Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Cho's metamorphosis
What does it mean? "Ismael Ax." Sources close to the investigation say those words were written on Cho's arm as he went on his murderous rampage. "A. Ishmael" also appears to be the name on the return address of that package sent to NBC.

Ishmael is, of course, a major character in Christianity, Judaism, and a founding figure in Islam. In his rambling videotape to NBC, Cho mentions religion and Jesus time and again, seeming to somehow blame his state in life, at least partially on religion.

As an English major he could have picked the name up elsewhere. In Moby Dick, that great tale of obsession, the narrator is Ishmael. A popular series of inspirational books feature a wise gorilla by that name.

What some criminologists say really matters is not what the name means but that Cho appears to have created some sort of alter-ego for himself. Like the fictional Travis Bickle in the movie "Taxi Driver," they say, mass killers often take grand steps to change themselves before they strike.

Roommates say Cho was lifting weights and got a very short haircut in the weeks just before the shootings. It now appears he may have been developing a new name as well. This metamorphosis, psychologists say, can be essential: the killer has to break utterly free of the real world, and his own, natural identity before he can act.

-- By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 10:19 PM ET
  16 Comments
Hi Tom,
Cho's metamorphasis shows to me that he was indeed very ill. However, that won't bring back any of the wonderful people he murdered. I am having a hard time watching the coverage giving him such a spotlight. He's now gotten what he sought so much in his own mind. Over and over he get's the attention, the wall to wall examination of his every word. Can we stop this from happening again? That's all I think we really should be discussing as a nation. Discussing it, after we give proper respect to the victims. That's just my opinion.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:21 PM ET
Hello Tom,
Multiple personality, schizophrenia, delusional or all of the above? We may never know exactly what was going on in Cho's mind but the fact of the matter is, there were plenty of warning signs.
You speak of Cho's metamorphasis. It seems that many watched as Cho silently slept in his cocoon while transforming and emerging into a mass killer.
I wonder what his childhood was like? Not that it will change what happened, but it might give us a clue as to what to look for to prevent another tragedy.
I fear that all this publicity will be the catalyst to fuel other troubled individuals to copy cat this massacre. God forbid.
Having children in college, I believe that we should all be vigilant and aware of those around us who are troubled and need a helping hand. We must all stand together.
Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.~
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches, TX : 11:35 PM ET
I agree with Lorie…I’m more than a bit mortified and can’t understand the need for the media to sensationalize this killer’s unbelievably sick and self-serving motivation to be some kind of martyr in taking his own life after destroying the lives of so many. I frankly think his name should never be uttered again. Burn the video, burn the pictures and shut him up for eternity…after all, that’s what he chose to do. All the media is doing by constantly running this crap is proving to anyone else out there “on the edge” that, while they may think they are nothing in life, they can go out and commit the most horrifying of acts upon innocent people and become some kind of media legend. The media needs to take a moral stand and collectively end forcing his sickness down our throats ever 30 seconds.

My prayers and my heart go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones, as well as to all the students at Virginia Tech.
Posted By Anonymous Marcille, Urbana, IL : 12:26 AM ET
This is in response to the supposed "metamorphosis" Seung Cho underwent prior to his killing spree.

Almost all of the experts / profilers / pyschologists interviewed on television believe Cho was deranged, had some sort of mental illness, or had simply lost his mind.

Honestly, I don't believe Seung Cho was crazy--not in the least. You can tell from the content of his speech, he was fully cognizant of his impending actions. Was he angry? Of course. Was he delusional, schizophrenic, bipolar? No.

From all accounts, Seung was quiet and solitary. But it's abundantly clear from his last living acts (mailing a manifesto to NBC to be aired nationwide) that he craved attention. There is something more to this story what the press has covered.

If the media looks deeper, I believe they will find something else Cho was hiding. Not a theorized mental illness, but something more...tangible. I think he had a secret, a reason why he refused to make friends, refused contact with classmates, roommates, strangers. Something that held him back from living the life everyone around him could.

I don't believe he wanted his life to end this way. Who would? I'm sure if at all possible, he would have chosen to have an inner circle of friends, a girlfriend, a more fulfilling life than a life of depravity.

