Panel Given Some Medical Files on Cho

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

RICHMOND, June 14 -- Virginia Tech has provided some of Seung Hui Cho's medical records to a panel investigating the April 16 massacre, after negotiating with family members to waive their privacy rights.

Officials with the Virginia Tech Review Panel said the university handed over "a few files" late Wednesday pertaining to Cho's interaction with the school's counselors and its medical system. Panel members said they still would like to review his college records, high school records and any other documents the state's mental health system and courts have about Cho.

Virginia Tech was authorized to hand over the records by Cho's parents, who went into isolation after the shootings, after several days of negotiations with someone the university found who knew how to contact them.

The information had been protected under a federal privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is designed to prevent doctors from sharing a patient's medical history.

Because Cho is dead, attorneys for the university determined that only the executor of his estate, his parents, could authorize the release of the information.

"This is information we are pleased to get," said W. Gerald Massengill, chairman of the panel, which is investigating the shootings that killed 32 people and what might have triggered them. "There are a number of questions associated with the mental health process that occurred out there that hopefully these records will shed some light onto."

Although the information has been given to the taxpayer-funded panel, the documents will not be made public.

"Under medical privacy laws, the panel received those records by the family waiving their privacy rights and enabling Virginia Tech to share them with the panel so the panel can review those records and use them in its investigation as it prepares its report, but we are constrained from sharing them otherwise," said James M. Kudla, a spokesman for the panel.

The records were released after weeks of frustration among the eight panel members over not being able to analyze Cho's mental health in the years leading to the massacre, the worst mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history.

In December 2005, after a court declared him mentally ill, Cho was ordered to seek treatment at the school's Thomas E. Cook Counseling Center. Sources have told The Washington Post that Cho never received the treatment.

Panel members, who were brought together by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in the days after the shooting, had threatened to seek a court order if Cho's records were not voluntarily released.

Massengill and other panel officials said Thursday that they will continue to press for additional records, which also are protected under state and federal privacy laws.

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