April 18, 2007

Trying to understand the Virginia Tech murders.

This article offers a good explanation for why the Virginia Tech officials delayed for two hours before warning students after two persons had been shot.
After two people, Emily Jane Hilscher, a freshman, and Ryan Clark, the resident adviser whose room was nearby in the dormitory, were shot dead, the campus police began searching for Karl D. Thornhill, who was described in Internet memorials as Ms. Hilscher’s boyfriend.

According to a search warrant filed by the police, Ms. Hilscher’s roommate had told the police that Mr. Thornhill, a student at nearby Radford University, had guns at his town house. 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.
Even if they thought it was Thornhill and that he'd achieved his end, they still should have warned students that there was a gunman at large and possibly still on campus.

But this background raises another question. Why would someone commit two murders like that and then relocate to another building some distance away and perform a massacre?

It's hard to understand why someone would commit the massacre. But it's not anywhere near as hard as explaining why a person would do both things. The first murder, in the dorm, seems conventional. The second incident is horrible, but you understand it by thinking: madman.
Among the central unknowns is what prompted the gunman to move to Norris Hall, which contains engineering and other classrooms, where all but the first two killings took place. The authorities said [Seung-Hui] Cho’s preparations, including chaining the doors, suggested planning and premeditation, rather than a spontaneous event.
How do you explain a person doing both things?


AllenS said...

Unconventional madman.

Gahrie said...

Both acts were done out of a sense of insult and rejection.

The girlfriend was killed because the killer thought she was rejecting him.

The murder spree was done because he thought that the students at VT were rejecting him.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Both acts were done out of a sense of insult and rejection.

Perhaps but I think what some people don't want to face is that there are simply evil people in the world and I mean evil in the Satanic sense.

Nobody really entertains that Hitler had a mean daddy, was rejected by the Vienna school of art or only had one testicle which is why he embarked on a war of conquest and genocide. Most people simply concede he was evil.

This loser was no different in my opinion. He simply didn't have the time or ammo to rack up a higher body count.

I think the convetional wisdom is to assign such events as the acts of a madman when in fact, these individuals are probably as sane as you or I and are just marching to the drum of evil.

Mister DA said...

I agree with gahrie, and would add that the secondary murders may well have occurred because he believed he would be caught and punished for the first crimes and had nothing to loose by further murders.

Freder Frederson said...

As more is discovered about Cho, it is becoming apparent it was likely he suffering from a serious mental illness, possibly even schizophrenia. His age is almost the textbook median for full-blown onset of the disease.

kettle said...

"these individuals are probably as sane as you or I and are just marching to the drum of evil."

I think that this approach oversimplifies things considerably. I also think it's a bit odd to compare this kid to Adolph Hitler. If this kid were Evil it seems unlikely that his end objective would be suicide. It is hard for me to believe that people do bad things simply for the sake of doing bad things; it's much more often the case that they do bad things either out of an impulsive response to great emotial duress, or because they have spent such a long time thinking about these things alone that they have come to the conclusion that their terrible actions are justifiable by some hidden code that now only they can see. That doesn't excuse anything, but it leaves a little bit more room for serious contemplation than a simple stereotypical label does.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I think that this approach oversimplifies things considerably.

Well I tend to think we make things more complex than they should be. Based upon what is being reported, he seems to have some pretty specific greivances and not just the rantings of a psychopath.

I also think it's a bit odd to compare this kid to Adolph Hitler.

I wasn't comparing him to Hitler but rather pointing out that we look at Hitler as the personification of evil and not the poster child for mental illness whereas Cho and others like him get psychoanalysis.

It is hard for me to believe that people do bad things simply for the sake of doing bad things;

No offense but that is a pretty naive outlook. I'll grant you that there are people who suffer from mental illness but I simply don't chalk up every violent act to a serious mental illness.

I don't think people like to confront the fact that there is evil people because it goes against the belief that all people are inherently good.

