Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Victim grew up 2 minutes from Cho
We've come to Centreville in northern Virginia to see what clues we can find that might unlock the mystery of why 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui would turn killer, ruthlessly mowing down his fellow students and teachers in cold blood. I half expect to find something abnormal in his hometown but I am struck by its absolute normality.

At first glance, Centreville looks like a newly minted American suburb, with clusters of brick townhouses nestled in tree-lined cul-de-sacs and small shopping malls designed with faux-early American touches. Look closer and you see signs of the new American melting pot.

We stop at the Grand Mart, an Asian food store where the signs, some of the food and even the music is Korean. The place is huge and spotless. Koreans, Indians, Chinese -- they're all here. A well-dressed engineer, Rosemary Hsu, an immigrant from China, tells me there is pressure here on young people to succeed. It's not just the well-known striving of Asian families to get a good education for their children, she tells me, it's something any family here feels.

We drive to Westfield High School where Cho, a resident alien from South Korea, graduated in 2003. A school official emerges and lets us shoot pictures of the yearbook. On one page she blots out the faces of the other students with yellow "stick-it" notes, leaving the small photo of Cho looking completely unremarkable.

The yearbook is from 2002, she notes, when Cho was a junior. He never appeared in his senior book. No clubs, no activities. A loner.

As we finish shooting video of the yearbook, the police herd us across the highway away from the high school. The students are being let out for the day and they don't want us talking to them on school property. Several police cars are parked near the entrance.

As the kids swarm out the doors, they board a row of yellow school buses. We wave and call to them, hoping some might talk with us, maybe someone knew Cho or his family. A few look our way, but most climb aboard the buses and begin to drive away. From a distance, they look so vulnerable -- young people on their way home to parents who love them and now, perhaps, think more anxiously of whether they will come home safely.

We set off for Cho's home. It is a small but pleasantly bland townhouse painted beige. The FBI, state police and local police searched it Monday night. Cho's parents, Cho Sung-tae, 61, and his mother, Cho Hyang-ai, 51, both employees in a dry cleaning business, have left for an undisclosed location and the street is surrounded by TV live trucks and police cars.

A mail carrier who delivered mail to their house describes the parents as "super nice." Cho had a sister who graduated from Princeton University.

We get word that one of Cho's victims lived in Centreville, and as we drive to her house, we realize she lived just two minutes away by car. Reema Samaha, a student at Virginia Tech, was among those killed at Norris Hall. She was a talented dancer and her parents had watched her perform over the weekend. Now, friends gather outside their house, protectively huddling near the front door.

Another sad twist of fate: Samaha had graduated from the same high school as Cho.

In a Virginia state police photo, Cho stares straight ahead, peering through wire-rimmed glasses with dull, expressionless eyes. He reportedly rarely talked with people, even with his college roommates. His only expression of emotion came in macabre, violent plays he wrote for an English class. "Like something out of a nightmare," a fellow student called them.

Then something happened. Whatever was boiling inside Cho exploded with lethal fury. In the ultimate act of hatred, he destroyed even himself, leaving others to decipher the ultimate question: Why?

-- By Jill Dougherty, U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International
Posted By CNN: 10:40 AM ET
  25 Comments
I think "why" is going to be the biggest question for a long time. Not only for "why" he did it but "why" no one was able to spot all those warning signs and stop him in the first place. He doesn't seem to have made any direct threats, just had a lot of thinly-veiled hatred.

How does one go from suicidal thoughts to homicidal ones? It is apparent from his two plays that I have just finished reading that he absolutely hated male authority figures, and, according to CNN.com, he even had a psych eval done in December 2005. So what happened in between December 2005 and April 2007? What made him not only want to kill himself but take as many people with him as possible and inflict his own pain onto the world?

I think myself and everyone else is waiting for the answer to that question.
Posted By Anonymous Sharla Jones, Stratford, NJ : 11:44 AM ET
Tragedies such as this, when someone "suddenly looses it," always remind me of "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder. "We don't look at each other," she says. I have my issues, too. Still, I know it's not "my" world. It's ours. We're all in this together. Blessings to the survivors.
Posted By Anonymous Stacey, Jerome, AZ : 11:55 AM ET
And here we go with the wild speculation, the unfounded accusations and the tenacious search for connections and links between the gunman and victims. Everyone sees it so clearly now and the stories keep getting more and more fantastic with each telling.

