Cho's Behavior Troubled Those Who Knew Him

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Seung-hui Cho's "angry, depressed" behavior and writings alarmed a Virginia Tech professor and made others who knew him uncomfortable. A roommate says Cho's mother had these words about her son after one visit: "Help him."

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Seung-hui Cho was a troubled and lonely student at Virginia Tech. He was 23 years old. Over and over, his writings and his behavior had raised alarms among the faculty and fellow students, and police say he opened fire in Monday's mass shooting. So while investigators now know more about the who in the tragedy that left 33 people dead, there's still a lot of questions about why.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: Even the people who knew Seung-hui Cho didn't really know him.

SHU CHAN: I never see any friends of him when I lived there except his parents came to, you know, move his stuff.

SHAPIRO: Shu Chan was Cho's roommate at Virginia Tech.

CHAN: When their parents left, the mother, you know, grabbed me, said to me, like, help him. So after that, I just told him several times, if you want a ride, you know, for shopping or something just let me know. But he always refused.

SHAPIRO: Cho took a creative writing class with Professor Lucinda Roy. Roy says she found some of his writings disturbing. He also seemed depressed and angry. She called campus counseling, student affairs, and even the police, but they told her they couldn't intervene since he hadn't actually threatened anyone.

LUCINDA ROY: Having taught for so long, there's a kind of second sense that you have, a special sense when you come across a student who seems to be very troubled. And it seemed to me that when that happened, then all my alarms went off.

SHAPIRO: An AOL employee who took a playwriting class with Cho at Virginia Tech posted two of the shooter's scripts yesterday on an AOL blog. Blogger Ian McFarlane described the plays as, like something out of a nightmare. The scripts are violent and crude in every sense of the word. McFarlane said when he heard about the shootings, quote, "my first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was, I bet it was Seung Cho."

Cho emigrated from South Korea to the U.S. with his family when he was 8. He grew up in the pleasantly generic-sounding town of Centreville, Virginia. Centreville is within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. The streets here are full of typical strip malls and big box stores, interspersed with Korean churches and restaurants that serve chap chae and bibimbap.

The neighbors didn't know the family well. They say Cho's parents didn't speak much English. They'd greet people in the neighborhood but not much else. Marshall Maine(ph) and his wife live across the street. They describe themselves as the token seniors in the neighborhood.

Maine says police cars quietly came streaming into the neighborhood late Monday night.

MARSHALL MAINE: Some men got out of one of the cars, one or two of the cars, and they ran around the back of this row of houses, and the others went up to the door in the front. And apparently they were admitted by the, by someone inside, I gather. But I don't think the door was ever forced or anything like that.

SHAPIRO: He says the cops were in there for about an hour and a half taking pictures.

MAINE: We could see the blinding flash of the flash cameras, you know, you see in the dark night, of course, show up like lightning almost. And then they finally - everybody left. I don't know if the family left with them or not, but I don't think anybody's in there right now.

SHAPIRO: In Centreville's Korean community, most people were very reluctant to talk. Steve Chang is pastor of the Life Global Mission Church in neighboring Fairfax. He said, for many Koreans in the area, this tragedy came as a double whammy. Lots of people knew victims at Virginia Tech, and then they learned that the shooter came from their community, too.

STEVE CHANG: Everyone is connected. I mean everyone is connected with everyone in a Korean community. And we have much less dimension of separation here.

SHAPIRO: Chang says he can't confirm much about the Cho family. He doesn't know anyone who heard from them yesterday.

CHANG: They're certainly a part of the community, and their parents were a regular member of one of the Korean American churches here. And some of the youth pastors knew about the student, their son.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Chang organized a vigil last night. He said he wanted to give parents and children a chance to express their concern and their sorrow together.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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Gunman Left Note; Past Writings Called 'Troubling'

Seung-Hui Cho

Seung-Hui Cho, 23, came to the United States at age 8. Virginia Tech hide caption

itoggle caption Virginia Tech

Investigators, reporters and casual acquaintances are offering glimpses of the dark and lonely world of Seung-hui Cho, the young man police blame for killing at least 30 people at Virginia Tech Monday.

A former classmate, Ian MacFarlane said of the shootings: "My first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was 'I bet it was Seung Cho.'"

A former roommate, Xu Chen, remembered that after Cho's parents came for a visit, his mother took the roommate aside. "Help him," she said.

She was talking about her son, who authorities said was hospitalized in 2005 for depression and was accused in the same year of stalking two young women on the Virginia Tech campus.

Cho was 23 when he took his own life Monday after firing repeatedly at students and professors at Norris Hall, a classroom building on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

He was a South Korean national who immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old. The name he used is an Americanized version of his Korean name.

According to the university, Cho was a senior English major who lived at Harper Hall on campus. He was a resident alien, with a family address in Centreville, Va.

Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said investigators executed a search warrant in Cho's dorm room and are in the process of evaluating evidence.

Cho's writing triggered concern among professors, and he left behind a note in which he railed against "rich kids."

Cho's former classmate Julie Poole told the Associated Press that on the first day of a British literature class last year, Cho refused to speak when students went around and introduced themselves. She said, "He never talked."

Lucinda Roy, a long-time member of the English faculty at Virginia Tech, had Cho as a student in a creative writing class. She said Cho seemed so depressed and angry that she contacted the police, student affairs and other university officials, and eventually referred him to counseling.

"All my alarms went off," Roy told NPR. She said she felt a personal responsibility to reach out but that the authorities she contacted believed their hands were legally tied unless the student made threats. Roy refused to disclose what she found in Cho's writings, on the advice of police.

The English department chairwoman, Carolyn Rude, also told the Associated Press that Cho had been referred to the university's counseling service.

"There was some concern about him," Rude said. "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things, and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

Screenplays purportedly written by Cho alarmed some of his classmates.

"When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare," said former classmate Ian MacFarlane, in a blog entry quoted by AP. "The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of." MacFarlane added that he and other students worried "...about whether he could be a school shooter."

NPR has learned that Cho left a note, but it's not clear whether it was handwritten or on a computer. In that note, he reportedly spoke about "rich kids" and "debauchery."

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cho immigrated to the United States from South Korea in September 1992. The family had other relatives already in the United States and petitioned to join them, so they all arrived as legal permanent residents.

Cho attended Westfield High School in Fairfax County, Va., which also was attended by at least two of his victims, Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson. There is no indication so far that Cho knew or targeted the two young women, who attended the school three years after Cho.

Cho's father once worked as a dry cleaner and his mother is employed at the cafeteria of Centreville High School in Va., according to NPR reports.

Ballistics tests have confirmed that one of the two guns recovered from Norris Hall, where at least 30 people were killed, was also used in the shootings at West Ambler Johnston Dormitory. The dorm was the site of the first two shootings, which occurred around 7:15 a.m. Monday — two hours before the attacks at Norris Hall.

Officials say it's too early to say with certainty that Cho was the shooter at both locations. But Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said, "It's certainly reasonable for us to assume that Cho was the shooter in both places."

A spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Ministry said, "We are in shock beyond description. We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people."

The spokesman added that South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not "stir up racial prejudice or confrontation."

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