By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2007
"Question Mark" was getting to be an aggravation.
The whole thing with the imaginary girlfriend, Jelly, the supermodel he'd say he was making out with in his locked room. The weird faceless picture he posted on Facebook that was supposed to be him.
The scary lines from Shakespeare he scrawled on a girl's dorm door. The phone call where he said he was on vacation with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. His claim that he lived in room 666 of Cochrane Hall, which has only five floors.
The sunglasses. The buzz haircuts he gave himself in his room. The calls to his roommates in which he pretended he was somebody named "Question Mark," and they all knew it was Seung.
Andy Koch was fed up with his roommate, Seung Hui Cho, he recalled yesterday in a telephone interview from Blacksburg. "Who does this?" Koch said to himself.
In the four months before the Virginia Tech mass murderer was briefly committed to a psychiatric clinic in December 2005, his bizarre conduct unfolded in the usually innocent world of Facebook, laptops and dorm-door erase boards.
Amid the social whirl and the all-nighters and the classes, Cho first began to strike people as not quite right.
Koch, 21, has emerged as among the first to alert school authorities about Cho. Since Cho's rampage, he has replayed the events of 2005 over and over, wondering if he might have done more.
"They were little incidents that none of them could be added up at anything," he said. "But now looking back on it, we should have done something."
Koch, then a sophomore management major from Richmond, said he and two friends roomed with Cho in fall 2005 in an eight-person suite. A friend of Koch's, John Eide, roomed with Cho.
Koch said Cho was dropped off at the start of school with little family fanfare. "Just a shy and quiet kid," he said.
Cho first got their attention at a frat party that September. Students were standing around, drinking beers and catching up.
Cho mentioned he had an imaginary girlfriend. "He said her name was Jelly and she called him Spanky, and that she was a supermodel and she traveled through space," Koch said.
"We were like, 'Really?' " he said.
"I told my parents, and I told other friends, and they kind of laughed," he said. Then one day Koch went to Cho's room and Cho wouldn't open the door, saying he was with Jelly: "We're making out," Cho said.
Koch said it seemed weird mainly in hindsight. His first real worry came the Sunday night campus police arrived to speak to Cho about bothering a female classmate.
Koch said he was asleep when two uniformed officers banged loudly on the suite door. Koch opened and the police asked for Cho.
Cho later told the roommates that he'd apparently frightened a girl when he went to her room to "look her in the eye." He said he'd gone there to see if she was cool, and instead saw "promiscuity" in her gaze. What she saw in his was enough for her to call police, Koch indicated.
Cho communicated with classmates, in part, via his Internet Facebook profile. But instead of the usual photograph people post, Cho posted an illustration of a Zorro-like figure whose face was blank except for a large question mark. Thus was born the "question mark" persona, Koch said.
Cho again began bothering girls. He frightened a friend of Koch's by writing on her door board lines from "Romeo and Juliet," in which Romeo says: "My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself. . . . Had I it written, I would tear the word."
Cho was again admonished by police. Then Cho e-mailed Koch: "I might as well kill myself now." Koch asked if he meant that, and phoned his father. Koch said both he and his father voiced concern to campus police.
Shortly after that, Cho was taken to the psychiatric clinic. The next semester Cho seemed to behave, and this year Koch lived off campus.
Tuesday morning, when Koch learned that Cho was the killer, he was stunned. "I was freaked for a couple minutes," he said, "then I realized I needed to write everything down."