Were Cho's Danger Signs Missed?

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The Chos of suburban Seoul, South Korea, didn't have much. They lived in a rented 430-sq. ft. basement apartment, according to the Korean paper Chosun Ilbo, and when they set off for the U.S. in 1992, Cho Seong-Tae told his landlord that the family was going to America"because it is difficult to live here"and that it would be better to live in a place where he is unknown.

Cho's son Seung-Hui was only a young boy at Shinchang Elementary when the family left in August 1992. He mostly grew up in the U.S. and usually Americanized his name as Seung Cho. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Chos alighted first in Detroit but eventually settled in Centreville, Va. They are said to be a hard-working couple who speak only a little English and run a dry-cleaning business. Their daughter graduated from Princeton in 2004 and, according to the Washington Post, now works as a contractor for the State Department. The Chos have left the Centreville house, which has been besieged by reporters from around the globe, but they are said to be cooperating with police.

At Westfield High in nearby Chantilly, Cho was a quiet kid. Joseph Boayu, a high-school acquaintance, said Cho was so withdrawn that "sometimes you'd ask him a question, and he'd not even acknowledge that you asked him." He also said Cho earned A's in math.

At Virginia Tech, Cho's mental state seems to have steadily deteriorated beginning in 2005, if not earlier. He sometimes referred to himself as Question Mark and spoke in a whisper, if at all. One of his suite mates told CNN that "he was just like a shadow." A suite mate told TIME that Cho never talked about his family, didn't seem to have friends, and rarely spoke, even to his roommate. He ventured out to attend class, to eat and, since February, to work out at the gym for the first time.

Several times, Cho's odd behavior indicated to university authorities that he could be dangerous. Virginia Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum said at a press conference today that a search of his department's records had turned up at least four hits concerning Cho's mental state:

1) Flinchum said in the fall of 2005, English professor Lucinda Roy had "informally shared her concerns" about Cho's writing but had not filed an official report. Cho's writings "did not express any threatening intentions or allude to any criminal activity ... No criminal violation had taken place," Flinchum said. "Dr. Roy chose to reach out to this student out of concern."

2) On Nov. 27, 2005, Flinchum said, a female student notified the campus police that Cho had made contact with her that she found "annoying." The investigating officer referred Cho to the school's disciplinary office, which is separate from the police department.

3) On Dec. 12, 2005, a second female student reported that Cho had sent her an IM. She said it didn't contain a threat, according to Flinchum, but she filed a complaint and "asked that Cho have no further contact with her." The next morning, Flinchum said, officers talked to Cho about this complaint.

4) Later that day, an acquaintance of Cho's called to say he was "concerned that Cho might be suicidal."(One of Cho's suite mates said last night on CNN that he told police that Cho IM'd him, "I might as well kill myself now.") Again, officers met with Cho "at length," Flinchum said, and asked him to speak to a counselor from a local mental-health service. "Based on that interaction with the counselor, a temporary detention order was obtained and Cho was taken to a mental health facility ," Flinchum said.

Flinchum and other campus officials refused to give more information about the length of Cho's stay at the mental health facility, St. Albans, or about his diagnosis or treatment. The local judge's temporary detention order, filed in court on December 13, 2005, declared that Cho was mentally ill and either a threat to himself or others, or so incapable of caring for himself that involuntary evaluation was necessary. This is legal boilerplate language supporting detaining Cho in the psychiatric hospital, although a state police spokesman said today that technically, Cho went to St. Albans voluntarily. Court records show that on Dec. 14, Cho was evaluated by a doctor, who reported that Cho was mentally ill but not an imminent threat to himself or others.

Typically it would be illegal for someone who had been found incompetent or mentally incapacitated to buy a gun in Virginia, but the magistrate's order apparently did not constitute a formal legal ruling on Cho's mental state. For that reason, his name was not entered into the state's background-check database; authorities said today his gun purchases were fully legal.

Police still have not determined whether Cho had a real or imagined connection to the female victim in the first of the day's two shooting incidents. Emily Hilscher. Neither of the women he allegedly stalked was among his victims.

Dr. Harvey Barker, head of the community mental-health agency called by campus police, told TIME that when his agency performed the psychiatric evaluation of Cho before he was committed to St. Albans, "We did not make an recommendation [as to whether he was fit to remain on campus or in school]. That was not our role."

Late this afternoon, authorities said Cho sent a package including photographs, videos and writings to NBC in New York on the day of the shootings. The network said a time stamp on the material indicated that it was mailed within the two-hour window of time between the first and second shooting incidents, according to AP. NBC, which described the writings as a lengthy diatribe, said the package was immediately turned over to authorities.

Nikki Giovanni, the feminist poet and teacher at Virginia Tech who stirred the campus convocation yesterday with a poem, had Cho tossed out of her poetry class two years ago. "There was something mean about this boy," she said. Giovanni recalled that Cho came to class in dark sunglasses and a hat. And every day, from very early in the semester, she would ask him to remove the one and then the other. "We would have this sort of ritual," she said.

Giovanni recalled that Cho "was very intimidating to my other students." Eventually, other kids began skipping class because of his behavior. The poet then wrote to Roy, the English professor and creative-writing department head, to ask that Cho be removed from the poetry class. "He seemed to be crying behind his sunglasses," Roy told CNN. "It was like talking to a hole sometimes.... Everything emptied out and seemed very dark when he entered." Roy shared her concerns with campus police and counselors, but they told her that unless his threats were explicit, there was little they could do. So Roy, in part because the school couldn't prevent Cho from taking courses, took him on for one-on-one classes herself to keep him away from other students.

Campus security, meanwhile, offered Giovanni protection. But the poet said, "He didn't scare me. "She learned about the shootings on Monday, while flying back from the West coast. When she first learned the suspect was an Asian male, she said, "In the front of my mind, I knew it was Cho."

- Reported by Michael Duffy, Elaine Shannon, Michael Lindenberger and Tracy Samantha Schmidt/Blacksburg, Michael Weisskopf/Washington, and Adam Zagorin/Centreville