Please CNN stop giving every hysterical school girl and each attention seeking frat boy air time to tell their embellished story of their 20/20 hind-sight. Just tell us the FACTs without the cr*p. Even the stories from the 2 professors conflict each other.

Where exactly is Anderson and why isn't he there? Not that it's any good to go now.

Note to Christina: If Anderson's absence is making this tragedy so hard for you to "go through and process" then maybe you should seek professional help, he's just a guy on TV.
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 12:00 PM ET
Three things:

Gun control,
gun control,
gun control.
Posted By Anonymous Joe from Wilmington, DE : 12:38 PM ET
I agree with Em from Toronto--this "Anderson Cooper Fanatical Worship" thingey/stuff has GOT TO GO folks. AC is NOT a deity/god!! Get a life! More importantly, get a "mind of your own"!!
Posted By Anonymous Sam, Houston, TX : 1:12 PM ET
Joe,

Gun control would not have stopped this. If someone really wants a gun, they are going to get one. Quit blaming the gun and blame the person that pulled the trigger. Next time you misspell a word, please, blame it on the pencil.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Austin, TX : 1:30 PM ET
Having working in the residence hall housing at UCLA in the 80's and 90's, I know that University officials are very aware of the students who have issues in their residence halls and on campus and had I come across the writings of this very troubled individual, I too would have raised a red flag. However, I probably would have seen little to no action either, as did the professor who complained about Cho's writings. It's not because University officials don't see the problems, it's because of the political correctness that seems to have permeated our schools and given voice to everyone to do anything and everything they want, short of criminal, thus tying the hands of administrators. Every educational institution in this nation, from primary grades through our University systems need to examine whether they have policies in place that will provide "true help" to people who have mental illness, to people who are different and feel isolated, to people who don't fit in. I think our intent is to do good. But no one can tell me that it's in the best interest of protecting personal freedoms to allow a kid who wrote the kind of disturbed plays that Cho did, who takes a camera to school and takes pictures of kids under the desk, who stalks female students and potentially sets fire to a dorm room etc..to be allowed to walk around a major university campus without some mental health professional following along side.
Posted By Anonymous Anne, San Marcos, CA : 1:34 PM ET
Gun control... thats a good one. I say that sarcastically. Guns are far too prevalent to think that stopping their sales will stop anything in the future. Guns don't kill people, the bad people behind guns do, and those people will easily be able to purchase firearms illegally even when your idealistic plan to control them is in place.

If gun control works, why not implement that in Iraq? Seems like a good way to have less people shot. Well wait... then you'll still have your people who can make bombs, illegally get weapons from Iran, or attack people with something like a knife. The same issue would happen in America. You can't keep guns out of anyone's hands who wants a gun. So you might as well give everyone a gun so that someone stupid enough to think they could use it on an innocent person will have another thing coming.
Posted By Anonymous Richard, Worcester, MA : 1:41 PM ET
A friend of mine is renting one of three rooms in a townhouse. One of his roommates literally stays in his room 24/7. He does not interact with my friend or the other person that lives there. He only leaves to buy food and come home. He supposedly is taking online classes to eventually become a doctor. This man literally has no contact with the outside world other than his computer. He has never had any friends visit him nor does he leave to meet other people. I always thought it was weird and to each his own but after hearing the characteristics about Cho, it really makes me wonder about this roommate. There's nothing anybody can do about this guy. There's no law that he has to come out of his room and socialize. I just really hope he's not going to be another shooter.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Costa Mesa, CA : 1:47 PM ET
The saddest thing about this is that it is a preventable scenario. The very fact that gun control and I mean REAL gun control is not the most paramount concern of every citizen of this nation is deplorable.

Imagine if everyone was not just allowed, but required to carry a firearm....would this have happened? Now the other side, if no one was allowed to carry a firearm - would this have happened.

As a former member of the Armed Forces, I am completely against firearms and the supposed "right" to bear them. I always ask the same question to thos pro-gun advocates: What good has ever come from someone having a gun?

I have yet to recieve and answer.
Posted By Anonymous Dave - Smithfield, RI : 2:03 PM ET
"Absolute normality" does describe Centreville. That's why it's probably even more difficult for those of us who live in this area to come to grips with what happened on Monday.

Less than a year ago, a former Westfield High School student went on a shooting rampage at a police station just down the road from the school, killing two officers. Now a former student massacres over 30 at Virginia Tech including two other former Westfield students.

