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An Isolated Boy in a World of Strangers

A World of His Own

The 1999 Stone Middle School yearbook shows Seung Hui Cho at top right in the symphonic band portrait.
The 1999 Stone Middle School yearbook shows Seung Hui Cho at top right in the symphonic band portrait. (James M. Thresher - Twp)

Cho, likewise, was difficult to know, his classmates in Fairfax said. He often seemed to be in a world of his own.

Students who knew him as far back as middle school remember a dramatically uncommunicative boy who never spoke, not even to teachers. Some remember classmates derisively offering dollar bills to Cho if he would just talk. The band director would urge him to play his trombone more loudly and to hold his head up.

"Teachers would call on him, and he wouldn't respond," recalled Sam Linton, 21, a freshman at New River Community College near Virginia Tech, who attended classes and shared a homeroom with Cho at Stone Middle School in Centreville. "He would just sit there until they would call on somebody else."

James Duffy, 21, a Virginia Tech junior who also attended Stone, said the first time he ever heard Cho speak was on television Wednesday night, when NBC aired the recordings he had mailed in the middle of the rampage.

"That was also the first time I ever saw an expression on his face," Duffy recalled.

Other students recalled that he carried violent writings in his notebooks. He wore "geeky" clothes, not stylish or popular, the kind his parents might have picked out, Linton recalled.

When Cho was a sophomore, he was a member of the Westfield High School Science Club, according to the school's 2001 yearbook. In his sophomore and junior year portraits, he is dressed identically: light-colored T-shirt with a plaid button-down shirt on top.

In Cho's senior year, neither his name nor his picture appears anywhere in the yearbook.

David Gearhart, 21, a junior at Virginia Tech who attended Stone Middle with Cho, said Cho's antisocial behavior prompted teasing from other kids.

"We might have cracked a couple of jokes, nothing to his face for sure. Nothing very serious. We would just say, 'Did you see Seung say nothing again today?' Something like that."

Gearhart remembers a friend seeing a paper fall out of Cho's notebook. "It had all kinds of hate writing," he said.

Shame and Blame

Not since the Los Angeles riots in 1992, when one of the nation's largest Korean enclaves was ransacked and burned, has an event gripped the Korean American community like the massacre at Virginia Tech. Several area Koreans said that when they heard that the shooter was an Asian American male, they were desperately hoping he was not Korean. Their hearts sank when police announced the name as Cho Seung Hui.


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