Who was Seung-Hui Cho?
Seung-Hui Cho was a Korean–American mass murderer who shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in the infamous Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007. Cho was born in Asan, South Korea. Cho and his family moved to the U.S. when he was 8. He was a shy kid and was often bullied in school. He joined Virginia Tech as a business information technology student but later switched to English. On the day of the shootings, he first shot two students at a co-ed dormitory on campus. He then got back to his room, rearmed himself, and mailed a parcel (with his manifesto) to NBC News. He then shot 30 more people on campus, before committing suicide by shooting himself in the head. Investigations revealed he had been diagnosed with mental-health issues and idolized the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre.
Childhood & Early Life
Seung-Hui Cho was born on January 18, 1984, in Asan, a city in South Korea's South Chungcheong Province. Cho later lived in a basement apartment in Seoul. He had an older sister named Sun-Kyung Cho.
Cho's father owned a bookstore but did not earn much. In order to give his family a better life, Cho's father moved to the United States with his family in September 1992. Back then, Cho was 8.
The family initially settled in Maryland and then in Detroit, Michigan. They eventually shifted to the Washington metropolitan area, since it had one of the biggest Korean communities in the U.S. They settled in Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia.
Cho's parents established a dry-cleaning business in Centreville. The family then became permanent U.S. citizens. Cho’s parents also became active members of a local Christian church.
Seung-Hui Cho attended the Poplar Tree Elementary School in Chantilly, Fairfax County. Cho apparently completed the school's 3-year program in just a little over a year. Cho was especially good at English and math.
Cho then attended a few secondary schools in Fairfax County, such as the Stone Middle School in Centreville and the Westfield High School in Chantilly.
In school, Seung-Hui Cho was often bullied for being shy and for his lack of speaking abilities. He was also called the "Trombone Kid," as he walked to school alone with his trombone.
Cho graduated from Westfield High in 2003. He then joined the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia (better known as Virginia Tech), as an undergraduate major in business information technology. The program combined computer science and a management course of the Pamplin College of Business. However, in his senior year, Cho changed his major to English.
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At the time of the Virginia Tech shootings, Seung-Hui Cho lived in Suite 2121 of the Harper Hall, a dormitory that was situated to the west of the co-ed dormitory West Ambler Johnston Hall. Cho had five roommates.
On April 16, 2007, Cho shot and killed two students, Ryan C. "Stack" Clark and Emily J. Hilscher, at around 7:15 a.m. EDT (11:15 UTC). He shot them on the fourth floor of the West Ambler Johnston Hall.
Investigators later found that Cho's shoe prints matched a blood-stained print in the hallway outside Hilscher's room. The shoes and a pair of bloody jeans were found in Cho's dormitory.
Within the next two and a half hours, Cho got back to his room and rearmed himself. Meanwhile, he also visited a local post office near the Virginia Tech campus and mailed a package containing photographs and other digital files to the New York headquarters of NBC News.
At around 9:45 a.m. EDT (13:45 UTC), he went to Norris Hall, a classroom building. Within 9 minutes, Cho shot scores of people (both faculty and students) and killed 30 of them. In total, he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi-automatic pistols.
When the police surrounded the building, Cho committed suicide in Norris 211 by shooting himself in the temple. Cho was 23 at the time of the incident.
The Aftermath: Investigations
The incident left a deep impact in the American society, with many trying to unearth the reasons behind Seung-Hui Cho’s sudden outburst.
It was later revealed that the parcel that he had sent to NBC News contained a manifesto that explained the reasons behind his actions, apart from a few pictures and digital files.
The parcel was addressed from "A. Ishmael" (incorrectly spelled as "Ismail" by The New York Times). It was scheduled to be received on April 17 but was delayed because of a wrong ZIP code and address. A video later revealed that Cho’s arm had the words "Ismail Ax" printed in red ink.
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Police investigators revealed that Cho had fired over 170 shots during the killing spree. They found at least 17 empty magazines at the crime scene.
They also found out that Cho had bought jacketed hollow-point bullets, which cause more tissue damage than full-metal jacket bullets.
The police also recovered a note in Cho's room, which criticized "rich kids,” "debauchery," and "deceitful charlatans.” The note also stated "you caused me to do this” and “Thanks to you I died like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.”
Initial media reports suggested that Cho had been obsessed with Emily Hilscher and was angry at being rejected by her.
However, since one of Cho’s videos explaining his actions mentioned "martyrs like Eric and Dylan" (referring to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School shooters), people later believed Cho had a deep-rooted motive behind the shooting.
Back in February and March 2007, Cho had started buying the weapons and ammunition that he later used in the killings. On February 9, Cho bought a .22 caliber Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol from TGSCOM Inc.
On March 13, Cho bought another handgun, a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, from Roanoke Firearms.
On March 22, 2007, Cho bought two 10-round magazines through eBay, for the Walther P22 pistol. He may have bought another 10-round magazine on March 23, 2007.
Revelations of Mental-Health Issues
More investigations revealed Seung-Hui Cho had been suffering from serious mental-health issues since his younger days. Cho’s family had initially thought he was autistic. However, that was not confirmed.
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Over 4 months after the attack, The Wall Street Journal stated that by eighth grade, Cho had been diagnosed with selective mutism, a social anxiety disorder that prevented him from speaking in specific cases. His parents had tried treating him with therapy and medication.
Reports also revealed that in high school, Cho was classified under the category of children with "emotional disturbance." He received speech therapy and did not have to participate in oral presentations.
On December 13, 2005, the New River Valley Community Services Board had reportedly found Cho “in need of hospitalization" for his mental-health issues. He was also temporarily detained at the Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Virginia, for being a potential threat to others.
Cho was sent for treatment as an outpatient and was released from the facility on December 14, 2005.
Investigations also revealed Cho had exhibited disturbing behavior in college, too. He had scared some female students by photographing their legs beneath their desks and by writing obscene poems.
Cho would not respond to greetings and would take at least 20 seconds to answer to questions in class, mostly whispering. He was also mostly seen sitting in a wood rocker by the window of his room, staring at the lawn. In his senior year, he was almost never in class. He also often rode his bicycle in circles and had been involved in three incidents of stalking incidents on campus.
Like the shooters of the Columbine and the Jokela school massacres, Cho had been prescribed the antidepressant Prozac just before the incident. His toxicology test, however, did not reveal the presence of any psychiatric or illegal drug.
Reactions from Cho's Family
Seung-Hui Cho's older sister later made a formal statement on behalf of the family, to apologize for Cho’s actions.
In 2008, The Washington Post wished to follow up with the family for a report. However, by then, the family had been hiding for months. They finally returned home but cut off all interactions with the outside world.