Authorities Piece Together Details of Attack

More is now understood about the sequence of events at Virginia Tech Monday, including gunman Seung-hui Cho's deadly classroom-by-classroom assault at Norris Hall. But questions remain.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

NBC News yesterday became part of the story of the mass shootings at Virginia Tech. The network received what it described as a multimedia manifesto from the gunman, 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho. According to a time stamp on the package, it was mailed at 9:01 in the morning. That detail is critical to investigators who are trying to piece together a chronology of the events that unfolded on Monday.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston covers the FBI and has details of the ongoing investigation, and she joins us now. Dina, what exactly did NBC receive yesterday, and what does it mean to the investigation?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Investigators are looking at this big package that they received of 29 photographs and 27 short videos, and 1,800-word diatribe. Cho apparently said that he wanted to get even, but it's still hard to understand with whom.

AMOS: And what have officials pieced together so far?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they're are trying to put together a chronology so that they can figure out what he was doing all day long. They have not yet been able to connect Cho directly to the dormitory shootings that happened at 7:00 in the morning. They have found a trail of bloody footprints in the dorm hallway, but police investigators are unclear if they're actually matched to Cho.

The first attack happened in the advanced hydrology class in Room 206 of the academic building, which was on the other side of campus. There were 13 grad students there. And apparently he just entered and started shooting. They mostly international students, and apparently only four of survived.

He then moved down the hallway to a German class. He came to the front of the class and just started shooting. He was there for about a minute and half, and investigators say he squeezed off about 30 rounds. Then he left, and students blocked the door when he tried to get back in.

AMOS: And did he continue down that hall? That one hallway was where he did all the shooting?

TEMPLE-RASTON: We think so. I haven't been able to ascertain whether or not it's just that one hallway. But it seems that what we know now is that he moved down the hall to a French class. The students there also tried to block the door. They had been hearing these popping sounds and screaming, and started to figure out what was going on. Then he moved down to a computer class, and they managed to keep him out by two sort of burly students actually pushing a desk up against the door and holding it there. He shot through the door and the desk, and they weren't hit. He then moved to where investigators think was his last stop, and that was Room 204, the classroom with the Holocaust survivor, the professor who couldn't lock the door so held himself against it and asked the students to jump to the ground below to try and escape.

AMOS: And what do investigators now know about the weapons that he used?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we're starting to get more details now about where he bought them. He bought the .22 caliber weapon at a pawnshop that was very, very close to school. And he bought ammunition days before the shooting at a Wal-Mart and a local sporting goods store. And we already knew exactly a month before the shooting that he bought this semi-automatic 9mm and a box of 50 cartridges. They actually have that on a video at the gun store.

AMOS: And what are the police focusing on now, what do they need to know? We know who the shooter is and we know a great deal of the details, so what are they looking at now?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's interesting because this is not really a prosecution. They're not trying to build a case because they already know who the perpetrator is. So what they're trying to do is understand what motivated him and why he did what he did. Why did he go to this dorm that was not his own dorm and start shooting? Did he know someone there? Was he looking for someone in particular when he roamed from classroom to classroom in the academic building? These are all things they hope to learn in the coming days.

AMOS: Thank you very much. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Our coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings continues at npr.org, where you can hear a survivor's tale.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Investigators Sift Clues for Cho's Motives

Police stand watch at Virginia Tech.

Virginia State police stand watch on the campus of Virginia Tech. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Cho's Mental-Health Records

Newly released documents show that a judge declared Seung-hui Cho "mentally ill" and an "imminent danger to self or others" in December 2005.

Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing photographs, video and writings sent to NBC News by Virginia Tech gunman Seung-hui Cho. The package arrived in the mail at NBC on Wednesday and appears to have been mailed in between the two shooting incidents Monday that left 33 dead, including Cho.

Investigators hope the materials will help them understand why Cho killed classmates, professors and himself. The law enforcement probe had been focused on the events leading up to the nation's worst mass shooting.

A roster of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and ATF, have been tracking Cho's movements over the past several weeks and months.

Cho's health care records, e-mail accounts, notebooks, digital camera and computer are among the items of interest to investigators.

Work from a creative writing class has turned up some disturbing visions.

Lucinda Roy, one of Cho's professors, was sufficiently alarmed by what she read prior to the shootings, triggering her to contacted police. "Sometimes people are revealing things when they write," she said.

Police said that in the absence of a specific threat, they couldn't arrest Cho.

Investigators also are working on obtaining more details on Cho's special interest in two female students at the end of November of 2005.

Cho started stalking one female student, calling her ceaselessly and showing up in person when she least expected it, officials said. She notified the campus police about his "annoying" communications and appearances, but didn't want to press charges. Cho ended up in the university's internal disciplinary system because of his stalking behavior.

The probe has found that two weeks later, another girl complained to campus police that Cho was inundating her with instant messages.

Cho's parents called the school and said they were worried their son was suicidal later that same day, officials said in a news briefing Wednesday. A police counselor evaluated Cho and determined it best to send him to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Center, near Radford, Va., under a temporary detention order.

He was later released from the center and returned to the university and classes. Wendell Flinchum, campus police chief, said he was aware of no further contact between Cho and campus police until this week.

Officials continue to investigate the reasons Cho's hospitalization didn't set off any alarms when he returned to class nor when he bought a 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun from Roanoke Firearms in March. The owners of the gun shop conducted a background check as required, but Cho's history of mental problems wasn't flagged and he was able to buy the weapon.

Law enforcement authorities have applied for search warrants to get Cho's medical records from the Schiffert Health Center on campus and New River Community Services in Blacksburg, Va.

"It is reasonable to believe that the medical records may provide evidence of motive, intent, and design," investigators said in their filing documents.

They have also asked for permission from Cho's Internet Service Provider to access his personal e-mail. Investigators continue to search his Virginia Tech e-mail account as well in hopes of finding a diary, or enough information to piece together some sort of a chronology of events that led to Monday's rampage.

Investigators also are looking into whether there's a link between Cho, whose roommates and professors have told police was a quiet but troubled young man, and a recent dormitory fire and bomb threats against the university last month. They are comparing the language in signs on the doors of the dormitory where the shooting occurred with those in the threats that came in last month.

Police have already searched his dorm room and recovered, among other things, two computers, notebooks, stacks of his writings, a digital camera, and a chain and lock that matched the type of chain that the shooter used on the front doors of Norris Hall to lock students in and keep police out. They also found an eight-page typed letter that complains about "rich kids" and debauchery on campus.

Investigators hope to learn something from the computer forensics they are running on his computers. They are using a computer program to pull information, including deleted items, off the hard drive, federal law enforcement officials said.

So far, no witnesses have been able to place Cho at the dormitory where the initial shootings took place and police haven't been able to find a connection between Cho and the two people he killed there. Ballistics tests show the same gun was fired at both the dormitory and Norris Hall, but investigators have yet to find forensic evidence connecting Cho to the incident.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.