Isolation Defined Cho's Senior Year

Seung Hui Cho's mother sought help at One Mind Church in Woodbridge.
Seung Hui Cho's mother sought help at One Mind Church in Woodbridge. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Gardner and David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hyang In Cho was so desperate to find help for her silent, angry son that she sought out some members of One Mind Church in Woodbridge to heal him of what the church's head pastor called "demonic power."

But before the church could act late last summer, Seung Hui Cho had to return to Virginia Tech to start his senior year, said the Rev. Dong Cheol Lee, minister of the Presbyterian congregation.

College might have been the worst place for Cho, according to interviews with classmates, church members and other acquaintances. At home, he had his parents, his sister and some structure and discipline. At Westfield High School in Chantilly, where he graduated in 2003, he was studious and had joined the science club.

Now, new details have emerged suggesting that Cho's mental condition worsened at Virginia Tech, especially in his senior year after his mother had sought to step in back home. His isolation grew, and his attention to schoolwork and class time dropped, according to numerous interviews. On April 16, he killed 32 people and himself in the deadliest shooting rampage by an individual in U.S. history.

Cho's family has said nothing publicly about his medical history, his academic performance or anything else that might explain what drove him to kill. Nevertheless, Hyang In Cho knew last year that her son was troubled. Before finding One Mind, she had gone to several other congregations of various denominations seeking help, according to officials at several Northern Virginia churches.

"His problem needed to be solved by spiritual power," said Lee, whose church members met with Cho and his mother. "That's why she came to our church -- because we were helping several people like him." Those churchgoers told Hyang In Cho that her son was afflicted by demonic power and needed deliverance, Lee said.

At first, Cho seemed to have tried to fit in at Virginia Tech. He had started out in college attending classes and studying faithfully. He wore a Virginia Tech baseball cap, jeans and T-shirts to class. When funny things were said in his Advanced Fiction class last fall, he would smile along with everyone else, recalled a classmate, J.D. Medlock, 22.

Cho had also reached out to female classmates, including one venture on Facebook, but it only served to upset some women enough for them to contact police. By senior year, his suitemates never saw him with a book or heading to class.

"He would just sit there," said Karan Grewal, one of five students who shared a three-bedroom suite in Harper Hall with Cho. Grewal added that Cho, who was assigned the suite randomly, would sit in a wood rocker by the window and stare at the lawn below.

What Cho was thinking remains a mystery; so many who knew him say they never heard him speak until the video he mailed to NBC News was aired on television. One clue exists in Cho's final selection of courses. He was taking a sociology class called Deviant Behavior, according to interviews. The class met on the second floor of Norris Hall, where most of the shootings occurred.

Relatives say Seung Hui Cho had suffered from a mental disability from a young age. Kim Yang Soon, a great aunt in South Korea, said Cho exhibited violent anger even as a child. It remains unclear whether his parents sought psychiatric or other professional help for their son in addition to the religious assistance.

Before coming to the United States, Cho's father ran a secondhand bookstore that didn't make much money, relatives said. The family had rented a three-room basement in a suburb of Seoul that was no larger than 430 square feet. Now unoccupied and full of mildew, it was the least-expensive rental in the building, according to Korean news reports.

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