Got a few loose ends and open questions to toss at you here, but first let’s dispense with this before word gets around and people start sending it to us. If you’re unfamiliar with NIN, be advised that it’s notoriously alarmist. There’s nothing on the wires right now about Cho having mentioned 9/11, and even if it turns out he did, what will it prove? Most of the ranting appears to be about Jesus and rich kids and revenge. He’s a disturbed nihilist with national traumas on the brain, per his Columbine reference, so don’t leap up and automatically scream “jihad!” if he happens to have free-associated himself into a WTC reference, too.
Now that we’ve addressed that, here’s an important timeline detail from NBC:
Karan Grewall, one of Cho’s roommates, said Wednesday night that Cho appeared to have shot the videos in their shared home.
It looks exactly like our common areas where we hang out every day,” Grewall told MSNBC-TV’s Joe Scarborough. “I can’t be sure, but the walls look exactly like our suite.”
The Times reported yesterday that another roommate, Joe Aust, returned to their room at 8 a.m. Monday morning — during the period between the two shootings — and looked in on Cho, but didn’t find him in his room. Which means the videos couldn’t have been shot on Monday or else Aust would have walked in on the filming. So when did Cho film them? He would have needed a long stretch of time where he could work uninterrupted, without fear of anyone coming home to find him waving guns around in front of a camera. One obvious possibility is spring break, but VT’s calendar says that started on March 2 and ended on March 11; Cho didn’t buy his second weapon until March 13, and he’s seen in the video brandishing two guns.
I have no answers, but I do want to note for the second time a tidbit from Tuesday’s Times that’s been bugging me ever since I read about it:
Earlier Tuesday, a single spent long-rifle shell was discovered on the sidewalk near the entrance to [Cho’s family’s] house [in Centreville, Virginia]. After the discovery, by news cameramen, police immediately moved reporters back and took the round away for investigation.
The link goes to the India Express, which preserves the original Times reporting that the shell was “long-rifle.” (The version of the story at the Times’s own website now omits those words, for whatever reason.) Why does it matter? Because Bob Owens tells me that “long-rifle” rounds can be fired in a .22 handgun like the one Cho had. It’s hard to believe that a spent shell that fits one of the murder weapons would be lying out in plain view near the Chos’ home, and yet wouldn’t be connected somehow to Cho himself. (Update: See update below.) Assuming that it is, it means he must have been home in Centreville — which is all the way across the state — sometime fairly recently and been messing around with ammo while he was there. Could he have shot the videos while he was there, too? Seems far-fetched, but he probably would have been able to work uninterrupted at home while his parents were out. Of course, this all depends on the shell having come from him; if it came from one of the dozens of cops who were swarming the area on Tuesday then forget it.
Enough speculation. I got an e-mail from a VT student tonight that answers a question I asked in another thread — namely, why Cho did his killing on the second floor of Norris Hall instead of the first. Reader Geoff writes:
I have a couple classes in Norris and can answer why Cho stayed on the 2nd floor. Norris is located on a slight hill and is shaped like an L. If you make an L in your left hand using your index finger and thumb, you get a general layout of Norris. Your index finger sits on top of the hill and runs parallel to the hill. Your thumb runs perpendicular to and down the hill. The two main entrances to Norris are at the tip of your index finger and the tip of your thumb. If Cho entered at the entrance that is at the tip of you index finger, he would be on the second floor without climbing any stairs. If he entered at the entrance that is at the tip of your thumb, he would be on the true first floor, and would have had to climb up the stairs to reach the 2nd floor. Seeing that my classmates he killed were not on the 3rd or 1st floor, I assume he entered at the entrance at the tip of your index finger.
Here’s a map. Norris is #132. He’s saying Cho entered at the entrance on the right, where 132 intersects with 130, and that left him on the second floor:
This photo of the entrance shows the hill Geoff describes. If Cho had chosen the other entrance (just out of frame on the left), we might have had a completely different set of victims. It’s actually worth asking why he didn’t choose the other entrance considering that his dorm was south and slightly west of Norris, and thus he would have passed it on his way to the second entrance. The answer, I guess, is that he didn’t go there from his dorm — indeed, if he had, he probably would have been in his room at 8 when Aust peeked in and there wouldn’t be a post office timestamp at 9:01 a.m. In all likelihood he came to Norris straight from the post office. Which, if I had to bet, I’d bet is located north and/or east of the building such that he arrived at that middle entrance first.
