can’t see the forest

Insanity and Bloodshed at Virginia Tech

Posted in Crime, homicide, News, school shootings, USA, weapons by Curtis on 4/18/07

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On the morning of April 16, Virginia Tech senior Cho Seung-hui shot and killed 32 persons and injured 29 others on the campus of that institution in Blacksburg. At approximately 7:15 a.m. local time the gunman fired on two people in a dormitory, killing both. He then returned to his own dormitory room and wrote a note. Two hours later he greatly extended his killing spree with a massacre at Norris Hall, a classroom building. Cho, a South Korean citizen with permanent residency in the United States, turned his gun upon himself as law enforcement broke into the building, which Cho had chained shut from the inside.

About twenty of the victims were attending a German class; only four people escaped that scene alive and uninjured. In another classroom, several students blockaded themselves inside and were passed by after Cho attempted unsuccessfully to shoot his way into the room.

It appears unlikely that any concrete motive for the crime will be established. Cho, an English major, has been profiled by some of his teachers as “a loner,” “mean,” and “disturbed.” Some of his writings contain diatribes against “rich kids” and “charlatans” and are characterized by glorified descriptions of vengeful violence. Cho had been referred to counseling in the past. He had spent time at a mental health facility approximately 16 months before the shootings. He is known to have stalked young females on a number of occasions.

In that there is no clear motive for the crime and that the goal seems to have been to kill as many people as quickly as possible, the events of April 16 have been compared to the April 20, 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The United States has one of the highest murder rates in the industrialized world and its recent history has been marked by numerous killing sprees at educational institutions.

Monday’s massacre is the deadliest school shooting on record and is the most lethal single-perpetrator civilian shooting in the history of the United States of America.

Pundits and politicians already are hurling blame at anyone and everyone other than the killer. Certainly valid questions have been raised as to why university staff did not implement more extensive security procedures following the first shootings in the dormitory, given that about two hours passed between that event and the more extensive shootings in the classroom building. Karl Thornhill, the boyfriend of one of the dormitory victims, was detained by authorities on suspicion of having committed those earliest two shootings. According to a Washington Post article, the authorities believed that they had apprehended the shooter and so thought that further security measures on the part of the university would have been unjustified. Only when the bloodshed resumed in Norris Hall did they fully realize their error. Virginia Tech is a large school of approximately 26,000 students, over 9,000 of which reside on campus.

Glock 19Cho was in possession of two handguns—a Glock 19 9 mm (pictured) and a Walther P22 .22 caliber. He acquired the Glock at Roanoke Firearms on March 13, 2007, and the .22 at a Blacksburg pawn shop one month later. Virginia law allows adults 21 years of age or older with no prior felony convictions or other disqualifications to purchase one handgun per month. It is believed that Cho falsified his applications for the handguns, indicating that he had never been institutionalized when, in fact, he had been institutionalized less than two years prior to the shootings.

Virginia Tech policy prohibits the possession of firearms on its campus without express authorization, even for individuals who are otherwise licensed to carry them. This policy has previously been the subject of some debate in Virginia; a bill designed to prevent such policies languished in a Virginia House subcommittee in January of 2006. Bizarrely, there has been considerable outcry that other armed students could have intervened to prevent Cho from committing such extensive homicide—while precedent shows that this reasoning may be circumstantially valid, it is my opinion that one does not have to look far to discover the excruciating absurdity of such logic.

CSTF wishes to express heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the deceased, and hopes for a speedy recovery to the injured. Let the rest of us ponder the gravity of such tragedy in a culture founded upon the might of gunpowder.


4 Responses

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  1. Jenny said, on 4/18/07 at 7:39 pm

    You’re right – it does seem unlikely that we’ll ever know the true motive behind this horrible crime. Even with video footage like this, that broke on NBC tonight, many questions remain:

    The assertion that armed students could have made a difference is fairly ridiculous. Good point on that front.

  2. raincoaster said, on 4/18/07 at 11:41 pm

    The solution is not to turn the peaceful into killers; it’s to prevent the would-be killers from killing in the first place. I’m surprised he was able to purchase these guns at all, given that he was three years too young and had been in a mental institution. Tell me, are the forms taken on faith, or is there a fact-checking procedure?

  3. Curtis said, on 4/20/07 at 10:06 am


    There is a federally mandated waiting period between the application for purchase of a handgun and the actual obtainment of it(y’know, while the background check is processed), and it appears that something fell into a very big crack—twice.

  4. Dave said, on 12/19/07 at 9:09 pm

    The assertion that armed students could have made a difference is not only not ridiculous but is substantially backed by evidence and data from those areas of the world where carrying of personal firearms is allowed and, in some cases, encouraged. To say that one does not have to look far to discover the excruciating absurdity of such logic and then to not look far is in and of itself absurd. Assuming logic in the mind of a killer or potential killer may be absurd as well. But if logic exists, please ask yourself this question: will I enter this building KNOWING that some or many of my intended victims may fire back at me? It is terrible that we must even consider this issue, but it is an issue we must consider. Guns kill no one. People do. It is the heart of man which must be changed, or, if not changed, warned.

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