More VTech: Two theories of first murders emerge; Update: Cho’s magazines were standard, not high-capacity

posted at 9:27 am on April 26, 2007 by Allahpundit

Neither one of them very persuasive, alas. We learned yesterday that cops found no communications from Cho on Emily Hilscher’s cell phone or computer, which led me to wonder if I was right about him having encountered her outside the dorm on her way back from her boyfriend’s room that morning and chosen her purely as a target of opportunity. WaPo fills in some details today that make that a little murkier:

Seung Hui Cho stood outside as his first victim walked into the Virginia Tech dormitory early on the morning of the April 16 massacre. Witnesses told police that Cho — wearing the same dark clothing he wore later when he continued his rampage at an academic building — did not follow Emily Hilscher upstairs. Instead, he waited several minutes before entering the dorm, where he fatally shot Hilscher and the resident adviser who came to her aid.

If he didn’t follow her, why did he end up on the fourth floor, where her room was? If she were truly a random target, it’s hard to believe he would have seen her outside and then, purely by chance, wandered all the way upstairs looking for someone to shoot and stumbled upon her again. A killer looking to taste blood and then get away safely so that he could perpetrate a full-stop massacre somewhere else would have been better off staying on the first floor so that he could get out of the building as quickly as possible before the cops came.

Which brings us to those two theories.

One theory is that Cho planned to shoot people at only the dormitory but found that students’ doors were locked. He then accidentally found Hilscher about 7:15 a.m.

One problem with this theory, the sources said, is that if Cho had limited his attack to the dorm, he would not have been able to mail the package of videos and written diatribes to NBC. Sources said, however, that witnesses have been unable to place Cho in the Blacksburg post office where the NBC package was received at 9:01 a.m., raising the possibility that someone else mailed it.

If the plan was to shoot up Ambler Johnston and let it all end there, why did he buy the chains beforehand that ended up on the doors of Norris Hall? Those chains should have been on the doors of AJ, no? As for the package, this freak didn’t even speak to his roommates; who would he have known who would have been willing to stand on line at the post office for him, on tax day no less, to mail a $14 envelope? The cops suggested yesterday that in fact he didn’t do any video recording in the time between the two shootings, but we do know that the last PDF file in the package sent to NBC was modified at 7:24 a.m., minutes after the first murders. Which means if he handed the package off to someone, it was in that interim period, not before. He may simply have approached someone randomly on the street, given them $50 to mail it for him and told them to keep the change, but in that case, why wouldn’t that person have come forward by now? Unless they were a willing accomplice to the murders, they’d have no reason to hide what they did from the police. I bet Cho mailed it himself and the witnesses at the post office probably just didn’t notice him there.

The second theory:

Another theory is that Cho committed the first shootings as a diversion, wanting police to be at the dormitory while he continued at Norris Hall. But investigators still remain puzzled about Cho’s motives, where he went between the shootings and the connection between the two events.

That makes more sense but it doesn’t answer my question about why he was on the fourth floor instead of the first and it sure doesn’t explain why he would have waited fully two hours after he’d created the diversion to start his assault on Norris Hall. He must have assumed that someone had seen him in or on his way out of AJ and that the cops were looking for an Asian male in dark clothing. The longer he waited, the better the chance they’d figure out who’d done it and would come looking for him. Note in the first blockquote above, too, that Cho didn’t even bother changing clothes in between. If he was cunning enough to murder two people as a diversion, you’d think he’d be cunning enough not to be out and about on his way to Norris for two hours while perfectly matching the presumptive description of the suspect.

Anyway. The cops said yesterday that Cho had had a class at Norris Hall this semester, which is the first clue I’m aware of as to why he might have targeted that building specifically (but not the engineering department). They also said the first 911 call from Norris came in at 9:32. They were on the scene at 9:35, but it took them five precious minutes to try to break down the chained doors. Eventually they shot the locks off, but by then it was over.

Update: Nice job here by Bob Owens to debunk a piece of persistent media misinformation. They’re anxious to pin the massacre on the fact that Bush let the assault-weapons ban lapse, which is why they’re keen to say — and have said — that the magazines Cho used were high-capacity and thus would have been illegal to manufacture (but legal to sell or buy) under the AWB. Well, they weren’t.

