Police identified the classroom shooter as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a senior from South Korea who was in the English department and lived in another dorm on campus. They said Cho committed suicide after the attacks, and there was no indication Tuesday of a possible motive. [AP]
Police also report, however, that Cho left behind a “disturbing” note that may give us some idea what kind of ideas took root inside this young man’s fevered mind. I’ll post more when I know more.
And yes, he was described as “a loner.”
Update: Photo cred: ABC News.
Update 2: Some irony from the Korean Embassy:
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also expressed its condolences, saying there was no known motive for the shootings and that South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”
Yes, let’s all learn from Korea’s example. We should never, ever hate or generalize about an entire group based on the crimes — much less the mere accidents — of a few individuals. That would be irrational. I think the Embassy’s statement is at once insulting and telling.
Update 4: Much more about the killer’s motives: First, and contrary to the speculation of some commenters below, he was an equal opportunity murderer (thanks to a reader). We also learn that nationalism has once again lured the Chosun Ilbo into a spurious and incorrect line of speculation:
Commenting on reports that the killer was Asian, Lee said it was unlikely to have been Korean since few Korean students have weapons due to the difficulty of obtaining a gun license.
I’m so embarrassed for them, and for Yonhap, which is tersely describing the killer, a Korean citizen, as an “ethnic Korean.” On the other hand, you have to wonder what this poor guy did:
We also learn some unsurprising things about the killer’s mental health:
The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead was identified Tuesday as a English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school’s counseling service.
News reports also said that he may have been taking medication for depression, that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic, and that he left a note in his dorm in which he railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.
Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior, arrived in the United States as boy from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in suburban Washington, D.C., officials said. He was living on campus in a different dorm from the one where Monday’s bloodbath began.
[...] Lucinda Roy, the department’s director of creative writing, [...] had Cho in one of her classes and described him as “troubled.”
“There was some concern about him,” Rude said. “Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they’re describing things, if they’re imagining things or just how real it might be. But we’re all alert to not ignore things like this.”
She said Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws.
The Chicago Tribune reported on its Web site that he left a note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances. Citing identified sources, the Tribune said he had recently shown troubling signs, including setting a fire in a dorm room and stalking some women.
Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, the newspaper reported.
Update 5: OK, I’ve just perused a “play” Cho wrote, now posted at The Smoking Gun, and to me, this truly looks like a case of a deranged individual with some very serious mental health problems. In spite of some unsourced murmurs I see on the net, nothing about Cho or his problems appears to be specifically or uniquely Korean. This guy was just crazy.
Plenty of people have concluded that the answer to this problem is to control guns. I differ from those people (see comments). I wish, for example, that Liviu Librescu had had a gun. I think the answer is to do a better job of controlling (a) criminals, and (b) the unmedicated insane. And whatever medications Cho was on were not enough.
Update 6: For those who want to know more, see Richardson’s post. The killer may have had a Cyworld page, too, but it’s not confirmed, and it’s just more insane ranting.
Update 7: The Korean-American Coalition has published a statement of condolence, which is both well-intentioned, and in my view, unnecessary. Maybe it’s this idea of group identity that I’ve never felt comfortable with, but this guy was just a crazy individual. Other Koreans or Korean-Americans are not responsbile for his actions any more than most American soldiers are responsible for a small number of thugs wailing on Korean taxi drivers at Camp Casey. This was not a crime of nationalism. There is not a need for the kind of introspection the Muslim world failed to have after 9/11. This was one insane, evil, individual SOB.
Update 8, 19 April 2007: OK, I see a whole new kind of madness taking shape: Korean and, yes, American media are spreading junk “news” — which turns out to be based on a few anonymous idiotic blog comments and some active imaginations — that South Koreans and Korean-Americans are hiding in their basements and keeping their kids home from school over the fear of reprisal attacks. See also GI Korea’s extensive post.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this weekend, I’m going to be in a crowded shopping mall somewhere with the three people in this world I love the most — all of them at least 50% Korean by ethnicity — without a hint of fear for their safety. I call bullshit — evil, fetid, manipulative, cynical, fear-mongering bullshit — and I challenge anyone to find a substantial factual basis for it.
Since I’m not seeing one, how can I explain the inexplicable? I mean, what kind of a society would break out into mass mobbery in reaction to one isolated tragic event? Who would turn hatred of a friendly allied nation into fodder for popular movies and songs? Who would use another nation’s most painful living memory as an occasion to show its hatred? Who would discriminate against an entire national group, commit multiple acts of random violence (here, here, here, here, here), or peddle hate to the kiddies in school (here, here, here, with extra points for the approving reference to 9-11)? What nation would seek political advantage from one tragic event by propogating hatred for an entire nation (here, here, and here), much less find it to be a winning electoral strategy? And where would such hatred find broad societal acceptance? Surely not in an educated, developed, industrialized society. No civilized people in our times could subscribe to the inspiration of the world’s most brutal and backward system of government, one that openly espouses racism and is willing to kill as many babies as necessary to prove its commitment to that notion of purity.
Now, let me just briefly speak to that two percent of you who are not mature adults for a moment. My point here is not to justify in any way this kind of bigotry toward persons of Korean ancestry or any other. (Fair warning: anyone leaving a comment to that effect can expect to see it removed, and to be banned for good.) Nor is my point to deny that bigotry exists here, although I submit that our society overwhelmingly rejects it, and will severely punish anyone a court of law convicts of acting on it.
Now, directing my voice to back the adults … my point here is to suggest that the great majority of the bigotry and generalizing — both of Americans and of Koreans — is happening in South Korea, where I sense a lot of mental role reversal happening. I also suspect that for many of the same people, the acceptance of collective guilt is just a stepping stone to a claim of collective victimhood, which leads right back to collective scapegoating. Does anyone else see a pattern here?
This is wrong on several levels, starting with the fact that the 32 actual victims haven’t even buried yet. We should be mourning them. We live in a world where there’s plenty of real victimhood and little need to invent more. I’d like to see a whole lot less of all of this “collective” b.s. on all sides of all oceans, regardless of the nationalities of those concerned. I mean, didn’t Brian express it best? So please, let’s call off the Category 5 pogrom alert.