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

Officials at Virginia Tech said the records show that the counseling center staff "acted appropriately" in evaluating Cho.

"The absence and belated discovery of these missing files have caused pain, further grief, and anxiety for families of the April 16 [2007] victims and survivors, as well as for the Cook Counseling Center professionals who interacted with Cho and created and maintained appropriate departmental records," Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said in a statement.

But Suzanne Grimes, whose son was shot and seriously wounded by Cho, said the university "completely blew it."

"You can't have a person walking around who can't communicate with family and friends and think he's all right," she said. "Especially when he talks about killing himself and nothing happens. Nothing. They just sloughed it off."

All three Cook Counseling Center triage forms noted that Cho had neither suicidal nor homicidal thoughts.

Cho's family agreed Aug. 4 that the records should be released. "My mother, father and I all agree that it is the correct thing to do to release the newly discovered medical records of my brother," Cho's sister, Sun Cho, wrote to the family attorney.

A panel created by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to investigate the state and local systems that allowed Cho to fall through the cracks already had criticized the Cook staff for failing to "connect the dots" about Cho, as well as for losing his records. "The system failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws, and passivity," the panel wrote.

With the release of Cho's records, what emerges is a counseling center in disarray in the fall of 2005, at just the time when an increasingly erratic Cho was finally persuaded to seek help.

That fall, the center's one staff psychiatrist had taken a leave of absence and never returned. Articles published in the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, warned that the center was understaffed and that students in need of mental health prescription medications were often required to drive as far as 45 miles to have them filled.

In court papers released Tuesday, Miller, who was director of the counseling center from 2002 to 2006 and had worked there since 1988, acknowledged that he was fired shortly after calling for an independent consultant's review in December 2005.

The staff at Cook told investigators after the massacre that they never accepted students who had been involuntarily ordered into outpatient treatment, as Cho was. However, local lawyers said that as a matter of practice, they did it all the time.

"I ordered a few people to Cook," said Joe Painter, a Blacksburg attorney who used to serve as special magistrate overseeing mental health commitment proceedings. "And they did take them."

Miller "inadvertently" packed Cho's records, along with those of fewer than five other students, with his belongings when he cleaned out his office in late February 2006. Miller did not treat Cho.

After years of assuming that the records were missing or destroyed, Miller discovered them in his home in July after he had been named in a lawsuit filed by the parents of two of Cho's victims and he was required to thoroughly search his home.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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