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I have a third theory. He was infatuated with her had been secretly watching her. He knew she hadn’t come home that night. He was angry. When she finally came home, he killed her. (That’s where the debauchery stuff comes from). He knew sooner or later it would come to that and had it all planned out. Her staying out all that night triggered it.

TheBigOldDog on April 26, 2007 at 9:41 AM

Some dolt that was all screwed up went on a shoppting spree. We’re not talking about a crown jewels caper here.

He’s dead. Good. Quit wasting my money on investigating this and go find manbearpig.

Ringmaster on April 26, 2007 at 9:42 AM

I’ve always found it interesting how people always want to know the “why” in mass murder cases. Personally, other than needing to know for the sake of building up evidence against a defendant, it makes no sense. In this case, there is no defendant, because he already committed suicide. So, can someone explain the purpose of trying to figure out the “why” in this situation?

j_ehman on April 26, 2007 at 10:03 AM

j_ehman on April 26, 2007 at 10:03 AM

I agree, trying to make sense of the acts of a disturbed person is kind of a fool’s errand.

Bradky on April 26, 2007 at 10:05 AM

The spelling of “Ishmiel” on the envelope is different than what was reported for the tattoo. This could mean someone else wrote out the envelope.

It doesn’t seem likely that the materials were packaged in the envelope before it got to the post office. It’s odd that he wouldn’t have just went to the post office beforehand and got the envelope and some stamps and then he could have just dropped it in a mail box. He or his accomplice had to wait in line and have a clerk process it and then hand them cash or credit card.

Perchant on April 26, 2007 at 10:19 AM

Sometimes you won’t know why evil happens.

icelandicfarmer on April 26, 2007 at 10:24 AM

I just hope this doesn’t become a TV Movie of the Week 30 years from now.

SillyRyno on April 26, 2007 at 10:48 AM

I also feel that trying to make sense out of his actions is probably useless, but I did have a thought. Is it certain that he shot Emily Hilscher first? Has anyone considered the possibility that Ryan Clark may have been his initial target? Like I said, it doesn’t matter much at this point, but if you’re gonna look at you’ve gotta look at all the angles.

dementia unbound on April 26, 2007 at 10:50 AM

I just hope this doesn’t become a TV Movie of the Week 30 years from now.

It won’t. It will likely become a “TV Movie of the Week” about 3 months from now, the way Hollywood works.

SisterToldjah on April 26, 2007 at 10:52 AM

I know some of you are sick of this, and yeah, it really doesn’t make a difference “why,” but I’d like to know. It was a horrible tragedy. We already know the who, how, when and where, all that’s left is the why.

Plus, if someone else was involved, even if just to mail the package, that’s something that does matter.

Esthier on April 26, 2007 at 10:54 AM

Has anyone considered the possibility that Ryan Clark may have been his initial target? Like I said, it doesn’t matter much at this point, but if you’re gonna look at you’ve gotta look at all the angles.

dementia unbound on April 26, 2007 at 10:50 AM

Reportedly, Ryan came to Emily’s aid as an RA, so it’s possible, but if his intent was to kill Ryan, you’d think he would have gone straight for him first.

Esthier on April 26, 2007 at 10:56 AM

The guy was a NUT! One cannot understand a NUT unless you are nuts yourself! Give it up already!!!!

Dread Pirate Roberts VI on April 26, 2007 at 11:03 AM

Three interesting things about this video:

This shows several clips of the killer talking to the camera. The ones where he seems to say that he has already started the killings show the image shaking like an accomplice is holding the camera. The other ones are perfectly still like the camera is mounted.

The video shows the signature focused and enlarged and it appears to say “Ishmiel” which is different than other reports of the spelling.

At the very end of the video, the reporter says that an official told him that the postal clerk remembered “him” sending just the one package. How can it be then that they haven’t placed him at the post office? It might be that the reporter assumed it was Cho but the official didn’t specify who the package sender was and they have someone else in mind.

Perchant on April 26, 2007 at 11:15 AM

He must have followed her in, maybe even have told her that he forgot his keys. My dorm was always locked, and we had to knock on someone’s window if we got stuck outside. Can you imagine this guy knocking on a stranger’s window?

