Officials face tough questions over university killer

Officials at Virginia Tech faced tough questions on Wednesday as to why a student behind the worst mass shooting in United States history remained at the school although local police knew he was troubled and despite repeated complaints from fellow students and staff.

Wendell Finchum, the head of the Virginia Tech police force, told reporters that school officials on two occasions in November and December 2005 received complaints from female students that South Korean student Cho Seung-Hui was stalking them and sending them “annoying messages.”

He said police in both instances spoke with Cho and on December 13 2005 he was committed to a local mental health facility after one of the female students expressed concern that he may be suicidal.

Finchum would not say how long Cho stayed at the facility. He said that university police “had no contact with Cho after the Fall of 2005”.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine told Agence France-Presse that he had ordered an independent review of how the university handled the massacre and warnings about Cho’s behaviour.

“The team will be looking into the circumstances of the shooting and aspects of this troubled young man who received treatment in some instances,” Kaine said. “Why he slipped through the net is a very valid question.

“The review will teach us what happened and what we need to know.”

Roommates of Cho (23), who was weeks away from graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in English, described him as a loner who stalked female students and acted strangely.

And Lucinda Roy, an English professor who taught Cho, said she found his actions and writings so troubling that she alerted university officials, counsellors and university police more than a year ago.

She told the local Roanoke Times newspaper that when someone addressed Cho, he waited 10 to 20 seconds to respond, that he spoke in a whisper and once wrote a poem so disturbing that he was pulled out of class.

“All of these signs, and I’ve been in teaching a long time, signified to me that this was a student who was very troubled,” Roy told the paper.

She said school and university officials tried to help but couldn’t force Cho to undergo counselling as he had not threatened anyone directly.

Roy said four other English teachers in 2005 had also voiced concern to her about Cho’s behaviour and that she had agreed to tutor him one-on-one for the rest of the semester.

She said toward the end of the semester Cho appeared to make progress and confided that he felt lonely.

“He said ‘I am so lonely’, and I knew that was true and I felt terrible for him,” she said.

There was also mounting criticism of the fact that Cho had easily purchased the two guns he used to go on his killing spree that left 32 people dead on Monday.

Law enforcement officials said Cho purchased one gun from a pawn broker in Blacksburg, where the university is located, and a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic handgun with 50 rounds of ammunition from a firearms shop in the nearby town of Roanoke.

Virginia State Police conduct background checks on gun purchases.

John Markell, owner of the gun shop, said he was dumbfounded to find that the unassuming young man who paid $571 for the gun and bullets was behind Monday’s killings.

“It’s bad enough watching the news to find out what he did, but to find out he bought it here makes it much worse,” he told local media.

Officials said they hope numerous documents seized from Cho’s dormitory room would give them clues as to what prompted him to go on a shooting rampage before taking his own life.—AFP

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