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The whys of Cho's rampage may never be answered

April 27th, 2007 11:45 pm by Associated Press



BLACKSBURG, Va. - Since Seung-Hui Cho killed himself after slaughtering 32 classmates and professors, busy investigators are not preparing a prosecution but simply seeking answers. And yet, nearly two weeks after his rampage at Virginia Tech, the student who signed himself with a question mark remains one.


Police are losing sleep over the possibility that the whys and wherefores may never come for survivors and for victims' families.


"With what they have been through and what they have seen, you want to be able to give them answers and bring them to closure," says Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police. "But we may never be able to get inside the head of Mr. Cho and find out what he was thinking."


Authorities continue interviews with people the 23-year-old student crossed paths with - though he revealed little to them. English professor Lucinda Roy described her interactions with Cho as being like talking to "a hole" - a very dark hole.


Police seek clues in his computer and credit-card records. Why did he strike Ambler Johnston dorm first? Was there something personal behind his choice of victims? Why did this horror happen?


More than most people, the senior from northern Virginia lived in his computer. And computers leave trails.


Using the screen name blazers5505, Cho had been a trader on the eBay Internet auction site since at least January 2004. Mostly, he sold old class texts.


Then, in March, blazers5505 made a purchase from an Idaho shooting supply site: A two-pack of 10-round ammunition magazines for a Walther P22 pistol, total $38.99.


We know from his credit card receipts that Cho bought the Walther in early February. He bought his second handgun, a more powerful Glock 9 mm, about a month later.


We can follow these electronic bread crumbs to track Cho's accumulation of weapons and tools. But his motive?


Cho was known for using the school's Web-based people finder - jokingly called the "Hokie Stalker" by students - to research the objects of his affection, gleaning dorm assignments and other information he used to send unwanted messages. But after poring over his computer files, police have found no evidence that Cho had communicated with his first victim, 18-year-old Emily Hilscher.


Cho was seen hovering around the entrance to West Ambler Johnston Hall around 7 a.m. the day of the shootings, around the same time Hilscher returned to the dorm from a weekend with her boyfriend. But he didn't follow her inside, at least not immediately.


The closest anyone has come to suggesting a motive for targeting that hall is Andy Koch, who shared a suite with Cho last year. Koch says the first woman to complain about Cho to campus police lived there, and that he would often find Cho staring out a window toward the building.


Cho killed most of his victims - 30 of the total - in Norris Hall. He had a class there this semester, but not that day.


Between the shootings at West AJ and Norris, Cho took the time to return to his dorm, retrieve a package, go to a post office and mail it off to NBC News. The package contained 43 photos, a written statement and a video tirade.


Some have called it Cho's multimedia "manifesto." But if a manifesto is a public declaration, Cho's package may be the biggest misdirect of all.


"Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats," Cho growls. "Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust funds wasn't enough."


Suitemate Karan Grewal wonders how, at a school where more than 60 percent of the students get financial aid, Cho could have built up such resentment against rich kids.


"We all have the same kinds of rooms," he says. "We all get university-issued desks and chairs, beds and mattresses. So I don't know where he got that idea from."


Cho's South Korean immigrant parents could not provide him with a Mercedes. But they'd managed to send his sister to Princeton, and him to Tech.


In his screed, Cho railed against those whom he felt discounted him as "weak" and "pathetic."


"You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience."


Cho was picked on in junior high for his accent and speech. But when he got to Virginia Tech, he had a clean slate.


Koch and his other suitemates invited Cho to parties, where he showed himself adept at drinking games like "beer-pong." They got him to sign up for the lottery to receive tickets to sporting events.


When his disturbing writings got him kicked out of class, Roy, then head of the English Department, took him on as a private tutor. But Cho rebuffed all efforts to reach out to him.


"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood," Cho says in the video manifesto that appears to have been merely his last and most troubling creative-writing project. A tale, in the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."


At 9:45 a.m. April 16, Cho was firing the first of what would eventually be more than 170 shots in Norris Hall. At that time on a normal Monday, he would have been in the final minutes of Fritz Oehlschlaeger's "Bible as Literature" course. Reporters have asked the professor what significance to attach to Cho's use of the name "A. Ishmael" in the return address on the package he mailed to NBC. In the Bible, Ishmael was the patriarch Abraham's first, but illegitimate, son. The class covered Genesis, including the story of Ishmael. Oehlschlaeger sees little point in rational questions about behavior that is "transparently illogical." "You're trying to create narratives that make sense," he says, "and the narratives you're creating are only about you, not about him." This week, police expanded their search of Cho's dorm, checking the kitchen and common rooms, even removing ceiling tiles looking for clues. After a rapid start, Flaherty says the investigation is settling into the tedious phase of "reviewing, re-reviewing, interviewing, re-interviewing." The most surprising finding so far, he says, is the realization that Cho, for all his computer trails, was such a cipher. "I guess the thing that is most startling to me ... is a young man who's 23 years old that's been here for a while that seemed to not know anybody," he says. Others left behind are pondering the lack of answers. When doctors removed the bandages from her son Colin's gunshot wounds, Anne Lynam Goddard says she "had my nose right in there." If there is evidence that might explain why Cho targeted Colin's French class, she wants to know. But Goddard recognizes now she may never have answers. "There's a lot of things I don't understand in life," she says. "Like why some people suffer and some don't." In a statement issued on behalf of her family, Cho's sister, Sun-Kyung, seemed as much at a loss as others. "We feel hopeless, helpless and lost," she wrote. "This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person." It turns out, no one did. (AP) EDITOR'S NOTE: AP writers Matt Apuzzo and Vicki Smith also contributed to this report. AP-CS-04-27-07 2213EDT

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