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FBI Struggles to Understand Shooter's Motive

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FBI Struggles to Understand Shooter's Motive


FBI Struggles to Understand Shooter's Motive

FBI Struggles to Understand Shooter's Motive

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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FBI investigators are making slow progress in building a profile of Seung-hui Cho, the 23-year-old blamed for mass killings at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, authorities have yet to confirm that Cho is responsible for two earlier killings at a campus dorm.


We now know that Cho was responsible for the killings of 30 people at Norris Hall. Police have not confirmed that he was the gunman who killed two people in the earlier shooting in the dormitory, nor have they suggested a motive. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is following the investigation, joins us now. Hello.

DINA TEMPLE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You've been speaking to sources at the FBI. What are you hearing from them?

TEMPLE: Well, interestingly, what's happening here is FBI behaviorists say they're covering very unfamiliar ground. There haven't been many college shootings, and they see a big difference between high school shooters in their teens and a twenty-something like Cho. My sources are saying that these kinds of killers are the toughest to stop because they are usually lone wolves and it's inexplicable when they do this.

And Cho appears to be following in that mold. The signs are usually in hindsight, these officials told me from the FBI. And as Ari said in his piece, there were some very troubling things about Cho that should have been fairly easy to spot. And we see that in some of his creative writing, and they're looking at other writings that they found in his room.

The kids who knew him at school that the FBI are interviewing say he sat in the back of the classroom and never participated. They found letters in his room that ranted about rich and privileged kids at Virginia Tech. They're all putting this together to try and get a really good picture of what Cho was like.

MONTAGNE: And investigators have Cho's computer. What are they looking for there?

TEMPLE: Well, they've used something called computer forensics. Basically, they take the computer to a special forensics lab and try and get everything they can off the hard drive, even things that have been deleted. They have programs that can do that. It takes a little time; they have to chew through various firewalls in order to make that happen.

They've also had a subpoena for his personal e-mail from a Internet service provider, and they're looking at his Virginia Tech e-mail to see if there are clues there as well.

MONTAGNE: Now, when this massacre really has been talked about, the presumption seems to be that Cho was involved in both shootings. But as we've just said, police have stopped short of saying that he was responsible for both. We have a clip of tape from a news briefing yesterday. This is Colonel Steve Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police.

STEVE FLAHERTY: At this particular point in time, Mr. Cho is the individual who was the shooter in Norris Hall. We know that. We don't know, we can't prove at this point whether he did or did not have any accomplice.

MONTAGNE: So do the police have a suspect who might have been at least involved?

TEMPLE: Well, they're calling him a person of interest, and what we know is that he is somehow connected to the girl who was killed in the dorm. And there are some reports, which I haven't been able to confirm yet, that he was her boyfriend or at least a friend of hers.

My FBI and law enforcement sources say that it's odd that this particular person of interest who they picked up actually in the morning before the second shooting started hasn't been let go and hasn't been said that he has been cleared. He may have known Cho, for example, and they're checking into that, and they have a search warrant for his home to see if they can make some sort of connection.

MONTAGNE: And they have the search warrant. What have police found?

TEMPLE: Most of the search warrants that have been executed had something to do with Cho. They have a search warrant for Cho's dorm room, where they found a lot of documents that he had written. He had a letter in which he actually said the end was near and he had something to do.

He talked about disappointment in his religion, in Christianity. Apparently, his family was quite devout. His mother very much wanted him to accept her faith, and it was big bone of contention in the family. The FBI said that they have reams and reams of writing to get through in order to get a better picture of him.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

TEMPLE: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. And you can read about how the shootings at Virginia Tech unfolded at

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Timeline: How the Virginia Tech Shootings Unfolded

Students read their school newspaper prior to a convocation and memorial one day after a shooting massacre at Virginia Tech. Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

The first shooting occurred at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory. The second shooting took place two hours later, at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away. Lindsay Mangum, NPR hide caption

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Lindsay Mangum, NPR

The first shooting occurred at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory. The second shooting took place two hours later, at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away.

Lindsay Mangum, NPR

The shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. — the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history — left 33 people dead. Police have identified Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old English major from Centerville, Va., as the gunman; he was among the dead. The killings began at 7:15 a.m. on April 16; a timeline charts key events in the day's tragedy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

7:15 a.m. — Virginia Tech police respond to a 911 call from West Ambler Johnston Residence Hall, where a man and woman have been shot and killed. Police establish a safety perimeter around the dorm.

7:30 a.m. — After interviewing witnesses, police believe the double homicide stemmed from a domestic dispute and was an isolated incident. They also believe the gunman has fled campus and are following up on leads concerning a person of interest in relation to the killings.

8 a.m. — Students begin their first classes of the day. Word of the killings begins to spread among students via text messages and cell-phone calls.

8:25 a.m. — Virginia Tech officials, including the university president, executive vice president and provost, meet to assess the situation and decide how to notify staff and students.

9 a.m. — Campus police Chief Wendell Flinchum briefs university officials on the investigation.

9:26 a.m. — School officials send out the first e-mail notifying staff and students to the killings at West Ambler Johnston Residence Hall.

Off campus, police interview a person of interest in the first shooting, whom they do not arrest. While they are speaking with him, the second attack starts at Norris Hall.

9:45 a.m. — The campus police respond to a 911 call about a shooting at Norris Hall, an engineering building, where the front doors have been chained shut from the inside. The police break in and hear gunshots coming from the second floor. When they get upstairs, the gunshots stop, and the officers find the gunman has killed himself.

9:50 a.m. — Virginia Tech officials send a second e-mail, warning students that a gunman is loose on campus. They ask everyone to stay inside and away from the windows until further notice.

10:16 a.m. — A third e-mail from university announces that all classes have been canceled. It also advises people on campus to remain behind locked doors and for those who are not on campus to stay away.

10:52 a.m. — University officials send another e-mail saying that a number of people have been shot inside Norris Hall. They repeat earlier warnings to stay inside.

12 p.m. — At a news conference, Virginia Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum says 22 people have been killed.

4:30 p.m. — University President Charles W. Steger and Flinchum, the campus police chief, confirm that 33 people are dead, including the gunman. They say they will not announce the names of the victims until their families are notified.

Compiled from NPR staff reports, the Virginia Tech web site, press conferences and the Collegiate Times.