Gunman's chilling last words
Published 20/04/2007 | 09:15
The final chilling words of the Virginia Tech gunman were revealed yesterday amid recriminations over the authorities' failure to pick up on warning signs of the danger he posed.
"There is where it all ends. End of the road," Cho Seung-Hui is heard saying at the end of a videotape he sent to the NBC television network in the middle of his rampage. "What a life it was. Some life."
Bereaved parents and some students have already demanded accountability, if not also resignations, from the university president and the chief of the campus police. Virginia's governor, Tim Kaine, is appointing an independent panel to review every aspect of the university's response both before and during the events of 16 April, and the university itself is conducting its own internal investigation.
The head of Virginia Tech's campus counselling services, Christopher Flynn, received a grilling from reporters at a news briefing yesterday morning, and may not have helped himself by saying it was not up to the university to follow up on the mental health care offered to one of its students.
"We are not part of the mental health system of the state," Mr Flynn said.
Cho was reported to the campus police in November 2005 after two women classmates complained he was harassing them. One of his English teachers threw him out of her class because both his behaviour and his writings were disturbing to the other students. The police ordered a mandatory mental health evaluation at a psychiatric hospital, which found evidence of depression but concluded that Cho's insight and judgement were "sound". It is not clear, however, what treatment or counselling Cho received afterwards. Police found psychiatric medication among his possessions after the slaughter.
Mr Flynn, in line with many other university officials, suggested that there were strict limits on what he or the Virginia Tech authorities could do in the absence of a clear and unambiguous threat - for reasons of doctor-patient confidentiality and bureaucratic division of labour.
"When someone is released from a facility," he told the briefing, "[that facility's] job is to determine whether that person represents a danger. If they are released it is because they have been determined not to represent a danger ... Every person who leaves a psychiatric facility needs follow-up ... who gets notified is determined by [federal] regulations and not the university. We would not be the providers of mandatory counselling."
Several members of the English department at Virginia Tech said they had passed on complaints or concerns to the university authorities. One of them, Lisa Norris, told The New York Times she had talked to the associate dean of students who, according to her, had no file on Cho despite the flurry of previous complaints by her colleagues. The associate dean declined to comment in response.
Mr Flynn and other officials claimed yesterday that Cho had not elicited any further complaints in the 17 months between the harassment episode and the mass murder spree. He had certainly provoked concern among his fellow students, however, many of whom have told reporters this week he refused to talk in class, wore a hat and dark glasses, and displayed numerous odd traits such as signing himself into a class with just a question mark instead of his name.
Previous mass shootings in America - especially the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 - have exposed deep inadequacies in underfunded mental health services.
It seems inevitable that some people will file lawsuits against the university, although precedent suggests they might not get very far. After Columbine, school and county authorities were inundated in suits alleging negligence, but a judge threw all but one of the suits out saying the police should not be held liable for their actions in a rapidly moving, extraordinary and highly dangerous situation. Perhaps the most urgent question the Virginia authorities need to answer is why they did not alert students more quickly after the first two murders in a residential hall at 7.15am. Most of the campus first heard about the shootings in an email two hours later, and even then received no warning that it might be dangerous to go to class.
The campus police say they assumed the first shootings were an isolated incident and were busy tracking down a suspect when the second, much bigger eruption of violence began. That explanation has not satisfied everyone, however, and is likely to be investigated closely by the independent review panel.
An editorial in the Virginia Pilot newspaper, meanwhile, rallied to the authorities' defence, saying: "Because university security and administrators failed to extrapolate from a single incident to mass murder on a historic scale is not proof that anyone failed."
The killer's manifesto
* In a startling hate-filled litany of video-clips, Cho Seung-Hui repeats himself, again and again, saying the killings could have been prevented and that he was carrying out the shootings for "the weak and the defenceless ..."
Cho described himself as a "martyr" like "Eric and Dylan" - a reference to the teenage killers in the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. His chilling final words were: "This is it. This is where it all ends. End of the road. What a life it was. Some life."
The package, which NBC said contained a rambling and often incoherent 23-page written statement, 28 video clips and 43 photos, was given to Virginia State Police, but contained little that they did not already know, said Col Steve Flaherty.
In several clips, Cho directly addresses his victims, saying: "You thought it was one pathetic boy's life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenceless people."
On one tape an anger-filled voice rants: "When the time came I did it, I had to. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option."
In another chilling close-up, Cho says: "Jesus loves crucifying me. I could have fled, I will no longer run."
Cho repeatedly suggests that he was picked on or otherwise hurt. "You have vandalised my soul, raped my soul and torched my conscience."
Seemingly talking to his victims again, Cho warns: "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."
"Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough you snobs. Your trust funds weren't enough. Your vodka and cognac wasn't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfil your hedonistic needs. You had everything," he continues in a hate-filled tirade.
And in another clip which is believed to have been made after the shootings, Cho says: "The time came and I did it ... I had to do what I did. But now I am no longer running. If not for me, for my children and my brothers and sisters that you fucked. I did it for them."