I’d also bet against the diversion idea. I’m sure he got a huge charge out of intentionally walking calmly through the crowd of cops, after he killed the first two.

Tanya on April 26, 2007 at 11:21 AM

He must have followed her in, maybe even have told her that he forgot his keys. My dorm was always locked, and we had to knock on someone’s window if we got stuck outside.

My understanding is that the dorms all operated on passcode cards, any one of which could access any dorm.

Allahpundit on April 26, 2007 at 11:23 AM

That’s how mine was, only we didn’t have co-ed dorms. You could only have visitors of the opposite sex for 5 hours each on Sat. and Sun.

Esthier on April 26, 2007 at 11:26 AM

A lot of universities, including my alma mater, used to allow open access to all dorms but in recent years moved toward restricted access because of dorm damage issues. Not sure what VTech’s policy was.

Slublog on April 26, 2007 at 11:30 AM

My understanding is that the dorms all operated on passcode cards, any one of which could access any dorm.

Any dorm? That’s crazy. I lived in a co-ed dorm and it was locked up tight. The all-girl dorms had security guards, and boys weren’t allowed beyond the lobby. Then again, that was also farther south than Virginia.

Tanya on April 26, 2007 at 11:32 AM

What’s starting to irritate campuses is the opportunism shown by security companies since the shootings. I know people have to make a living, but this is just unseemly.

Slublog on April 26, 2007 at 11:36 AM

Everything he did that day was thought out & planned well in advance. For that reason, I find it hard to believe that the first two victims were random. I know that understanding his motives may not be possible, and it certainly won’t bring back his victims, but I still want to know WHY?!

BeachBaby on April 26, 2007 at 11:45 AM

If he had taken a class in Norris Hall, he would have been familiar with the layout. Perhaps that was why he targeted that building. It would have been easier than casing another building to learn where the exits, classrooms, offices were. Although, I’m sure he took classes in other buildings. Perhaps Norris was easier to “control.”

Mallard T. Drake on April 26, 2007 at 11:48 AM

How about this for a reason why he waited two hours: His estimation was that his first action at AJ wouldn’t trigger the school to shut down school, but that everyone would know about it when he went to Norris, adding to the terror when he showed up. Just the sort of thing this dude would get off on.

The time it took for the word to spread, he figured, would be about the same as mailing the package and it would have him off campus, so, even if he had been id’d, he wouldn’t have been found. The word of the killing didn’t get disseminated and by 10 AM, he figured he couldn’t wait any longer to go to Norris. Anyway, that’s why it took an otherwise unexplainable two hours for him to go to Norris.

A couple more points. His attack at Norris probably wasn’t totally random; he may have wanted to target certain classes or, at least, one specific class. Another: There is probably a 15 minute period before classes, when he couldn’t go; for him to put the chains up on, what, two doors(?) he needed the halls to be quiet and empty. When’s that, about 15 or 20 minutes into classes? (BTW, are some class starting times staggered, which might narrow his start window even more?)

Just some thoughts.

Dusty on April 26, 2007 at 12:50 PM

So, can someone explain the purpose of trying to figure out the “why” in this situation?

Because somewhere there’s a family wanting to know why their girl was gunned down.

Because there are a lot of families who want an answer more substantial than, “because he was evil”.

Because there may be lessons to learn about preventing or minimizing the destruction the next time around.

Because we need to know if someone else was an accomplice (willing or unwilling/unknowing).

Because it does help with the healing process.

And I’m sure there are many more reasons.

taznar on April 26, 2007 at 1:07 PM

The guy was a NUT! One cannot understand a NUT unless you are nuts yourself! Give it up already!!!!

He MIGHT have been a Nut.

He MIGHT have been insane.

He MIGHT have some reason in his head for what he did.

He MIGHT have been a terrorist.

He MIGHT have not even done the deed and someone else, 1) mailed the package, 2) killed those people including Cho, 3) placed the gun in Cho’s hand (complete with finger prints), wasn’t an accomplice, 4) Got away with murder….

Why do people want to know? Because people are CURIOUS. Because we want to know all of what was in those tapes, ALL the details, every ounce of it.

