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.