Jim Hu said...

Given reports that he was stalking women (plural) before the rampage, it's possible that he went to that particular classroom building with another specific target in mind and just didn't care about who else he shot in the process.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

After reading this article (2nd paragraph), I'm inclined to believe that at the time of the first set of murders, Cho had no plans to commit a second set. Why would such an overall plan include allocating almost two hours to pen a rambling note?

kettle said...

No offense but that is a pretty naive outlook. I'll grant you that there are people who suffer from mental illness but I simply don't chalk up every violent act to a serious mental illness.

That's ok, none taken. I didn't mean that people have to be mentally ill to do nasty things, or that they must be in any way inherently good.

Jacko said...

"they still should have warned students that there was a gunman at large and possibly still on campus."

Replace 'Students' with 'town'. The authorities should be in trouble for that. If there is a murderer on the loose in a small town, I expect public programming to be interrupted (no simple emails) to tell me that.

And once you've finally let go and killed two, why not continue on and kill everyone who 'hates and spurns' you? I don't understand the difficulty in the jump of logic. If we need a label, try "paranoid schizophrenic," although in my opinion they're much over rated.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Jim Hu: if he were targeting a specific person in Norris and "'didn't care about who else he shot in the process," I don't understand why he would chain the doors shut. So far it's a mystery why he targeted Norris, but clearly he wanted to kill as many people as possible.

The fact that he chained the door makes me reconsider my prior comment. I think he probably dwelled upon various mass-killing scenarios, but I still don't think he formed the specific plan until after the first murder. Maybe it was his favorite scenario. I would like to know the contents of that note.

Bob R said...

I know this is the internet and all, but I'd caution everyone from repeating all of these "whisper down the lane" rumors as if they were facts. There is a lot of baseless speculation about Cho's romantic life or lack of one. I have seen lots of contradictory things asserted with complete certainty.

I'm not sure what I think of the response of our administration and police department yet. We are still getting info as time goes on. But I'd like to pose this question: If a double murder had been committed in an apartment in a town the size of Virginia Tech, would the police have been expected to contact everyone in the town within two hours of discovery of the bodies? Would they be expected to shut the town down even if they believed the murdered had left town? I think the answer is pretty obviously, "No." If that is the case, why do we expect police to do these things on a college campus? Isn't the implicit assumption that we are acting in loco parentis for the students? Wasn't that an assumption that was fought when you and I went to school, Ann? Has something changed?

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Whoops, here's the link that was broken: tinyurl.com/2u9ff5

Bob R said...

If he made the plan for the second murder after committing the first, where did he get the chains and padlocks? The closest hardware store is about two miles away from the dorm. It may be possible, but very unlikely. The chains and extra ammo indicate a good deal of advanced preparation.

Bob R said...

Interesting. Jacko disagrees on contacting people in a town. There are hundreds of murders committed in the US every year. How many can you name where the police have interrupted local programming or shut down business within two hours of discovery? (This is not a rhetorical question. I've just never heard of it happening.)

paul a'barge said...

How do you explain a person doing both things

My guess, and I doubt you'll see this reported in the MSM anywhere, is that it will turn out that Cho was a recent convert to Islam.

Bob R said...

Oops. Dumb comment. When we had the convict escape from the hospital this fall, they sent out bulletins right away. Still, a different and rare situation

Internet Ronin said...

At the end of the day, we may discover that the parents wanted him to major in engineering, and he thought they were disappointed in his failure to do so. There may have been significant pressure over an extended period of time about a supposed "failure" to excel in math or sciences and seek a degree in one of them.

I've seen that happen many times among my immigrant friend's families over the past three decades. Majors like English are often frowned upon. While the familial pressure can be incredibly intense, the personal anguish over failing to fulfill perceived familial expectations (even when unexpressed) can be equally tormenting.

While I'm certainly not expert on this subject, I've seen it so often that it is the first thing that came to my mind.

Internet Ronin said...

