E-Mails Reveal Cho's Troubles At Va. Tech

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 20, 2008; Page B01

The unauthorized release of thousands of documents related to the April 2007 Virginia Tech massacre has given new voice to killer Seung Hui Cho, who e-mailed regularly with professors in the years prior to the shootings and whom they reached out to repeatedly as it became clearer that he was a deeply troubled, even obsessive, young man.

The documents, including dozens of e-mails between Cho and his instructors in Virginia Tech's English Department, were posted Thursday on the Web site of the Collegiate Times student newspaper. They had been made available previously to victims' family members and were scheduled for public release in February. Collegiate Times editor in chief David Grant said the newspaper did not hack into the university's computers to obtain the material, but he declined to offer additional details.

Most profound among the documents are the e-mails between Cho and his professors.

The exchanges reveal a young man seemingly incapable of participating in class discussion yet intensely communicative about his grades, about the fact that he made others uncomfortable and about his own negative opinions of students and teachers. The e-mails also show that professors reached out again and again to him and one another in an effort to help.

On Feb. 9, 2006, English Professor Bob Hicok asked in an e-mail to Cho: "Can you tell me what keeps you from talking in class or to me? . . . If you don't let me know what's going on for you, there's nothing I can do to help."

"I don't know. I'm not all that good at talking. I don't know," Cho wrote back the same day.

"I'm sorry, but I need to know more than that," Hicok wrote back. "If you cannot talk to me and the class, or at least me, I don't see how you can pass this course. Can you, will you, tell me more about what's going on for you?"

"I can try to talk. I don't know," Cho replied the next day.

Taken together, the documents, which are available at http://www.collegiatetimes.com, reveal Cho's state of mind leading up to the shooting April 16, 2007, when the 23-year-old senior English major killed 32 students and professors and injured many others before taking his own life. Also included are records of the university's official response, police documents and various findings and correspondence on the massacre's aftermath. Grant refrained from posting records relating to families' legal settlements with the university and the state, he said.

At times, Cho's e-mails were verbose and obsessive, particularly as he sought to understand what was expected of him for an assignment or why he was receiving poor grades.

"I received F on the midterm and the initial commentary but it doesn't say the exact percentage," Cho wrote to Lucinda Roy in March 2004, when he was enrolled in her poetry survey course. "I know F is under 59% but I don't know if I got 0 or 59 because there was no number on them, it just said F. There's a huge difference between 0 and 59 and I wanted to know where I stand now."

Some instructors seemed to break through Cho's wall of silence, if only momentarily. Notable among them was Roy, chairwoman of the English department, who offered to teach Cho privately after he alienated and frightened students in a poetry class with instructor Nikki Giovanni by reading angry verses aloud. Roy's e-mails were kind, gentle and encouraging, and Cho seemed to respond.

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