Westfield, by all standards, is one of the best high schools in Fairfax County, which is ranked as one of the top school systems in the entire country. If you were to walk the school hallways or attend a football game, you would again conclude "absolute normality".

How do you explain the Virginia Tech massacre to the Westfield students? How do you convince them that their school really is safe? How can you assure them that it won't happen again?

How do you explain it to anyone?
Posted By Anonymous Andy, South Riding, VA : 2:04 PM ET
It seems like Why, is a question that never has an answer that anyone of us can agree on. Only the killer has those WHY's. Crystal clear clarity is not going to come to us by replaying the day over and over. The only thing I care about is the ones lost and their families and friends. Let them grieve without a circus of media. Let the professionals, police and mental health communities search through the evidence of why's.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 2:11 PM ET
Gun control has nothing to do with it. I don't think people understand how easy it is to buy a gun off a street corner.
Posted By Anonymous Morgan Wichita, Kansas : 2:15 PM ET
This whole thing is just unbelievably sad. I am praying for all the students, friends, and families.

Please note that there are some wonderful resources for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, news of mass violence, and talking about such tragedies to kids if you visit www.medlineplus.gov. You can use search terms like "PTSD" and "talking to kids about violence" and "violence".

Food for thought: Think about how deeply this is affecting us as a nation. Now consider what it must be like for the millions of innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 30 people killed is almost not even newsworthy. Just yesterday in Baghdad, over 160 people were killed.

It is time for peace both here and abroad.
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 3:21 PM ET
Here we go again, utilizing a tragedy where many systems from family to institutional failed to provide needed help and support to prevent this incident. The knee jerk call for gun control goes off whenever this tool is used in a tragic incident. Did we call for diesel and nitrate control after Oklahoma? Do we call for more automotive controls when a driver goes through a crowd and kills bystanders? These are also incidents where common legal items are misused. When a keyboard and a printer are used to spread inflammatory rhetoric do we call for limiting access to the media? When are we going to focus on the fact that there is always a human in control and with out their control all these objects are harmless. When used correctly and for their intended use they all can be of benefit to society. Try farming without fertilizer, trucking without deisel, the internet without a keyboard. This incident should focus on how such a troubled youth was allowed to float through the system without controls despite the many warning signs and red flags raised by some leaders of the campus community. Have we become so politically correct that we choose to write off Cho's behaviors to diversity and tolerance until they create this type of incident? Leadership should begin to worry more about what is needed and correct than how the soundbite will be broadcast.
Posted By Anonymous Roy, Berlin CT : 3:35 PM ET
Out of every evil we hope to learn a lesson. From this senseless tragedy it is difficult to glean anything. My hope is that it will open our eyes to see domestic violence as a serious threat to society rather than an “isolated” event. I hope this disrupts the falsehood that killing someone with whom you’ve had a relationship is somehow not the same as killing a stranger. Both crimes are murder; however authorities are trained to respond differently if the crime is labeled “domestic.”
Posted By Anonymous Gina Bountiful, Utah : 3:57 PM ET
My husband and I are proud Virginia Tech Alumni, and also graduates from Fairfax County Public Schools (the same county the shooter was from). Fairfax County offers one of the very best educations for its students to continue on in college. VA Tech is a magnificent school with endless opportunities and resources for its students. I graduated with a B.S. degree from VT in Family & Child Development, with a concentration in K-8 Education. I went on to become an elementary school teacher in the FCPS system. It dawned on me how bizarre it is that the shooter comes from the exact same educational and community background as myself and my husband. The teacher in me asks how this kid got to this point without some kind of intervention. The warning signs were all there. One University professor had him removed from her classes. He was reported a number of times for harrassing others. Where was his family through all of this?

Our hearts and prayers go out to every VA Tech student, faculty member, alumni, and families. We will forever be supporters of VT and are proud to be Hokies.
Posted By Anonymous Kristen & Scott, Virginia : 5:28 PM ET
I live in Centreville and it is quite a shock to know see two shooters come from Westfield High School. That school is the largest high school in VA by the number of students, there is something like 3200 students there, and yes it is less than 1/4 mile from a police station which was also attacked by a former Westfield graduate. 4 students there were also arrested a little while ago for armed robbery. It is very shocking.
Posted By Anonymous Jonathan, Centreville VA : 5:40 PM ET
Roy says: The knee jerk call for gun control goes off whenever this tool is used in a tragic incident. Did we call for diesel and nitrate control after Oklahoma? Do we call for more automotive controls when a driver goes through a crowd and kills bystanders? These are also incidents where common legal items are misused. When a keyboard and a printer are used to spread inflammatory rhetoric do we call for limiting access to the media?