Paul:The odds are quite high that Cho was a practicing Christian. Probably a Baptist.

reader_iam said...

From an AP story today:

Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion, and made several references to Christianity, the official said.

This does not provide clarity, of course.

I personally think religious brand/ denomination, per se, like ethnicity, is irrelevant when it comes to that infinitesimal portion of humanity who turn out to be spree mass killers. But who knows?

reader_iam said...

Spree mass killers of this type, that is.

Der Hahn said...

I've been wondering why campus security assumed the situation was under control after the Norris shooting.

Interesting thought process though. Obviously a (probably white) non student who frequents a shooting range has to be the killer! Never mind the troubled Korean kid that the english department had been trying to get the school administration to deal with for months. Besides, VT is a gun-free zone. No one would keep a gun in the dorm.

I don't think I would expect the police to lock down the town, but it's not uncommon for information about suspects at large to be broadcast on mass media. I think that also speaks to the complacent attitude (VT is a gun-free zone!) that campus security apparently had.

PatCA said...

Now they're going to start talking about his Christianity?! Sigh. I can't read this stuff anymore.

The man was psychotic, not angry or jilted. Emily H. did not even know him. In his delusional system of axes and Ismael and debauchery and retribution, he had to take out an entire class of people, for reasons known only to him.

As for the delay, it was reasonable police work to suspect her boyfriend. By the time they realized they might be wrong, they sent out an email. Tragic but not negligent, IMO. It was the shooter's fault.

Maxine Weiss said...

People do that which they think they can get away with.

The imagination is rife with fantastical ideas....but you ask yourself ...is it possible?

If you have no religion, no God, no internal code of conduct, not to mention that you've been getting away with things all your life (burning down a dorm room etc..) with no repercussions...

Hey, killing 32 people is just another thing you'll get away with.

And, in a lax University with an incompetent administration...

...of course he knew he'd get away with it.

At some point, you'd figure someone would stop you. But with this guy, there was never anybody standing in his way....even at the end....he still had the last laugh, and all the control---he shot himself--the ultimate 'final word' was his.

Now that's what I call control!

Peace, Maxine

Internet Ronin said...

No Pat, we're not really talking about his Christianity - we were responding to a stupid comment by Paul, and pointing out the likelihood was great that he was a Christian. That is completely irrelevant to what he did and why he did it - he was just a disturbed individual.

Maxine Weiss said...

I see this everyday: A child, about 2 years old walking into a busy street laden with cars speeding down. And a mother who screams at the 2-year-old to stay out of the street. Mother just likes to hear herself scream, apparently, and keeps screaming at the child to stay out of the street, meanwhile 2-year-child ignores the mother and keeps heading for the street.

Nothing to stop the child, nothing standing in his way...other than a screaming mother, and who's gonna listen to her?

Instead of picking up the child and physically removing him from the danger...

Reminds me of the Virginia Tech Administration. Instead of physically removing a threat...they just let it stand, grow and fester, even though they had plenty of notice.

Adults that try to "reason" with a 2-year-old.

That's what this whole thing reminds me of.

Nevermind, they had 2-hours to stop the Norris Hall deaths. TWO HOURS !!! Can you imagine, 2 hours, a gift from the Gods. Who gets 2 hours to prevent the World's greatest massacre. And, they bungle it.

Virginia Tech Administration: Blood on their hands!

Peace, Maxine

Michael said...

It appears to me that he obviously planned this.
In VA, you can only buy one handgun per month unless you have a concealed carry permit or get a special permit to allow you to do that.
I've read that he bought his first gun 3/13, he must have bought the second gun 4/13 or later. That's pretty interesting timing.
Plus, as you note, he chained the doors. I'm a paranoid person who prepares for plenty of unlikely events, but chains?
Also, the chains show that he knew that there would be no armed people in the building and by chaining the doors, he was keeping any armed people out.