Here’s another great tip from a reader that I stupidly sat on when I got three hours ago, only to find it on the front page of the New York Times website an hour later. Responding to my theory in the last thread about Cho’s hammer being his “ax,” reader RLW writes:
If Cho meant to have an ax in his photo, wouldn’t he have gotten one instead of using a hammer to represent one? Was the hammer meant to be a hammer? He didn’t have a problem getting his guns or knives.
Oldboy is the second part of Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance trilogy.” A hammer is the weapon of choice in a single take fight in the middle of the film. Preceding that fight is the teeth pulling interrogation scene with the same hammer…
The movie is South Korean, but I would imagine that anyone likely to go on a spree killing would have it in his netflix queue, along with Battle Royale, which is Japanese, but is reputed to be barred from wide distribution in a post Columbine US. I know that back in the day, my teen angst bullsh*t friends in HS seemed to know about every murder/vampire/weird indie movie out there. The internet probably negates the need to have friends now.
Did it send him over the edge? I doubt it, but the iconography may have resonated with him, resulting in the hammer photo.
The protagonist had been imprisoned for 15 years and was seeking vengeance against an unknown tormentor and wreaking havoc with anyone that stood in his way.
Here’s the hammer scene from the movie.
That’s enough for now. I’ll leave you with two pieces: this ludicrous AP stpry on Cho’s sister, which offers no insights at all into the shooting except to imply that somehow, in some Michael Moore-ish way, it must be connected to Iraq, and a look at federal privacy laws governing mental illness by the Times. Money: “For the most part, universities cannot tell parents about their children’s problems without the student’s consent. They cannot release any information in a student’s medical record without consent. And they cannot put students on involuntary medical leave, just because they develop a serious mental illness.” Expect the law to change as a result of this case, and then to change back again in a few years when some overzealous college administrator has some poor, relatively stable kid involuntarily committed.
Update: I feel bad for having dumped on NIN when the fact is I’ve been reading their site for years. To be sure, they do sometimes get stuff right (and may well be right about Cho referencing 9/11), and even when they’re wrong they’re usually a fun read. There are enough people on the Web who don’t take terrorism seriously that I shouldn’t be knocking those on our side who occasionally take it too seriously, so ignore my earlier crankiness. If they’re right on this one, I’ll give them full credit.
Update: Speaking of jihad, Robert Spencer notes that Cho is already being praised on some Arabic-language Muslim forums and referred to as … Abu Musab al-Virgini.
Update: The backlash begins. According to Newsbusters, Meredith Vieira admitted this morning that the victims’ relatives who were scheduled to appear on the Today show have pulled out in protest of NBC’s decision to air Cho’s video. The New York Times quotes Brian Williams this way: “This was a sick business tonight, going on the air with this.”
Here’s the video of Lauer and Vieira this morning:
Update: Geoff from VTech has e-mailed again with further thoughts about why Cho would have chosen the second floor of Norris Hall and which direction he came from. Again, Norris is #132:
The main Blacksburg post office is actually located to the north and west of Norris, about a mile to a mile and a half away. However, if Cho used a vehicle to get to the post office, he most likely would have parked on Old Turner St., which you can see is right behind Norris. While this parking lot is reserved for faculty, I am sure getting a parking ticket was not on his mind. Since I have not heard anything about him owning a car [He may have. — ed.], I will assume he walked/biked to the post office and to Norris. There is one minor entrance to Norris that I did not tell you about, and that is the entrance that is located directly below and to the left of the 132 on the map. Looking at the map, this would seem to be the easiest way to enter the building if you are coming to Norris from the west/northwest. However, the map does not show that there is extensive renovation going on to Burruss Hall, which is directly next to Norris. The entrance next to the 132, and the rest of the walkway between the two buildings, is usually blocked by construction workers, pickup trucks, and construction materials in the morning hours. While it is possible to enter Norris at this entrance, it is just easier to keep walking and enter through the tunnel. I also think that you should know that the first floor of Norris is more like a basement then a 1st floor of a building. Since Norris is built on a hill, there are not many windows or classrooms down there. The one big classroom that is on the first floor is being renovated this semester, and therefore was empty. This is me speculating, but I assume he didn’t kill anyone of the first floor because no one was down there. The second and third floors are where most of the classrooms are. Again I am going to speculate, but seeing how it now seems that this was not some sort of a hunt for a lost lover, I think Cho chose Norris for a reason. It is one of the only campus buildings that I can think of that has less than 4 exits, and most of the classrooms are not on the first floor. These two facts make it a hard place to get out of in a hurry, especially if you chain shut the doors.
