Va. Tech Gunman's Records Reveal Disorganized Mental Health System

By Brigid Schulte and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 20, 2009

The missing mental health records of Seung Hui Cho, released Wednesday afternoon, provide more evidence that Virginia Tech's counseling center and the state's mental health system failed to recognize, communicate and treat the gunman's increasingly erratic behavior.

But the triage forms, e-mails and Post-It notes provide no window into Cho's tortured mind.

The records indicate that Cho sought help at the university's Cook Counseling Center three times in November and December 2005, twice on the phone and once in person. Each time, he was assessed but not treated.

On Dec. 14, 2005, the day Cho was released from a psychiatric hospital, was declared a danger for threatening to kill himself and was ordered by a judge to receive involuntary outpatient treatment at Cook, the therapist who saw him there did not evaluate his mood. Instead, she drew an "X" through the preprinted triage form.

"Did not assess," therapist Sherry Lynch Conrad wrote. "Student has 2 previous triages in past 2 weeks. Last 2 days ago."

At the psychiatric hospital, just hours before, Cho had been given Ativan for anxiety and was assessed as having a mood disorder, the newly released records show.

"Patient very non-verbal, very quiet, sits in the chair looking down at the floor, does not blink," the records say. "No smile, no laughter, no crying."

Cho had been temporarily detained at the hospital, Carilion St. Albans in Christiansburg, after telling a roommate that he had "blades" in the room and that he might as well kill himself after a female student reported his harassing behavior to campus police in 2005.

In the records, Conrad dismissed the incident. "Said the comment he made was a joke. Says he has no reason to harm self and would never do it," she wrote.

Counselors at Cook have long maintained that they were never informed that Cho was ordered to undergo treatment with them. Instead, Conrad noted that Cho was in her office for a "follow-up." Conrad ended the 30-minute session by encouraging Cho to return in January. She did not schedule an appointment, and Cho never returned. About 15 months later, he would kill 32 students and teachers before killing himself.

On Dec. 14, 2005, at 4:32 p.m., center director Robert Miller forwarded an e-mail -- also released Wednesday -- that he had received about 11 a.m. about Cho's temporary detention order and examples of his bizarre, troubling behavior. "Fyi in the event this student is seen here," he wrote. Cho, who arrived at 3 p.m., had already come and gone by then.

On Dec. 12, a different counselor triaged Cho over the phone and noted that Cho was depressed, had episodes of panic and anxiety and was engaging in self-destructive behavior. When therapist Cathye Betzel, who specializes in women's issues and couples therapy, asked whether Cho was able to interact with friends, classmates and family, Cho responded "No." A pre-doctoral student intern likewise triaged Cho by phone Nov. 30 and concluded much the same thing, labeling him "troubled."

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