He had just bought two guns, he couldn't have purchased the second one until last Friday at the earliest, so Monday was the earliest he could have done this while school was in session. He had the chains and he waited to see what hue and cry would have arisen after the first shooting.

It looks planned to me and he got lucky in that they didn't lock down the school after the first shootings (no, I'm not blaming the school for not locking down, just noting it).

Internet Ronin said...

For once, Maxine, I can honestly say "I agree with you," and "Well said." I know many do not agree with us, however.

PatCA said...

Thanks, Ronin.

AllenS said...

Maxine, please limit your use of ellipsis. Finish your thought. Finish your sentence.

Joe said...

I agree with Maxine.

John Kindley said...

It's odd and unfortunate that these recent mass murderers, at least those whose murders appear wholly malicious and devoid of all rationality, always seem to successfully commit suicide before they can be apprehended and face both the wrath and the questions of society. The Columbine killers, the murderer of the Amish schoolgirls, Cho . . . all successfully committed suicide. Am I forgetting anyone? McVeigh and other terrorists who have been apprehended may seem to be an exception, but the terrorist at least has his convictions and self-righteousness, however delusional or perverse, to shield him from the disgust and outrage of society. Mass murderers of the Cho stripe would seem to have only their own utterly shameful hatred . . . and possibly their psychoses . . . as barriers to the probing hatred of society.

Maggie said...

My guess is that he planned all along to shoot a whole lot of people on Monday and initially set his sights on a dorm. I think he didn't know Emily or anything about her. He wrote his note and set out to attack the dorm but found an unexpected problem--too many locked doors. So he shoots the first two people he encounters, then runs down the stairs, unchains the doors (could no one have seen the chains because it was so early and he acted so quickly?) and rethinks his plan. A building with classrooms makes more sense and offers many more victims and easier access.

Revenant said...

It isn't a matter of this guy being crazy OR evil OR socially maladjusted. No one of those things explains this kind of behavior -- you have to be all three.

Matt Modrich said...

My response to this is in my blog at http://microwavablemartian.blogspot.com

ModNewt said...

It isn't a matter of this guy being crazy OR evil OR socially maladjusted. No one of those things explains this kind of behavior -- you have to be all three.

I concur, the vast majority of the mentally ill do not commit violent crimes. In fact, my recollection of a University class I took on insanity is that the insane commit statistically fewer violent crimes than the general public.

vet66 said...

Maybe he went back to reload or retrieve additional clips.
If I was law enforcement, that is what I would have assumed and then acted on that assumption.

Freder Frederson said...

I concur, the vast majority of the mentally ill do not commit violent crimes. In fact, my recollection of a University class I took on insanity is that the insane commit statistically fewer violent crimes than the general public.

True, but there is a sub-class of paranoid schizophrenia that does manifest itself in extreme violence as the sufferer feels that he is being persecuted. With the NBC tapes, Cho seems to fit the pattern.

I'm sure Maxine will be back telling us how there is no such thing as mental illness.

But the more I hear about this case, I can't help but come to the conclusion that there were only victims in this tragedy. That Cho wasn't evil or a sociopath, just a very sick young man.

peter hoh said...

Had the university gone into lock-down mode, and herded students into locked rooms or "secure" buildings, that may not have lowered the death toll.

Officials were not looking for Cho, he was not stomping around in a trench coat with ammo belts slung over his shoulder and machine guns at his side.

It might very well have happened that someone might have directed Cho and others into a "secure" building while they locked down the university. And then Cho might have pulled his weapons from his backpack and continued his rampage in a "secure" room full of people.

paul a'barge said...

Hey, Internet Ronin, this is for you (from Captains Quarterly): Cho also apparently hated Christianity, and that makes the Ismail Ax reference more likely to be the James Fennimore Cooper theory that Hot Air noted

Bam, up your other notch.

Like I said, watch and learn, because here it comes ... the guy was a recent convert or admirer of Islam.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Maxine, please limit your use of ellipsis. Finish your thought. Finish your sentence."--allens

But my life, and art is rather like an ellipse. The missing sense of completion.

