By Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Seung Hui Cho wrote a paper for a Virginia Tech English class about a gunman planning a mass school shooting, one year before he killed 32 students and faculty members and himself in the deadliest shooting by an individual in U.S. history, according to sources familiar with the paper.
The paper, which was written for a class in fiction writing and has not surfaced publicly, has "eerie" parallels to Cho's shooting inside Norris Hall on April 16, according to several sources. One source called it "kind of a blueprint" for the shootings, but others cautioned that that was an overstatement.
Several of the agencies probing the shootings had not been made aware of the paper's existence, and the investigative panel appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine did not receive a copy until recently. The university was supposed to turn over all of Cho's writings to the panel, but this paper was left out.
Additionally, Virginia State Police officials, who also have a copy of the paper, said they could not give it to the panel under state law because it is part of the investigative file. Among the panel's areas of inquiry is the sharing of information among state agencies.
The protagonist in Cho's story plans a mass school murder but in the end does not follow through, the sources said. Some of what Cho wrote was echoed in the words he spoke on the videotape he made on the morning of the shootings, the sources said.
Although Virginia Tech professors knew about the paper and discussed it in the days after the shootings, university officials did not turn it over to the state panel investigating the shootings until last weekend, according to a university source. The paper, described by the sources as somewhat disjointed, was given to state police after the shootings, but the federal agencies assisting in the investigation -- including those doing a criminal profile of Cho -- did not know of it.
"I am not familiar with that paper," said Kevin L. Foust, the FBI supervisory senior resident agent in Roanoke, whose agents are working with the state police to investigate the shootings. "That does not ring a bell."
Several agencies are investigating the massacre, and some parents of the victims have said there hasn't been enough coordination among the probes. The university has issued its findings, and the panel appointed by Kaine (D) is scheduled to release its review tomorrow. State police are conducting a separate criminal investigation.
"I think it's kind of disjointed," parent Suzanne Grimes said of the multiple investigations. Her son, graduate student Kevin Sterne, was shot twice by Cho and survived. "Everyone is entitled to investigate whatever. But I'm a parent. I just want the facts. How did this gunman fall through the . . . cracks?"
Corinne Geller, a state police spokeswoman, said her agency has cooperated with the Kaine panel, but that cooperation is limited by law. "We have provided them with nothing from the criminal investigative file because we can't under Virginia state law," Geller said.
"This is still an active, ongoing investigation. We have testified before the panel, and we have provided them with the information that we can brief them on, and we have assisted the panel with locating and obtaining other information that they can get."
She added that state police investigators were not "holding the paper back" from the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.
Cho wrote the paper for the "Intro to Short Fiction" class that he took in spring 2006, taught by Bob Hicok, an associate professor of English. The gunman described in Cho's paper was in a high school. Cho, according to acquaintances and law enforcement sources, had expressed a fascination with the Columbine High School shootings while he was in middle school.
Hicok, a poet who has published four books, declined to comment. Virginia Tech officials also would not comment on the paper.
"We are in a difficult position," said Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations. "We don't believe it's appropriate to comment about any aspect of the review prior to the release of the governor's panel report. We are anxiously awaiting those findings and recommendations and will defer comment until Thursday."
The paper about the school massacre is the latest of Cho's disturbing and violent college writings to surface. In the days after the shootings, several members of the English department faculty said that Cho's class papers and plays had bothered them but that they had felt constrained in taking any action. The role of professors and their intervention in such cases is one of the areas likely explored by the Kaine panel. Many of the writings included angry teenage characters and killings.
But even as the other writings became public on the Internet and news reports, the school shootings paper written for Hicok never came to light. The sources said Hicok gave that paper and others to law enforcement authorities April 18.
Sources said Cho's writings so alarmed Hicok that, in spring 2006, he went to the English department's chairwoman, Lucinda Roy, and they discussed whether he should be removed from the class. They decided it would be best to keep him in the class, the sources said.
Cho also 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. The day after the shootings, she said in an interview that "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."
In Giovanni's class, the students, including Cho, recited poems they had written. Days later, only seven of 70 or so students showed up for class. She asked why the others didn't come and was told that they were afraid of Cho.
Giovanni then approached Cho and told him that he needed to change the type of poems he was writing or drop her class. Cho declined to leave and told her, "You can't make me."
Giovanni said she appealed to Roy. Roy then taught Cho one-on-one. She said she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk him to the counseling center. Cho said he would think about it.
After the shootings, investigators found a manifesto that Cho had written and left in his dorm room. He also sent a letter to the English department. The manifesto, along with some of his other writings, indicated to investigators that Cho believed people had no respect for him or others he perceived were like him and that he planned to do something about it.
In one writing, he warned: "Kill yourselves or you will never know how the dorky kid that [you] publicly humiliated and spat on will come behind you and slash your throats. . . . Kill yourselves or you will never know the hour the little kid will come with hundreds of ammunition on his back to shoot you down."
In a videotape he sent to NBC News, Cho delivered a venomous tirade about rich "brats" and their "hedonistic needs."
Those angry feelings were reflected in his school paper, the sources said.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.