Rick Donaldson on April 26, 2007 at 1:18 PM

Put me down the “who cares how the Devil thinks” crowd. There is no sussing this event out.
But thinking back to my college days, 7:15 or so in the morning was not a bustling time. Only freshmen get stuck taking early classes; reasonableness in class time is a high priority for almost all college students. Perhaps the evil one simply went through the halls listening for sounds of stirring, radios or stereos playing, the clack of keyboards or any other sound, some sound that the prey was afield.

thegreatbeast on April 26, 2007 at 1:39 PM

You are trying to make sense out of the actions of an insane person. Think about that.

Faith1 on April 26, 2007 at 3:45 PM

I lean toward the distraction theory, pending further information (which may never come). Why the fourth floor? If he went to the dorm looking for a random victim to distract the police, we know that there was no one on the first three floors, otherwise we would have some witnesses.

The problem with your objections is that they don’t take into account that Cho’s goals were to kill people then destroy himself. In that sense there is really no way his plan could go wrong, which is the whole trouble with suicidal killers in general. If he were discovered prematurely what is the worst that could happen? If his discoverer is unarmed (most likely) he simply kills them and adds to his body count. If it’s the cops or some other armed person (unlikely) he either kills them or gets killed himself. Either way he takes someone with him and gets on the news.

JackOfClubs on April 26, 2007 at 4:55 PM

Trying to assign reasons to all of Cho’s actions assumes that there were reasons. It’s like following a wad of newspaper blowing down the street and trying to figure out the reason the newspaper chose to bounce off certain people. There isn’t any reason.

Cho may not have thought any further than going to the dorm next door and shooting somebody. Emily was just the unlucky one he bumped into first. From that point forward, he may not have had an idea what he was going to do. Stopping to mail a package in the middle of a murder spree sounds odd. If he planned to do a blood bath, you’d think he’d mail his manifesto before he started, maybe the night before. This sounds more like the first shootings prompted him to go with the second shootings, to expand the violence.

Killers are not rational people. Think of Lee Harvey Oswald. The first thing he did after shooting Kennedy was to run home and get his revolver. If he’d been a rational person, he would have brought the revolver with him and made his getaway immediately after the shooting. Gerald Posner argues that Oswald was probably going to try to take a bus to Mexico to escape, but he kinda wandered around on the bus in Dallas. He obviously did not have a fixed plan but was just improvising as he went.

Cho might well have been just acting on impulse without any reasons for what he did.

Tantor on April 26, 2007 at 5:26 PM

As for the package, this freak didn’t even speak to his roommates; who would he have known who would have been willing to stand on line at the post office for him, on tax day no less, to mail a $14 envelope?

I’m still convinced that I heard Fox News report, days after the shooting, that a postal worker confirmed receiving the package from Cho at the University City Blvd. I know, everyone is trying to say he went to the Main St. location which is closer to downtown, but I’m almost certain I heard it confirmed that it was the University City Blvd. location.

As for why he chose Hilscher, does anyone know if her window was visible from Cho’s or from the main lobby of Cho’s building? I recall one of his roommates saying they would sometimes come home to find him just staring blankly out the window. I don’t specifically recall whether he meant the suite common area, or the dorm building entry. For some reason I’ve had it in my head that he was in the dorm building entry. Is it possible he stalked her from afar?

RightWinged on April 26, 2007 at 5:51 PM

Even if they reported it confirmed, that confirmation may have later turned out to be wrong. People often thing they saw things in these circumstances but later can’t back up their assertion. Since this story is starting to drop under the media radar, we may never find out which details are disproved by which other details.

Good question about the windows. I haven’t heard anything on the subject.

I wonder, though, if we aren’t wrongly assuming that Hilscher was the first victim. That theory was part of the early reports that she was Cho’s girlfriend, and that the RA was killed trying to defend her or investigate the noise. But now that we know she wasn’t involved with him can we be sure that Clark was not the actual intended victim? Cho may have had a grudge against him for some insult, real or imagined, in which case Hilscher would have just been in the way.

The WAPO says police can’t find a connection between Cho and either of his first two victims, which probably means they are pursuing both angles, but I haven’t noticed the media doing the same.

JackOfClubs on April 26, 2007 at 7:01 PM

Here’s my theory: He was out of his mind and killed her because he felt like it.

Jim Treacher on April 26, 2007 at 9:54 PM