New VTech thread: Was Cho schizophrenic, “mean,” or both? Update: NBC receives material mailed by Cho; Update: Video added; Update: Cho called Columbine killers “martyrs” in manifesto; Update: Envelope signed “A. Ishmael”
posted at 4:40 pm on April 18, 2007 by Allahpundit
There’s new information about him this morning but most of it is stuff we already know. The cops held a press conference to say that he stalked two women in 2005 and then got sent away to a mental hospital for a spell, which we learned last night from that bizarre CNN interview with his two former roommates. Meanwhile, the NYT has a scoop about the cops having initially misidentified the suspect in the first shooting as Emily Hilscher’s gun-aficionado boyfriend. If only the LA Times hadn’t had the same scoop hours earlier.
Here’s some genuinely new information, though, via ABC News. A forensic psychiatrist who’s been following the story says Cho’s behavior sounds familiar, and it goes way beyond depression:
What then leads you to believe Cho had schizophrenia?
How he related to his roommate was just too bizarre to be depression. The bizarre content of his plays — mashing a half-eaten “banana bar” in someone’s mouth, the hypersexual, nihilistic (death obsessed) obsessions in the absence of depressive guilt or tearfulness are another clue. The progressive decline of a period of years. Those with schizophrenia, especially in their earliest years, are not readily recognizable as such — their condition is evolving. But here was someone who, as early as 2005, was carrying himself so strangely that he was a spectacle. The depressed withdraw and disappear. Those who are so peculiar in their manner so as to be inappropriate (taking cell phone pictures of his teacher, speaking inaudibly, pulling a cap low over his eyes) exhibit signs and symptoms more indicative of schizophrenia. He was communicating in a rambling manner reflective of what we appreciate as autistic thinking — characteristic of schizophrenia. In a similar vein, Mr. Cho’s stilted communication in his homicide note (deceitful charlatans — not the language of a 23-year-old college kid) is also the manner of a schizophrenic’s communications, as is his pronounced delay in responding to questions.
Poet Nikki Giovanni, who taught Cho in one of her classes, tells the LA Times that she actually had guards stationed nearby at one point to intervene in case Psy-Cho (as See-Dub dubs him) went off. And here’s what she told CNN:
“I knew when it happened that that’s probably who it was,” Giovanni said, referring to her former pupil. “I would have been shocked if it wasn’t.”…
[In the fall of 2005,] Giovanni went to the department’s then-chairwoman, Lucinda Roy, and told her she wanted Cho out of her class, and Roy obliged.
“I was willing to resign before I was going to continue with him,” Giovanni said. “There was something mean about this boy.”
Giovanni said she’s taught her share of oddballs in the past, but there was something malicious about Cho’s behavior.
“I know we’re talking about a troubled youngster and crap like that, but troubled youngsters get drunk and jump off buildings; troubled youngsters drink and drive,” she said. “I’ve taught troubled youngsters. I’ve taught crazy people. It was the meanness that bothered me. It was a, really, mean streak.”
We all knew weird, quiet kids at college, but I certainly never knew anyone so weird that the teachers felt they needed guards around in order to teach him. British journalist Toby Harnden (who’s been reading this blog, among others, to keep tabs on the story) is promising an interview on Thursday in the Telegraph with Cho’s roommate that’ll reveal even more warning signs about his lethal strangeness. And so I repeat my question from last night: how did they let this time bomb keep ticking for so long?
The other stuff I’ve got right now is just a grab bag. The Times has posted a new graphic showing the layout of the second floor of Norris Hall; so far as I know, no one’s explained yet why he went upstairs instead of sticking to the first floor. Bob Owens discovers that ABC News is deleting comments that challenge them on their crappy reporting about large-capacity magazines. And readers are kicking up a fuss about the Australian Telegraph’s sensationalistic headline and lede about Cho’s possible obsession with Emily Hilscher. I think it’s nonsense: they’re just being tabloidy about the fatal attraction element, not blaming her for her own murder.
I’m sure there’ll be updates here throughout the day, albeit (hopefully) not as many as the last few posts have had. In the meantime, compare Iran’s reaction to the shooting to the “teacher’s lesson” on terrorism for “Bowling for Columbine.”
Update: Steyn tries to parse the rules for what constitutes “adulthood” these days: “[W]e live in a selectively infantilized culture where twentysomethings are ‘children’ if they’re serving in the Third Infantry Division in Ramadi but grown-ups making rational choices if they drop to the broadloom in President Clinton’s Oval Office.”
Update: Just breaking — NBC says it received a package from Cho which it has reason to believe was sent between the first and second shootings. Supposedly it contains photos and video, which probably means they’re images he took of the first shooting on his cell phone right after it happened. You’ll recall he was known to take cell-phone photos of his classmates during class, one of his little habits that freaked them out.
NBC says it’s already turned over the information to the police. Stand by.
Update: Multiple photos, video, and “rambling writings” were in the package.
Update: It sounds like the video, at least, wasn’t of the crime scene but of Cho listing his “grievances.” He must have mentioned the first shooting, otherwise I don’t how they could be so sure that he filmed it after that had happened: “Cho Seung-Hui sent NBC News a long and rambling communication and video about his grievances, the network said Wednesday. Network officials turned the material over to the FBI and said they would not immediately disclose its contents pending the agency’s review.” Update: They’ve updated the article to say that the timestamp is the giveaway. Hmmm.
