Sometime after he killed two people in a Virginia university dormitory but before he slaughtered 30 more in a classroom building Monday morning, Cho Seung-Hui mailed NBC News a large package, including photographs and videos, lamenting that “I didn’t have to do this.”
They call it a multimedia manifesto, and it consists of 27 Quicktime videos (view them here) and 43 photographs. NBC News President Steve Capus described the material as “hard-to-follow … disturbing, very disturbing — very angry, profanity-laced.” They did not contain images from the shooting, but had vague references to it.
“I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run. It’s not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you f—, I did it for them,” Cho says on one of the videos.
He does not name anyone specifically in the videos but mentions “hedonism”, Christianity and expresses his hatred for the wealthy. However, it is not clear who the “you” he often mentions is such as seen in the next passage.
“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today,” Cho says. “But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.”
Analysts have already chimed in by saying that Cho is a “familar figure” to those who have studied previous shootings.
From a separate article from the above (“Cho’s words, actions fit pattern”),
Based on emerging accounts of his behavior before his deadly attack at Virginia Tech, Cho exhibited three characteristics that the experts say are common among school shooters:
- He didn’t “just snap” but instead acquired the weapons weeks earlier.
- He was considered a threat by others, even though he didn’t make any explicit threats.
- Fellow students and teachers raised concerns about his behavior.
But because he didn’t threaten to harm anyone, university officials said, there was little more they could do.
There are a lot of myths about school violence which you can read about here — 10 myths about school shootings — but the following excerpt from MSNBC sums everything up rather well.
“Students who engaged in school-based attacks typically did not ‘just snap’ and then engage in impulsive or random acts of targeted school violence,” the Secret Service researchers wrote. “Instead, the attacks examined under the Safe School Initiative appeared to be the end result of a comprehensible process of thinking and behavior: behavior that typically began with an idea, progressed to the development of a plan, moved on to securing the means to carry out the plan and culminated in an attack. This is a process that potentially may be knowable or discernible from the attacker’s behaviors and communications.”
Other key findings of the Secret Service study:
- Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
- There is no accurate or useful “profile” of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
- Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
- Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack.
- Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
- In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
- Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention. The end came through suicide in about one-eighth of the shootings.
Can attacks be prevented?
The Secret Service researchers offered some hope. Some attack plans may be interrupted if quick action is taken when other students and teachers have concerns.
“However, findings from the Safe School Initiative suggest that the time span between he attacker’s decision to mount an attack and the actual incident may be short. Consequently, when indications that a student may pose a threat to the school community arise in the form of revelations about a planned attack, school administrators and law enforcement officials will need to move quickly to inquire about and intervene in that plan.”
As a teacher, this incident disturbs me in a profound way. Are we capable of intervening when a student shows these problem signs? This is an experience that is not far from the PSHS. They say that the line between genius and madness is wafer-thin, and we have had students who gave us reason to fear for ourselves.
I really can’t say much about the poisoning incident of February 14, 2006 since we faculty weren’t privy to the details of the case — and that is something we take issue with, of course. Nonetheless, I could say — from the little we have been told — that the perpetrator exhibited the three characteristics of a school “shooter” as mentioned above.
So how do we intervene then? I’ve been wanting to write a long piece about discipline and the Code of Conduct in the PSHS. I tend to be very vocal about the matter but for now, I would like to refer you to the thoughts of a fellow history teacher (from a different school), Mr. Ed Ching in his post entitled “The Reason Why We Never Improved as a People”.
But to tease my main point about the upcoming entry, all I have to say is that the there is much to be done about student discipline in the PSHS. The current system is ineffective, inconsistent and unresponsive. A colleague once said that the poisoning case last year was an aberration, and indeed it was. However we should not wait for the time when people would say that precedents had been established, that we dropped the ball, and that we failed as a school.
Because sometimes, failure costs lives.