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Cho's professor to classmates: Don't feel guilty

Story Highlights

• Professor Edward Falco taught Cho's playwriting class
• "All our hearts are broken," he tells students, "no need to add" guilt to the pain
• Cho wrote because he couldn't speak, Falco says
By Jonathan Mandell
CNN
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(CNN) -- Edward Falco is aware not just of the shock and mourning that have descended upon the campus of Virginia Tech, but he is also aware of the guilt and second-guessing afflicting students and faculty.

Falco was the playwriting professor of Cho Seung-Hui, an English major who police say killed at least 30 people on the campus before committing suicide.

It was in Falco's class that Cho wrote the two plays, "Mr. Brownstone" and "Richard McBeef," each full of violence and profane rants that his classmates found disturbing. (Cho's plays included murderous dreams)

"As you can imagine, all of us who crossed paths with Cho in any manner are wrestling with this tragedy on multiple levels," Falco, a poet and novelist, wrote to CNN.com in an e-mail.

"My students are my first priority and I spent a lot of time yesterday doing everything I could to be of help to them. I was particularly concerned about the playwriting class I had with Cho. Some of those students had contacted me and expressed a sense of guilt at not having done something or said something that might have prevented this horror."

That is why Falco sent an e-mail to the class list of 22 students telling them it was not their fault.

"Cho's behavior was disturbing to all of us -- and the English Department tried, with the best of intentions, to both get him help and to make the appropriate authorities aware of his disturbing behavior," Falco wrote to his students. "We did all that we thought it was reasonable to do. (Watch a professor explain how Cho made other students uncomfortable Video )

"There was violence in Cho's writing -- but there is a huge difference between writing about violence and behaving violently. We could not have known what he would do. We treated him like a fellow student, which is what he was. I believe the English Department behaved responsibly in response to him. And please hear me when I say this: it was our responsibility, not yours. All you could have done was come to me, or some other administration or faculty member, with your concerns -- and you would have been told that we were aware of Seung Cho, we were concerned about him, and we were doing what we believed was appropriate.

"Look, all our hearts are broken. There's no need to add to the pain with guilt."

Nikki Giovanni, a well-known poet who was also one of Cho's teachers, found his writing so "weird" and "intimidating" that she had him removed from her class in the fall of 2005. But Falco tried a different approach. Asked why he thought Cho became an English major, Falco offered what he called a guess.

"The kid couldn't speak. I did everything I knew to draw him out. I tried to joke with him. I touched his shoulder while asking him a direct question. I put myself in quiet, one-on-one space with him -- and I still could not get articulate speech out of him. (Watch how the cause of Cho's rage could have been physical Video)

"Yet, in writing he could communicate. You've seen the plays. They're not good writing. But they are at least a form of communication. And in his responses to the other students' plays, he could be quite articulate. If writing is the only way you can communicate with the wider world, then I guess being an English major makes sense."


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