Imagine how it would feel if someone you knew, someone you trusted, maybe your son, brother, or even a roommate, suddenly embarked on a massive killing spree and then killed himself, leaving you to deal with the guilt and terrible repercussions.
That is exactly what Seung-Hui Cho did to his family and friends when he went on a shooting spree that left 32 people dead and dozens more injured in 2007. The incident has become known as the Virginia Tech Massacre and although ten years have passed since the tragedy took place it’s still fresh in our collective memory. This shooting left so many questions – why did he do it, how did it happen, and could anything have been done to prevent it from happening at all.
It was the deadliest shooting ever carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting which claimed the lives of 49 people.
What exactly happened that fateful day? What drove Seung-Hui Cho to such drastic actions? How did he get the guns? What could have been done to prevent this tragedy? Today we’re going to look at these questions and reveal information that you may not have been aware of.
15 What Exactly Happened That Day
The date was April the 16th 2007 and the place was Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. At around 7:15 am Cho entered a residential block (not his own), walked into the room of 19-year-old freshman student Emily Hilscher and shot her dead. A resident assistant, Ryan Clark, who came to her aid was also shot dead. Cho left the housing block undetected.
Cho went back to his dorm, changed his clothes, and removed his computer’s hard drive. It was never found.
Two hours later he was seen at a local post office where he mailed his manifesto and video clips to NBC News.
At around 9:40 he entered Norris Hall, chained the doors shut to prevent anyone from escaping, and went on a shooting rampage. Fifteen minutes later he shot himself in the head.
14 Virginia Tech Didn’t Know About Cho’s Mental Health Problems
Before going to Virginia Tech, Cho had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and selective mutism. He hardly spoke at all and received special education support throughout middle school and high school.
After graduating from high school, Cho applied to study at Virginia Tech. Because of federal privacy laws, his high school was not able to inform the institution of his diagnosis or the special allowances that had been made for him.
After a suicide threat in 2005, Cho was picked up and taken to the New River Valley Community Services Board, the Virginia mental health agency serving Blacksburg. They concluded that he was mentally ill, but even though they suspected that he was a danger to himself they ordered outpatient treatment instead of hospitalization. This is important because it was one of the reasons why Cho could buy guns later on.
13 Who Was Seung-Hui Cho?
Seung-Hui Cho was born in South Korea's South Chungcheong Province on January 18th, 1984. There his family lived in a basement apartment and his father struggled to support his wife and three children. The family moved to the United States when Cho was eight years old looking for better opportunities and settled in Northern Virginia. Cho’s parents opened a dry-cleaning business and became permanent residents of the United States as South Korean nationals.
Although the young Cho didn’t speak very much, he was well liked in elementary school and completed the three-year program in half the time. But high school was more difficult for Cho. Although he was receiving additional help because of his mental health problems he was bullied by other children because of his unusual speech.
12 Stalking Allegations
Initially, the police thought that Cho’s first victim, Emily Hilscher (pictured above), was his girlfriend or love interest, but there was no evidence to prove that the two even knew each other. But Cho did have a history of stalking while studying at Virginia Tech.
His roommates claimed that Cho had been involved in at least three stalking incidents and two of them had resulted in verbal warnings from the campus police. The first time he sent a female student a message, found out where she stayed and arrived uninvited at her room. She contacted the campus police who cautioned Cho to leave her alone. In another incident, he harassed a different female student with messages. After he was cautioned again by campus police he threatened to kill himself.
None of the female students he stalked were victims of the shootings.
11 The Killer’s Preparation
It’s easy for us to believe that sometimes people just snap, become psychotic, and then go on the rampage. But with these types of shooting incidents that is rarely the case. Just like the Columbine Massacre, the Virginia Tech shootings were planned in advance, they weren’t just a random act of violence. And that makes it even more chilling.
From what we can gather it seems that Cho began planning the shooting about three months before. He purchased the first gun that was used in the massacre about two and a half months beforehand and practiced his shooting at several gun ranges in the area. About five weeks before the incident, he hired a van and shot many of the videos contained in his media package in the vehicle.
10 The Heroes Of Virginia Tech
Seung-Hui Cho chose to express his rage at the world by killing, but on that fateful day heroes also emerged. These were the people that sacrificed themselves so that others could survive and they deserve to be remembered.
Professor Liviu Librescu – an Israeli Holocaust survivor – held the door to his classroom until most of his students escaped through the windows. He died after being shot multiple times through the door but only one of his students were killed. Instructor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak and student Henry Lee also showed great courage as they attempted to barricade the door of their classroom and died trying to save others. When Cho eventually broke through their barricade Air Force ROTC Cadet Matthew La Porte charged at Cho and was shot to death. He was later honored with a posthumous Airman’s Medal for his heroic actions.
9 Weapons Of The Virginia Tech Massacre
As Cho made his way to Norris Hall, where most of the slayings took place, he carried with him several chains (which he used to secure the doors so no one could escape), a hammer, a knife, two handguns (a Glock 19 and a Walther P22 pistol) and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition – enough to kill everyone inside the building at that time. Once inside, he fired at least 174 rounds, killing 30 people and wounding 17 more. All his victims were shot at least three times and 28 were shot in the head. His choice of ammunition, 9mm hollow points, increased the severity of the injuries.