I’m not so sure it was that random. The note found near Cho’s body apparently mentioned the engineering department specifically, which I believe is located in Norris Hall.
Geoff sends a second e-mail:
As I said before, the main Blacksburg post office is to the northwest of campus. However, there is a small post office to the east of campus and several mini-post offices inside of several dorms that are closer than the post office to the northwest. I don’t think he used these post offices though because if he went east, he would be walking right into most of the on-coming police officers. Both the Tech and Blacksburg Police Departments are located to the east of West AJ, where the first murders took place, and Harper, Cho’s dorm.
Patterico sent me Mapquest images of the two post offices last night. Here’s the one to the east which he probably didn’t use. And here’s the one to the northwest, which Geoff describes and which Cho probably did use. Norris Hall is the “start” point in both:
Update: Damn, I really should have jumped on that “Old Boy” tip when RLW sent it to me: Sky News now quotes detectives as saying Cho wathched the movie “repeatedly” in the last few days before the massacre. Presumably a roommate told them that, otherwise I don’t know how they’d know.
Update: This morning’s piece by David Maraniss in the Post is so detailed I felt obliged to flag it in the headline here. It’s the first lengthy treatment I’ve read of what happened in Norris Hall, moment by moment. It begins with another clue about when Cho shot the videos, too: according to Maraniss, Cho’s roommate went back to sleep after encountering him in the bathroom that morning at 5 a.m. So he would have been there during any filming that was happening in the common room. Could he have slept through that? Why did Cho spare his roommates, anyway?
Here’s just a taste from the piece — the final moments of Liviu Librescu, whose classroom was the last Cho reached such that everyone inside already knew what was happening just outside the door:
The teacher and his dozen students had heard too much, though they had not seen anything yet. They had heard a girl’s piercing scream in the hallway. They had heard the pops and more pops. By the time the gunman reached the room, many of the students were on the window ledge. There was grass below, not concrete, and even some shrubs. The old professor was at the door, which would not lock, pushing against it, when the gunman pushed from the other side. Some of the students jumped, others prepared to jump until Librescu could hold the door no longer and the gunman forced his way inside.
Matt Webster, a 23-year-old engineering student from Smithfield, Va., was one of four students inside when the gunman appeared. “He was decked out like he was going to war,” Webster recalled. “Black vest, extra ammunition clips, everything.” Again, his look was blank, just a stare, no expression, as he started shooting. The first shot hit Librescu in the head, killing him. Webster ducked to the floor and tucked himself into a ball. He shut his eyes and listened as the gunman walked to the back of the classroom. Two other students were huddled by the wall. He shot a girl, and she cried out. Now the shooter was three feet away, pointing his gun right at Webster.
“I felt something hit my head, but I was still conscious,” Webster recalled. The bullet had grazed his hairline, then ricocheted through his upper right arm. He played dead. “I lay there and let him think he had done his job. I wasn’t moving at all, hoping he wouldn’t come back.” The gunman left the room as suddenly as he had come in.
Update: Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who consults for ABC (and who claimed yesterday that Cho was schizophrenic), calls NBC’s decision to air the videos “a social catastrophe.”
Update: According to U.S. News & World Report, Cho’s name would have been added to the NICS firearms background check database if the judge had ordered him committed when he was sent to a mental hospital in 2005. The fact that he ordered outpatient treatment instead kept Cho out of the system and made the later handgun purchases legal.
