He Wrote About Death and Spoke in Whispers, But Few Imagined What Cho Seung Hui Would Do

Linda Liba and her 11-month-old son look out at the Centreville home of Cho Seung Hui, whose parents she called
Linda Liba and her 11-month-old son look out at the Centreville home of Cho Seung Hui, whose parents she called "very good people." (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Ian Shapira and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 17 -- They met across the professor's desk. One on one. The chairman of the English department and the silent, brooding student who never took his sunglasses off.

He had so upset other instructors that Virginia Tech officials asked whether the professor wanted protection. Lucinda Roy declined. She thought Cho Seung Hui exuded loneliness, and she volunteered to teach him by herself, to spare her colleagues. The subject of the class was poetry.

Roy, other officials, investigators, acquaintances and neighbors helped fill in a dark portrait Tuesday of the bespectacled young South Korean citizen who had sought bizarre expression in literature and then massacred 32 fellow students and teachers here Monday in the worst shooting rampage in U.S. history. As police closed in, he shot himself and was found on the floor of a classroom building with his weapons nearby.

Cho, of Centreville, the son of immigrants who run a dry cleaning business and the brother of a State Department contractor who graduated from Princeton, was described by those who encountered him over the years as at times angry, menacing, disturbed and so depressed that he seemed near tears.

He often spoke in a whisper, if at all, refused to open up to teachers and classmates, and kept himself locked behind a facade of a hat, sunglasses and silence.

Authorities still are not sure what set him off and what propelled him Monday as he stalked the halls and classrooms of Norris Hall with two semiautomatic pistols, chaining doors closed and murdering and maiming as he went.

Authorities found two three-page notes in his dorm room after the shootings. They weren't suicide notes and provided no clue about why he did what he did. Instead, they were expletive-filled rants against the rich and privileged, even naming people who he thought had kept him down, federal and state law enforcement sources said. Two government officials said he had been treated for mental health problems.

Police also are uncertain why Cho stopped and shot himself to death in Norris Hall, where most of his victims lay scattered around him.

Any comprehension of what happened seemed to come only in hindsight.

Cho (whose full name is pronounced joh sung-wee) appears first to have alarmed the noted Virginia Tech poet Nikki Giovanni in a creative writing class in fall 2005, Giovanni said.

Cho took pictures of fellow students during class and wrote about death, she said in an interview. "Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely. None of us were comfortable with that," she said.

The students once recited their poems in class. "It was like, 'What are you trying to say here?' It was more sinister," she said.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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