This is nonsense. Cars, printers, keyboards etc ALL have a non-lethal purpose. When we had to hunt for food, guns had a prosaic, often-necessary purpose. Today, the ONLY purpose of a gun is to kill or severely damage a living thing, most often a human being.

I saw an interview once with a woman who had lost a brother to a shooting accident. During the course of the interview, it turned out that she had earlier lost another brother AND a father to gun violence or accident. Did she have guns in her house? Of course she did - she wouldn't feel 'safe' without them. Yet she would have had to lose FOUR family members to armed robbers to be less safe than she actually was with guns available. It's nuts.

America is psychotic about guns.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 6:04 PM ET
I do agree with others that have blogged that gun control may not have helped in this situation....but we must think about the fact that police have been called in this boy/man's mental situaton, his stalking situation, and the school authorities were notified as well. Could not that have prevented him from purchasing a gun? Once someone has been a reported stalker and mental illness especially with those papers can we not do something about them not being permitted to purchase hand guns??? I'd think we can at least look into this. I realize we can purchase them on the street but let's at least make people work hard for it and not make it easy for them...come on now.
Posted By Anonymous Teresa from San Francisco : 6:57 PM ET
To the comment: " Gun control has nothing to do with it. I don't think people understand how easy it is to buy a gun off a street corner."


How easy would it still be if there were no guns to sell? This is definitely about gun control. If this troubled individual had walked in with 2 knives, would this have ended in the same way? I agree that people kill people....but GUNS do not help.

I ask you....What good has ever come from someone having a gun?
Posted By Anonymous Dave - Smithfield, RI : 7:29 PM ET
As an area resident of high school age: Leave the school alone. Doesn't the community already have enough to address?

I'm also seconding what Em from Toronto said.
Posted By Anonymous Cally--Clifton, VA : 4:48 AM ET
"How easy would it still be if there were no guns to sell?"

Drugs are illegal, yet they can still be bought off the streets. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to eliminate guns from society. The right to bear arms is a fundamental right for us as Americans. Many people enjoy shooting guns and hunting. Many of us competent in proper gun use have guns in our home to protect us. People, think of a real solution, instead of taking the easy way out and calling for gun control.
Posted By Anonymous Blake Lubbock, TX : 10:54 AM ET
I am in the "baby boomer" era and I see a vast difference between the way I was raised and some of the ways the following generations have been raised. I realize my generation was different from older generations but I constantly see younger people with "questionable" values, morals, and a very "self centered" attitude. I see alot of disrespect to other people they are with or interact with. On a whole, Society needs to get a Grasp and learn from the past and hopefully focus on world peace and their fellow man. I remember growing up and the peer pressures and the choices of either being a "follower" or a "leader" or a "loaner. I am stuned at the number of younger people who commit suicide and equally horrified at the incidents at COLOMBINE High School now 8 years ago and 9/11 and now VIRGINIA TECH! A lot of comments have been made - Cho flew under the radar - lack of communications between different agenticies - people falling thru the cracks - I do not see changes since COLOMBINE-It seems to me that we learned nothing from the past because I'm hearing basically the same comments that I heard after COLOMBINE.
My heart and prayers go out to all the people whose lives are now shattered and will never be the same after monday.
Posted By Anonymous Sherry, Des Plaines,IL : 12:19 PM ET
""How easy would it still be if there were no guns to sell?"

Drugs are illegal, yet they can still be bought off the streets. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to eliminate guns from society. The right to bear arms is a fundamental right for us as Americans. Many people enjoy shooting guns and hunting. Many of us competent in proper gun use have guns in our home to protect us. People, think of a real solution, instead of taking the easy way out and calling for gun control.

Posted By Blake Lubbock, TX : 10:54 AM ET"

And yet again, someone who never answers the question...What good has EVER come from someone having a gun?

I understand that it may be a means of protection for you, or a form of hobby, or of entertainment. I say find a new hobby. Be entertained by something else. Protect your home in other ways.

When you can honestly answer my question (which I have repeated 3 times now), then I will be willing to discuss alternative issues beyond gun control.
Posted By Anonymous Dave - Smithfield, RI : 1:34 PM ET
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