Update: Reader Pablo passes along this link with details about the spent shell found outside the Cho family home. According to McClatchy, it was an unspent round designed for a rifle and was found in a parking lot near the house. (See the 11:45 a.m. Tuesday item.) So it’s probably not connected to this.
Update: NBC has posted a few pages of Cho’s (redacted) manifesto online and, as promised, credit must be given to NIN: he does indeed mention 9/11 on page 2, although he casts himself as a victim, not as a jihadi perpetrator.
Update: Mary K asks a good question in the comments:
[H]asn’t the roommate said Cho had started getting up really early every morning? If he was up at five, it seems to me he could have easily spent an hour or two filming in the common area of a suite without his sleeping roomies knowing.
If he did shoot the film on Monday morning, I bet that’s when he did it. Remember, though: NBC said the video clips were split into 27 separate Quicktime files and that the written document referred to each separate file at various points. That’s a lot of coordination and probably not something that could have been done between 7:15 and 8 a.m. (after the first shooting and before Cho’s roommate looked in on him) or 8 a.m. and 9:01 (after Cho’s roommate looked in on him but before he sent the package out). It seems strange to me that he’d be willing to film between 5 and 7, though, knowing that his roommates were in their bedrooms and liable to overhear him — and potentially intervene and stop him — before he could go out and start shooting. Plus, he’d already met one of them in the bathroom at 5 a.m. so he knew at least one of them was awake.
Update: Re: the manifesto, a reader e-mails to note that the backdrop in some of the photos (page 21) looks like striped wallpaper, not the painted bricks seen in most of the photos and video. Wallpaper was unusual for dorm rooms when I was in college, so I’m thinking maybe those photos were taken at his parents’ house.
Update: Via Slublog, the Chronicle of Higher Education has surprisingly lengthy (and touching) profiles of each of the victims.
Update: Yet another e-mail from Geoff at VTech answering my question about Cho’s supposed vendetta against the engineering department:
[W]hile Norris is an engineering building, I would say that at least 30-40% of the classes that take place in Norris are not engineering classes. For example, I am a business major and have taken several accounting and finance classes in Norris, and two of the classes that were hit hard by this murderer were a French and a German class. There are other buildings on campus where the classes that take place in them are closer to 100% engineering. That being said, and I should have told you this earlier, the Dean of the Engineering College office is located on the third floor of Norris, along with the offices of other high ranking engineering officials (link). This raises another question though, why did he not go up to the third floor and shoot these engineering officials if he wrote something about the engineering department in a note?
He might not have known that the engineering department’s offices were on the third floor, and had simply assumed they were on the second (or assumed that the engineering professors were teaching class on the second floor at the time).
Update: I’m skeptical towards this theory that Cho was aping “The Punisher” comic books in some of his photos, but he was after all a nerd and I got burned last night by not running the “Old Boy” thing when we first got the tip.
Update: Obviously, no one will ever know at precisely what point Cho went from weird to psychotic. But for what it’s worth, his uncle says he was conspicuously “quiet” even as a kid:
Cho “didn’t talk much when he was young. He was very quiet, but he didn’t display any peculiarities to suggest he may have problems,” said the uncle, who requested to be identified only by his last name, Kim. “We were concerned about him being too quiet and encouraged him to talk more.”…
Cho’s maternal grandfather also told local newspapers that relatives were concerned about Cho not talking much as a child.
Cho “troubled his parents a lot when he was young because he couldn’t speak well, but was well-behaved,” the grandfather, who was identified by only his last name Kim, told the Dong-a Ilbo daily.
In a separate interview with the Hankyoreh newspaper, Kim, 81, said the relatives were worried that Cho might even be mute.
Update: Another non-surprise. Expect the media to seize on the boldfaced part any minute now:
Long before he snapped, Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui was picked on, pushed around and laughed at over his shyness and the strange way he talked when he was a schoolboy in the Washington suburbs, former classmates say…
Once, in English class, the teacher had the students read aloud, and when it was Cho’s turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled. Finally, after the teacher threatened him with an F for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.
“As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Go back to China,”‘ Davids said.