."

Modern mayhem

A timeline of U.S. multiple shootings

Aug. 1, 1966: From the 27-story tower at the University of Texas in Austin, Charles Whitman, 25, shoots and kills 14 people (including a baby in utero) and wounds 31 others before police kill him. The night before, Whitman had also murdered his wife and mother.

July 18, 1984: James Huberty, 41, opens fire at a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., killing 21 people and wounding 19 others before a sniper kills him.

Aug. 20, 1986: Postman Patrick Sherrill kills 14 employees and wounds six others at the Edmond, Okla., post office before committing suicide.

Oct. 16, 1991: George Hennard, 35, crashes his truck into Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and opens fire, killing 23 people and wounding 20 before killing himself.

Nov. 1, 1991: Graduate student Gang Lu, 28, kills five people at the University of Iowa before killing himself.

Dec. 7, 1993: Colin Ferguson, 49, opens fire on passengers at the Long Island Rail Road in Nassau County, N.Y. He is serving consecutive life sentences for killing six people and injuring 19 others.

March 24, 1998: Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shoot and kill four students and a teacher during a false fire alarm at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark.

April 20, 1999: Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, kill 12 students and a teacher during a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. (above). They then commit suicide.

Sept. 16, 1999: Larry Ashbrook, 47, interrupts a teen prayer rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, killing seven people and injuring another seven before turning the gun on himself.

March 21, 2005: Jeffrey Weise, 16, kills his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend before going to Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minn., and killing seven people. He then commits suicide.

Jan. 30, 2006: Former postal employee Jennifer San Marco goes on a shooting rampage in Goleta, Calif., killing six postal employees and a neighbor before committing suicide.

Oct. 3, 2006: Charles Roberts, 32, enters an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., fatally shooting five girls and injuring another five before killing himself.

Feb. 12, 2007: Sulejman Talovi, an 18-year-old Bosniak refugee, opens fire at Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, killing five people before police officers fatally shoot him.

April 16, 2007: Cho Seung-Hui, 23, kills 32 people, injures at least 20, at Virginia Tech University before committing suicide.

-compiled by Kristin Chapman

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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