He killed 5 faculty members and 27 students in under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself. Another 6 students were injured as they jumped from second-story windows to try and escape.
All the guns were obtained legally.
8 Virginia Tech – The Game?
Believe it or not, someone actually used the tragedy at Virginia Tech to construct a computer game. Now I’m all for first person shooter games, but I think we can all agree that this type of thing is a step too far. Imagine how it would feel for the victim's families to know that such a game exists?
The amateur action game, called V-Tech Rampage, was designed by Ryan Lambourn, a young Australian man, who obviously enjoys creating controversy. In 2013 Lambourn shocked the world again when he released the game The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary which is based on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Talk about tasteless. Why not be artistic and actually come up with an original idea, instead of trying to profit in such a sick way from a terrible tragedy?
7 The Media Package
Between the first and second series of shootings, Cho made his way to a local post office. Once there he sent a package in the form of a DVD addressed to the New York headquarters of NBC News. The DVD contained video clips of Cho, photographs of him in menacing poses holding weapons, and a manifesto. It’s clear from the images and the video that Cho was trying to represent himself as a tough guy rather than the socially awkward person that he really was. In the videos, he goes on about rich kids and his disgust about materialism and hedonism and at one point even compares himself to Jesus Christ, stating that his death will influence generations of “defenseless people”.
Although the footage was clearly upsetting for those affected by the shootings NBC made the decision to air selected parts of Cho’s videos and manifesto.
6 Cho Wrote About Wanting To “Repeat Columbine”
Cho was fifteen years old and in the eighth grade when the Columbine High School massacre took place. The incident made international news and Cho was fascinated by the grisly school shooting and the perpetrators Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Eight years later he referred to them in his final manifesto as heroes. It makes you wonder if Columbine was Cho’s inspiration.
It would certainly seem that way. Dylan and Eric became cult figures, and perhaps Cho, who felt so socially isolated, thought that he could achieve this level of notoriety as well. He even wrote a school assignment about “wanting to repeat Columbine”, which concerned the school enough that they contacted his parents and he was sent to see a psychiatrist. But of course, due to those privacy laws, Virginia Tech wasn’t made aware of this incident either.
5 Did His Roommates Know What He Was Planning?
You might be asking if Cho gave any clues to those around him about what he was planning. Sadly the answer is no. At the time of the Virginia Tech Massacre Cho was living with five roommates in a three-bedroom residential suite, but none of them could have imagined the hatred brewing up inside Cho. After the incident, they were all interviewed and it seems that the group took pity of Cho and tried their best to befriend him. It was these same roommates who had alerted the authorities about Cho’s suicide threat in 2005.
None of them failed to notice his unusual behavior, which often consisted of repetitive activities like sitting in a rocker chair, staring at the lawn or listening to a certain song over and over again.
4 His Motive Remains Unclear
The first question on everyone’s mind following the massacre was “Why? Why would someone do such a terrible thing?” Sadly, there was no easy explanation for Cho’s actions. Even his video manifestos didn’t offer many clues – except that Cho was very angry.
He seemed appalled by the lifestyle and privileges of other students. In one video rant, he said, “You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust funds wasn'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.” It seems odd that he would lash out at so-called “rich kids” at Virginia Tech because it is a state funded facility where students get in on merit.
3 Why Virginia Tech Wasn’t Locked Down After The First Shooting Incident
The most shocking fact about this massacre was that there were two separate shooting incidents that happened almost two hours apart. What happened during the interim and why wasn’t the campus locked down?
The first victim, Emily Hilscher, had spent the night at her boyfriend's house, which was off campus, and he dropped her off at her dormitory just a few minutes before Cho arrived (around 7:15 am). Her friend, who arrived after she and Ryan Clark had been shot, told police that Emily would often spend time with her boyfriend off campus and that the boyfriend was an avid gun user. The police focused on Hilscher’s boyfriend as a person of interest.
At 8:25 the leadership team of Virginia Tech met to decide how to best inform the staff and students about the incident. The first email went out at 9:26, about ten minutes before Cho entered Norris Hall.
2 The English Paper Cho Wrote About A School Shooting
In high school Cho wrote a paper about wanting to “repeat Columbine” and about one year before the shooting he referenced a school shooting again in a short fiction paper. In it, he wrote a story about a young protagonist who plans a mass school shooting but does not follow through with the slayings.
The Virginia Tech panel, who was assigned to investigate the incident and examine all the evidence, were at first unaware of the paper's existence as it was confiscated by the Virginia State Police. At the time the police stated that the law prevented them from releasing the document as it was part of the file of an ongoing investigation. They later released a copy to the panel, but the exact contents of the paper have never been revealed to the public.
1 Cho’s Relationship With Staff At Virginia Tech
Cho’s behavior in class often left a lot to be desired. Although he was quiet, he did display concerning behavior, such as taking photos of his professors and fellow students during class. Professor Nikki Giovanni, who taught Cho in 2005 said that she felt he had a mean streak and when she asked him to either tone down the sinister content of his poetry or leave the class, Cho responded, “You can’t make me.” Things got so bad that she eventually approached the department head Lucinda Roy and stated that if Cho was not removed from her class, she would resign from her position.
Roy taught Cho herself for a while and tried to get him to attend counselling but he never did so despite saying that he would. She taught him one on one, but his menacing behavior made her unsafe during these sessions.