No one can condone what he did. He is responsible for the lives of 33 people. But this story is more than one about excessive violence on TV or suicidal/homicidal urges brought about by pharmacological medications.

Let's face it, the world is a pretty cruel place. More than likely Cho experienced severe taunting, humiliation and persecution because of whatever secret he was hiding. Ultimately, his actions were a retaliation for those perceived abuses.
Posted By Anonymous Jay, New York City, NY : 1:34 AM ET
First of all I do not believe that there is any justification for what Cho has done. The victims, there families, friends, loved ones and the Hokies have not left my mind since Monday morning. This event should make us aware of how bullying, picking at, and making fun of someone can harmfully and tragically affect an individual. We should teach our children the seriousness of bullying and what can and has resulted from it. God Bless Virginia Tech. I and all of Radford University are praying for all of you
Posted By Anonymous Nate Sandose Virginia Beach, Virginia : 1:48 AM ET
Our hearts go to the victims’ families of the Virginia Tech shooting at Blacksburg. We pray they will be comforted. Considering the long range aspect of this incident, we think this is a wakeup call to not only review security procedure in colleges, cultural exposure to violent materials but also to review the health system we practise.

What happened to Cho’s mental illness follow-up from the time he was diagnosed to the time of the massacre?
What systems are in place to help mentally ill people before they become a threat to others? The system seems to wait for evidence that shows that a patient could harm himself. Why does the system overlook the evidence of Cho’s threat to other students?

We should animate discussions again on the orientation of our health system. Our prayers go to the Blackburg community. Thank you.
Sam & Catherine Samuel-Ojo, Plymouth, MN
Posted By Anonymous Sam & Catherine Samuel-Ojo : 1:52 AM ET
what is Ax Ishmael?

Lame as hix.

just as he was. lame. to feed into anything other than that belief is just a waste of energy and time. the Hokes are more important and more worth our time and effort. not the so-called glorification of someone so full of hate that he had to harm innocent people he wouldn't even try to get to know.

may you all...everyone at V-Tech, the families, the friends, and all of those touched by this horrible event...be granted the strength to keep fighting, the courage to go on and honor your fallen and injured friends, their families and your school, the wisdom to move on and be as accomplished as you can be, realize the love of a nation that stands with you all in your time of need, keep faith in mankind instead of allowing one mad man to destroy it, and be blessed enough to know that it will be each of you that carries on the honor of your 32 fallen hero's as you make a success of your lives. we wrap our arms around you to help you steady yourself in getting on with your lives. a difficult thing to do i know. but i believe that is what your classmates and professors would want and expect of each and every one of you there, and the future students to come. that you all will prove that wei was wrong about each and every one of you and your school, for we all know he was. blessings for you all!
Posted By Anonymous Mary, West Newton, Pennsylvania : 6:49 AM ET
Hi Tom: No offence but WHO CARES why he did it? EVERYONE in the country knew Cho was mentally ill by 9:45am on Monday after he had murdered 32 people. Having it confirmed on video tape is one thing, but replaying that video tape endlessly for hours and hours on end and passing that off as news or of any intellectual value to anyone (other than maybe the FBI) quite frankly, insults the intelligence of your audience. Stop the circus and start paying attention to the details that matter. The details that can help us figure out what went wrong and how we failed to protect ourselves. For example, mental illness aside, how is it possible that this double murderer felt so little threat of apprehension, that after killing two people, he went back to his dorm, made a manifesto, went to the post office, came back to school and killed 30 more people? What lead him to believe that he had “all the time in the world”? What lead him to believe that the authorities or school administration wouldn’t either find him, or shutdown the school etc?. Is this perhaps where the bombs threats come in? Were they perhaps a test by him of the school emergency response system? Did the first bomb threat in March come before or after he purchased his guns? What wasnt done that should have been done that could possibly have at the very least limited, if not prevented entirely the carnage that occurred on Monday?. What was not in place that we can now put in place that can help prevent this from happening again? What was inside the mind of psychotic mass murderer, is of no interest to me. What is inside the minds of those responsible for protecting those students, is.
Posted By Anonymous Tracey, NY NY : 7:25 AM ET
The media including CNN make me sick. By showing the depraved ravings of the VA Tech killer you have given him the attention, media exposure and glory that he so craved. You have played right in to his hands. You are all so foolish. Now hundreds of other sick people are going attempt to take similar actions to gain similar notoriety. You have a responsibility and you failed. Instead of giving the killer so much attention you should have found and aired video/audio footage of the victims before they were so callously taken from us. I’m turning you off and I will not be back.
Posted By Anonymous matt swayhoover Reston VA : 8:37 AM ET
Last night I watched 3 hours of the Cho tape. I am tired of the networks giving air time to the self-aggrandizing ramblings of this mentally disturbed individual. Showing this man's writings, photos and videos will only encourage others who may be poised on the cusp of mental imbalance and make them think we as a society will glorify their rage. Instead, we should make a mockery of Cho and laugh at his pathetic mumblings. Before another imbalanced mass murderer attempts to join the pantheon occupied by Cho, Kleibold et.al., let us let them know that they will be remembered as lame, pathetic losers with questionable hygiene. Stop showing these videos and start making a mockery of Cho the individual (not Cho's actions, Cho himself). I would also like to see more attention paid to the victims and their lives rather than the current emphasis upon Cho and his "manifesto." From what I read on the internet, the victims were exemplary individuals who contributed to society in many different ways. Give some airtime to them and not that freak. Also, please don't encourage other freaks to write their own post-massacre press releases. Whenever we think of Cho, we should automatically append the word "PATHETIC LOSER" to his name, that should discourage future copycats. I would like to say that I do sympathize with his parents, though. Some people are just born bad.
Posted By Anonymous Pat, Morris Plains, NJ : 8:49 AM ET
I am grateful a student from our province attending V Tech was not harmed. I agree with Tracy NY. Who cares? (What it means?)What possible light could it shed on this horrific tragedy? Let's leave that to the experts and focus on what's important ie giving families who have lost their loved ones and friends some respect and compassion vs sensationalism under the guise of news. Stop the circus. The videos of Cho are not only tasteless but unwarranted.