Update: I won’t repeat my ticking-time-bomb question yet again, but … okay, I will repeat it. If they knew in 2005 that he was “mentally ill” and an “imminent danger to himself,” why did the magistrate refer him for outpatient treatment?
Update: More: “The package, timestamped in the two-hour window between Monday’s shootings, was sent to NBC News head Steve Capus. It contained digital photos of the gunman holding weapons and a manifesto that ‘rants against rich people and warns that he wants to get even,’ The Associated Press quoted an unidentified New York law enforcement official familiar with the case as saying.”
Update: NBC says it’s going to air portions of the video tonight. Wow.
Update: Still more. Why would Cho have sent the video to the president of the NBC News instead of Brian Williams or whoever? “The package, timestamped in the two-hour window between Monday’s shootings, was sent to NBC News head Steve Capus. In an interview with MSNBC.com, Capus said Cho talks to the camera in the videos. In one instance, he makes a vague reference to the massacre, Capus said, and said, ‘This didn’t have to happen.’ ‘The statement is hard to follow, kind of rambling. He speaks about hatred,’ Capus said, adding that it was ‘distrubring, very angry, profanity laced.'”
Update: The post office must have been his last stop before Norris Hall: “The package bore a U.S. Postal Service stamp recording that it had been received at a Virginia post office at 9:01 a.m. ET Monday, about an hour and 45 minutes after Cho shot two people in the West Ambler Johnston residence hall on the Virginia Tech campus and shortly before Cho entered Norris Hall, where he killed 30 more people.” There are 23 Quicktime files in the package, according to NBC.
Update: Go see the photo on MSNBC’s front page. The survivors said he was wearing a tan shirt during the attack, almost like a boy scout’s uniform.
Update: I admit I’m keen to see what Cho had to say for himself, but Mona Charen makes a good point. Does NBC realize what it’s doing here by extending Ismail Ax’s 15 minutes of fame?
And speaking of which, I don’t see any writing in red ink on his inner arm in that NBC photo.
Update: Yet another update from NBC. Lest there was any doubt left, this was highly premeditated. And as I speculated the other day, the ammo appears to have been unusually lethal:
The production of the videos indicated that Cho had worked on the package for some time, because he not only “took the time to record the videos, but he also broke them down into snippets” that were embedded paragraph by paragraph into the main document, Capus said…
Other photographs show Cho holding a knife, and some show hollow-point bullets lined up on a table, Capus said.
Update: Spruiell thinks this is a bad call by NBC too. I think it’s a close call, but I’m not sure I agree.
Update: The NBC Nightly News is airing now. Brian Williams just said the return address on the envelope was signed “Ismail” — or “Ishmael,” as Williams pronounced it. Pete Williams says there’s evidence that he was preparing this at least six days before the shooting.
Update: Here’s the segment from the Nightly News. Question: Where were these videos shot? I assumed it was in his dorm room, but that white brick background looks more like a hallway.
Update: They aired a little more video at the end of the show. More of the same: Cho ranting about trust funds, hedonism, Jesus Christ — and then, in the written document he gave them, a reference to “martyrs like Eric and Dylan.”
Update: Catherine Herridge is on Fox News right now telling Shep Smith that a VTech spokesman said this afternoon they had no idea Cho was taken a mental hospital or investigated for stalking in 2005.
Update: All right, two screencaps. First is the envelope slip, showing pretty clearly he signed it “A. Ishmael.” Presumably that means what was written on his arm was “Ishmael Ax,” not “Ismail Ax,” which makes the already dubious jihad theory that much more dubious.
Recall that reader Ray F. theorized a few days ago that “Ismail/Ishmael Ax” was a reference to James Fenimore Cooper’s story “The Prairie,” the lead character of which was “Ishmael Bush” — spelled the same way Cho spells it here. So let’s not rule that theory out just yet.
Now the second photo. Is this him wielding his “ax”? It’s a strange way to hold a hammer.
Update: NBC’s got a slideshow with new photos in the sidebar here. You can see clearly in their copy of the envelope slip that it’s “Ishmael.” Note the array of hollow-tipped bullets in photo 7.
Update: Williams and Williams say there’s no way to tell (yet) when the videos were recorded, but note that at one point he says, “You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today.”
Update: Newsweek’s got a great, terrifying article up about Colin Goddard, a senior who was in French class in Norris Hall when Cho shot his way through the locked door and began walking up and down the aisles, pumping bullets into students. Goddard was hit in the leg but played dead until Cho left. Then:
Suddenly, the classroom door burst open again. The killer was back. “He came back in and started going around the room again, shooting people.” Up one aisle and down another, Cho moved through the room, repeating the path he had taken the first time. When the killer reached Goddard, he felt two more bullets punch into his body, one in the shoulder, and one in his buttocks. “My chest and torso were kind of underneath a desk, that’s why I think I got shot in my extremities,” he told NEWSWEEK.
It sounds like Cho committed suicide in that very room just a few moments later, moments before the cops burst in.
Update: I know people are going to start sending me this link soon, so let me flag it now and warn you: the Northeast Intelligence Network is a notoriously alarmist site. Before you go jumping at shadows about jihad and 9/11, wait for a credible media source to report it.