Peace, Maxine

Internet Ronin said...

Paul, you are such a delight to correspond with. Thank you for writing. Let's do it again real soon.

Maxine Weiss said...

Look, if I'm an instructor, and on the first day of class, some clown comes along and signs the sign in sheet with a (?) question mark.

He'd be booted out of my class instantly. You pull something like that with me, and you're out.

The first time is the last time.

Instead, they fobbed it off. They pandered to it. They laughed about it. They called him "the question mark guy".

Someone who signs with a question mark clearly doesn't want to be in class, and I'm goin' after a student like that. That's not a student you'd coddle with special/individualized attention and babysitting----which didn't help but just encouraged this clown.

Guess what? When I run a University, it's a para-Military organization where you either conform, or get lost!

You wanna individualized attention---go do independent study. You don't know how to act in groups---go do distance learning.

But when someone is out in public, in a group, in a classroom, you either follow the rules , or be kicked out, immediately. There's no watchful waiting, spoon-feeding, or pampering ....when I run things.

Kick him right off the campus, and then spy on him good and thorough just to make sure he doesn't come back stalking.


Sure, but had they dealt with him that way, you wouldn't have 32 people dead!

Peace, Maxine

X: THC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
X: THC said...

Question Marks

"This didn't have to happen", Cho Seung-Hui said, after murdering thirty-two people at Virginia Tech University.

And this terrible tragedy of sons, daughters, mothers and fathers didn't have to happen, if we'd only listened.

But we never listen.

We never listen to those that are different from us- the outcasts, the lonely, the homeless, the ones that are unspoken for. We don't try to understand. We shun them and put them out of our minds because of our fear that we will become like them.

And these people become more and more lonely and alienated in their isolation.

Words like "creep", "deranged misfit" and "psycho" devalue this killer's humanity so we don't have to face how similar he is to us. Cries of "how could he have been stopped" are uttered by media quick to sensationalize and gain market share, when the words "how could he have been listened to" are never considered.

Because we don't want to listen.

We don't want to hear about loneliness and alienation when we're all so busy with our lives, making money and making friends. And the unpopular, the ones that don't fit in, the lonely ones are ignored or made fun of because we don't care to understand anything about them.

This man who clearly needed help, Cho Seung-Hui, devalued himself so much that he called himself "Question Mark".

There are more "Question Marks" out there. There are millions of them. And if we don't listen to them, they will follow the same path again and again, because people are not connecting. We are becoming more and more disconnected from each other, creating more and more "Question Marks" every day.

Most "Question Marks" don't become murderers. Some just kill themselves. Most harm no one and live just as we do, needing antidepressants to appear what we call "normal". They may be someone you know, someone you love.

This "Question Mark" was once a little boy, who cried, and smiled and loved, He wanted to fit in just like you and I. But that desire to fit in transformed itself into anger towards a society that shunned and ignored him.

How many more times will we shun and ignore the one that doesn't fit in, the one in the corner, the one that's different? When all we have to do is listen, before it's too late.

But we won't.

Thirty-two human beings who did not know Cho Seung-Hui were murdered.
They were sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, with dreams of futures that will never come and children that will never be born. The thirty-two leave behind people that love them. People that are now scarred for life by this horrible day of death.

To most of us that have not been directly involved, this tragedy will become a memory and fade like all the others that came before.

And the "Question Marks" will appear with more frequency, again and again, because we don't listen.

We never do.



Dorene said...

i don't think he penned the note during his two hour interval; i think he was chatting online with the person who prompted him to take such unlikely measures, someone who played into Cho's psychosis. what many of us are wondering is how he managed to get all the heavy chain across campus, without being noticed unless there was a second person who staged the chain in the building for him. his signature of ax-ishmael is a combined name of designer and character from blood II an online game. just some thoughts from the westside of things.