What I would like to know is WHY Virginia Tech Admin didn't act on the red flags provided by Cho's poetry professors and students. Especially given they knew Cho had prior problems from 2005 on. They knew he had stalked students and had been treated for Mental Illness.

I'd also like to know: 1. Why they evacuated the whole school on a bomb threat but two murders on campus at 7:15 am April 16th didn't even deserve a student warning? 2. Why didn't they alert students immediately instead of waiting until well after 9am before sending out email alerts? They knew most students would be en route to class by then and wouldn't receive emails. They knew the gunman was still at large and had no guarantee he wasn't on campus. 3. Why didn't they just lock down the campus? What could be more serious than a gunman on the loose, who had just killed two students and who might be still on campus? 4. Why didn't Police leave a patrol on campus to continue investigating and securing the premises while they chased after at best, a probable suspect. If they had, most likely they would have known doors were chained.
5. And why did police and Admin not even view Cho as a possible suspect given his previous history at V Tech and their own previous records?

I'm sorry, I'm not a finger pointer but this horrific tragedy could have been prevented or immensely downgraded had the V Tech Administration and Campus Police handled the situation differently.

Our School campuses have been evacuated a few times due to gun toting students. In my view, V Tech lost thirty one vibrant, brillant, talented, career oriented lives as well as, a number of distinguished, dedicated professors - needlessly.

My heart aches for all who are suffering due to this senseless act of violence and my thoughts and prayers will be with each and every one. May God comfort you and grant you peace during this extremely difficult time of loss.
Posted By Anonymous P. Murphy Charlottetown, PEI Canada : 9:13 AM ET
For anyone who might be of the opinion that this sick person's actions were in some way "justified" because he was taunted, teased, bullied, etc., there is NO JUSTIFICATION for killing 32 innocent people. I, much like no doubt the large majority of human beings on this planet, was teased, bullied and picked on throughout elementary and middle school; I have memories of being dragged by my hair through a classroom by one childhood bully. I have many friends and family with similar memories - BUT YOU DO NOT SEE US KILLING OTHER INNOCENTS. This warped young man was selfish to the core, and you can see this from his "manifesto." All he talks about is himself, and there is no consideration for a single other human being in his ramblings. The professor who described his "mean streak" was spot-on.
Meanwhile, all the second-guessing and what-ifs are unnecessary and probably harmful. This boy was immature, selfish and sick. His actions could not have been predicted - none of us are psychic. After all, this is the country of "innocent till proven guilty"; which means you can't lock up the possible homicidal maniac when he's shown no signs of homicidal mania. That is the price of living in a free society - eternal vigilance.

