Background

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Virginia Tech University

Virginia Tech University is a public university located in Blacksburg, Virginia. In 2007 there were just under 30,000 students enrolled, which has grown to over 36,000. The university opened officially in 1872 and has been known under four different titles over the years. Not only is the university known for their agricultural and engineering programs but their Division I athletic teams.

Seung-Hui Cho

Seung-Hui Cho was in his last semester of his senior year to complete his undergraduate program, majoring in English, at the University of Virginia Tech. He was a permanent resident in the United States, originating from Korean heritage. Cho had previously been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and selective mutism in secondary school. Prior to this, in middle school he had expressed idealization of the Columbine High School killers. This information was never reported to anyone outside of the junior high by the middle school officials and was not shared between administration. It has been found, through interviews with peers, while there were times that Cho would verbally express himself in an emotional and angry way much of his life he struggled to communicate.1 Not only was Cho verbally hostile but his writings began to grow increasingly concerning. Within the Virginia Tech Review Panel (VTRP) it was uncovered that Cho had been removed from a class due to his writings causing other peers not to attend sessions out of fear. Cho was also being mentored one-on-one with the department head, Lucinda Roy, where he continued to show concerning ideals and thoughts. Dr. Roy had offered help and resources, through the university’s mental health center, to Cho on a multitude of occasions but he never accepted any of them. Following a report made by a fellow student, Cho was taken in by the campus police department where a member of the local community service board pre-screened him for mental illness.” Based on this they determined that Cho was mentally ill and was a danger to himself. Following this however in a mental health hearing an independent licensed clinical psychologist determined that Cho was mentally ill but not a danger to himself or others. This allowed for Cho to be removed from the involuntary hospitalization that he was being held in. Despite being removed from the involuntary hospitalization it will become very clear in the gun control debate why it was so concerning for the VTRP to uncover this information.2

Seung-Hui Cho was not specific in his victimology on April 16, 2007 between different genders, ethnicities, economic status, and more. Many of Cho’s victims were brutally harmed with him returning to unload multiple more rounds of ammunition, even after they were already shot and killed. More information about the victims of the shooting can be found in the “victims” tab. As explained further in the timeline, there were two separate shootings events with the first occurring in a dormitory where he killed two individuals. Cho left to take care of some things like changing clothes and mailing a package and then returned to an academic hall where he killed thirty more people before taking his life. One of the most striking questions that arose following the incident was why there was not quicker of an announcement following the first shooting on campus. Unfortunately, the university and their administration, along with police, thought that this was a singular domestic incident. Domestic shootings were the large majority of firearm violence that occurred on campuses across the nation up to this point so this was an informed assumption, but a deadly one.

Image Credit: NPR

Following the events at Virginia Tech, one of the main questions raised was why would Cho choose to commit two separate shootings. While this can never be confirmed there are some theories. The first includes that he was attempting to make a distraction with a smaller event to pull resources and attention away from other areas of campus. This would allow him a larger opportunity to inflict more damage. The second theory was that Cho was distraught. His soon approaching graduation date could have been causing him concern since his intent was to get his degree in English and become a professional writer. However, just before the event one of his pieces of work had been denied publishing which could have dismissed the big plans he had for his career. As mental health professionals have reviewed the events prior to the shooting many agree that this could have been a trigger for Cho causing him to go into an episode. 3

  1. Hemphill and Brandi Hephner, Enough Is Enough a Student Affairs Perspective on Preparedness and Response to a Campus Shooting, 16. ↩︎
  2. Schildkruat and Hernandez, “Laws That Bit The Bullet”, 366. ↩︎
  3. Hemphill and Brandi Hephner, Enough Is Enough a Student Affairs Perspective on Preparedness and Response to a Campus Shooting, 16-19. ↩︎
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