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National News

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Gunman's violent writings alarmed many

In note, he railed against rich kids, women

07:21 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From Wire Reports

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre was described as a sullen loner who alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids.

Cho Seung-Hui

A chilling picture emerged Tuesday of Cho Seung-Hui – a 23-year-old senior majoring in English – a day after the bloodbath that left 33 people dead, including Mr. Cho, who killed himself as police closed in.

News reports said that he may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.

Despite the many warning signs that came to light in the bloody aftermath, police and university officials offered no clues as to exactly what set Mr. Cho off on the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Federal investigators said he left behind a note that they described as a lengthy, rambling and bitter list of complaints focusing on moral laxity and double-dealing he found among what he viewed as wealthier and more privileged students on campus.

A law enforcement official who read Mr. Cho's note described it Tuesday as a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"You caused me to do this," the official quoted the note as saying.

And new information emerged that may help explain a fateful two-hour delay by university officials in warning the campus of a gunman at large. According to search warrants and statements from the police, campus investigators had been busy pursuing what appears to have been a fruitless lead in the first of two shooting episodes Monday.

After two people, Emily Jane Hilscher, a freshman, and Ryan Clark, the resident adviser who lived next door in a dormitory, were shot dead, campus police filed a search warrant for the home of Karl Thornhill, who was described in Internet memorials as Ms. Hilscher's boyfriend.

According to the warrant, Ms. Hilscher's roommate had told the police that Mr. Thornhill, a student at nearby Radford University, had guns at his townhouse. The roommate told the police that she had recently been at a shooting range with Mr. Thornhill, the affidavit said, leading the police to believe he may have been the gunman.

But as they were questioning Mr. Thornhill, reports came in of widespread shooting at Norris Hall on the campus, making it clear that Mr. Thornhill was not the killer they were seeking. He was not arrested, although he continues to be an important witness in the case, police said.

After those shootings, state police executed another search warrant, this time for Mr. Cho's dormitory room. The warrant said a bomb threat against the engineering school buildings was found near Mr. Cho's body. The warrant mentioned two other bomb threat notes against the campus received over the past three weeks.

Mr. Cho had used two handguns, a 9 mm and a .22-caliber, to shoot dozens of rounds, leaving even those who survived with multiple bullet wounds, officials said. The guns were bought legally in March and April.

Investigators stopped short of saying Mr. Cho carried out both attacks. But state police ballistics tests showed one gun was used in both.

And two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced, said Mr. Cho's fingerprints were on both guns, whose serial numbers had been filed off.

Gov. Tim Kaine said he will appoint a panel at the university's request to review authorities' handling of the disaster. Parents and students bitterly complained that the university should have locked down the campus immediately after the first burst of gunfire and did not do enough to warn people.

Mr. Kaine warned against making snap judgments and said he had "nothing but loathing" for those who take the tragedy and "make it their political hobby horse to ride."

Counseling advised

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university's English department, said Mr. Cho's writing was so disturbing that he had been referred to the university's counseling service.

"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," Ms. Rude said. "But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

She said she did not know when he was referred for counseling, or what the outcome was. Ms. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws. The counseling service refused to comment.

Classmates painted a similar picture. Some said that on the first day of a British literature class last year, the 30 or so students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Mr. Cho's turn, he didn't speak.

On the sign-in sheet where everyone else had written their names, Mr. Cho had written a question mark. "Is your name 'question mark?' " classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

Mr. Cho spent much of that class sitting in the back of the room, wearing a hat and seldom participating. In a small department, Mr. Cho distinguished himself for being anonymous. "He didn't reach out to anyone. He never talked," Ms. Poole said.

"We just really knew him as the question mark kid," she said.

Report of stalking

Citing unidentified sources, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mr. Cho had recently set a fire in a dorm room and had stalked some women.

Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell said his shop sold the Glock and a box of practice ammo to Mr. Cho 36 days ago for $571.

"He was a nice, clean-cut college kid. We won't sell a gun if we have any idea at all that a purchase is suspicious," Mr. Markell said.

Law enforcement sources said Mr. Cho died with the words "Ismail Ax" in red ink on one of his arms, but they were not sure what that meant.

Class of 2003

Mr. Cho graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., in 2003. His family lived in a two-story townhouse in Centreville, Va.

At least one of those killed in the rampage, Reema Samaha, graduated from Westfield High in 2006. But there was no immediate word from authorities on whether Mr. Cho knew the young woman and singled her out.

The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post contributed to this report.

A chilling picture emerged Tuesday of Cho Seung-Hui a day after the bloodbath in which 32 people and the gunman died.

Questionable behavior: Some classmates knew him only as "the question mark kid." On the first day of class last year, during introductions, Mr. Cho sat sullenly in the back of the room and refused to speak. On the sign-in sheet, he had put only a question mark for his name.

Troubled writings: A fellow student, Stephanie Derry, said Mr. Cho's writings in a spring creative writing workshop included macabre slayings that featured bizarre weaponry. "We always joked we were just waiting for him to do something, waiting to hear about something he did," Ms. Derry said. "But when I got the call it was Cho who had done this, I started crying, bawling."

Macabre play: The Smoking Gun Web site posted a violent, profanity-laced screenplay that it said Mr. Cho wrote. The short play describes a conversation between a 13-year-old boy and his stepfather, whom the boy accuses of being a pedophile. In the play, the stepfather lashes out at the boy, and his mother brandishes a chainsaw to protect her son.

Mystery words: Mr. Cho had the words "Ismail Ax" written in red ink on one of his arms.

From Wire Reports