So, let's wipe his image off our screens, learn some valuable lessons from his and our actions, and move on to let VT start to heal. And feel for this boy's poor parents - as a previous commentator said, sometimes, they're just born bad.
Posted By Anonymous Andrea, Richmond, VA : 9:22 AM ET
I do not wish to diminish this tragedy. However, while our news networks give us a 100%-non-stop-Cho-extravaganza, people are dying in Iraq and Darfur. Where are their memorials? Where are the webpages featuring a photo of each person from Iraq and Sudan killed, his/her name, story, and comments from friends and family. Why are their lives worth less than the 32 people who died at Virginia Tech? They aren't statistics, they're people on their way to buy groceries, preparing an evening meal, living their lives. And suddenly they are gone.

I'm sorry for the families of those who died at Virginia Tech, no one deserves that; but I am just as sorry for the families of those who die in Iraq daily. And I am sorry for Cho Seung-Hui's parents, who have lost a child, too. Peace.
Posted By Anonymous Kaylene B., Bossier City, LA : 3:29 PM ET
Saw the Cho video.

Wow, for a second I thought I was watching Fox...

This shouldn't be about fueling more fear. If it's about fear, then we've learned nothing from the horror of 9/11.

What this should be about is trying to understand why this man fell through the cracks. Many people tried to help, but he still fell through the cracks. Go beyond the sensationalism and find out why no one could make a meaningful connection to this man - because in the end, we are all our brother's keeper.

Over the years, I've come to expect the best from your show. Please return your newscast to that level of integrity.
Posted By Anonymous Julie San Diego, CA : 6:03 PM ET
Cho was not born a killer. The environment made him the killer. And we as members of the society do not want to take any responsibility for the 33 deaths. This is more sickening than Cho's sickness. He was mad, he behaved like a mad man. Yes he killed and that fact makes him the bad guy. However, what about the environment that killed him and made him a mad man in the first place? Do we continue with bullying the weak? So much about "Christian teachings". Do we continue to laugh at other people's short-comings? Do we continue to alienate introverts? Going by the response of people, it looks like the answer is 'yes'. This reaction of society scares me much more because Cho is dead but the machine that churns out Cho's is still out there. It is this very attitude of the society that created a Cho and will create many more Cho's. It'd be too stupid of me to presume that Cho did it for fame or recognition. There was never any metmorphosis. All he said to himself probably was "Enough"! In fact, that's what he said in the video. "I won't run anymore". I just pray that we wake up and learn some real "Christian" (or whatever) values of lending a hand to the weak and help them take out the steam.
Posted By Anonymous Neil, San Jose, CA : 8:12 PM ET
It seems perhaps this young man was a PR major, not an English major? I am so disgusted at the news media for allowing his "15 minutes of fame" to continue and overshadow the lives and stories of the students and teachers that were cut short. I have no need to know why he did what he did; I don't want to try to analyze his life (the experts and profilers can do that in private); looking for hidden meanings and cryptic clues does nothing to help the healing and comfort that the families and friends NEED at this moment and for years to come. I have forgiven him, it's apparent something bad happened in his life, but let's not make him a sensation for troubled others
to emulate.

The public's "need/right to know" or the media's desire for us "to be in the know" can and should have limits. Sometimes you "know" what the right thing to do is in your heart, finding the courage to "do" that right thing is
everyone's challenge. As in Steve Irwin's death (The Crocodile Hunter) the public can learn about stingray safety without seeing his death captured on video. Thus we ALL can learn about mental illness, the mindset of a killer,
the consequences of missing signs, and the thoughts of a troubled young man without seeing and hearing his carefully planned and packaged video/photo angst.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all coping with this tragedy and to those that have suffered losses on 9/11, Columbine, Oklahoma City, and the many other sad days we've had to try to understand.
Posted By Anonymous Desiree, Evansville IN : 11:40 PM ET
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