BLACKSBURG, Va.—He made overtures so unwelcome to young women that their ultimate rejections had to be delivered by the campus police. They in turn were troubled enough to send him to a mental health facility after a court magistrate declared him "mentally ill" and "an imminent danger" to himself or others. That was in 2005.
But as disturbing details began to pile up about the demented Virginia Tech student responsible for unprecedented carnage on Monday, police struggled with some of the most perplexing questions of all: How did Cho Seung-Hui choose his 32 victims, and why did he pick the buildings and rooms where he sprayed bullets?
"We are not aware of any connections with any of the victims at this point in time," said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police. "There is no connection we are aware of ..."
Authorities might have gotten important clues later Wednesday, when NBC News discovered that it had received a packet from Cho containing images and "a lengthy diatribe." MSNBC posted a photo of a man it said was Cho with outstretched arms and a gun in each hand.
On its evening newscast, it showed images of Cho posing with guns and a hammer. Video footage revealed Cho declaring that the deadly outcome wasn't inevitable, but "you forced me into a corner."
"Now you will have blood on your hands that will never wash off," he said. It was unclear to whom he was directing his comments.
The network reported that the package was postmarked just after 9 a.m. EDT Monday, which would have been after the first two fatal shootings and before the second set involving 30 murders. It was sent overnight, but a wrong zip code delayed it.
With no surveillance cameras near the crime scenes, police have been unable to determine where Cho was during the gap in time.
The material also included video files of Cho ranting about hating the "wealthy." The network said it turned everything over to the FBI.
Police revealed that Cho first caught their attention in the fall of 2005 when he contacted two women who didn't like his attention. The first incident, on Nov. 27, involved phone calls and e-mails to a fellow student who felt uncomfortable enough to call the police.
She declined to press charges and termed Cho's contact with her "annoying," Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said at a press conference.
A month later, on Dec. 13, 2005, Cho messaged another female student. He didn't threaten her, but she complained to police and "asked that Cho have no further contact with her."
Neither of the women was among the shooting victims.
One of Cho's roommates told CNN on Tuesday that the police intervention had left Cho so distraught that he wrote in an instant message that he might as well kill himself.
After receiving a phone call that Cho might be suicidal, campus police met with Cho and talked to him at length. Based on that, they obtained a court order and he was taken to a mental health facility.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained the temporary detention order issued on Dec. 13, 2005, by a Montgomery County, Va., court magistrate. It declared Cho "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness."
The order said that Cho was "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization and present(s) an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for self and is incapable of volunteering or unwilling to volunteer for treatment." It said he was released for outpatient treatment.
Cho was treated at a psychiatric hospital in the nearby town of Radford at the time, but officials at the Carilion Saint Albans Behavioral Health Center wouldn't comment on his stay or the nature of his treatment.
"Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we're not releasing any information, but we are cooperating fully with the investigation," said Eric Earnhart, a spokesman for Carilion Health System. St. Albans is a 36-bed inpatient mental health facility. Officials wouldn't allow reporters inside, but said the private patient rooms resemble bedrooms, not hospital rooms.
Campus police also had consulted with Virginia Tech English professor Lucinda Roy, who'd reported disturbing writing assignments from Cho that raised a red flag for her. But the police determined that there were no explicit or implied threats in the writings, and chose not to take action.
"Students were encouraged to be imaginative and artistic," Flinchum said of the writing assignments.
The director of campus counseling, Chris Flynn, said that the English Department had requested a meeting with counselors about how to deal with troubled students, but he didn't know what prompted the incident and said specific students weren't discussed.
Dr. Harvey Barker, director of ACCESS, the county mental health system, confirmed that it had done an evaluation of Cho in 2005, but said he couldn't comment on the case.
University and law enforcement officials said they were struggling to determine why Cho chose the specific rooms and buildings where his shootings left the highest death toll in modern U.S. history.
Police said they have found no link between the first woman killed and Cho. They initially questioned her boyfriend, whom they believed was a gun owner. No one came to the door Wednesday when a reporter knocked at the boyfriend's townhouse-style complex where he lived with at least three other roommates. A call to his family home reached a message rejecting press inquiries.
The comments Wednesday by police and university officials tracked with remarks by at least two English professors and Cho's roommates.
In interviews with national broadcast outlets, professor Nikki Giovanni said her students stopped showing up for class because Cho's writings and behavior made them uncomfortable. She asked to have him removed from her class and threatened to quit if he wasn't.
"It was the meanness that bothered me," she said, adding that she felt certain she wasn't being targeted on Monday because she taught in a building far from the crime scenes.
After Giovanni's request, Roy, who led the English department, stepped in and offered to do one-on-one sessions with Cho. During them, she encouraged him to seek counseling.
"He was a very depressed student," she told National Public Radio.
Two of Cho's roommates, in an interview with CNN, said that he was a loner who once admitted to having an imaginary girlfriend. He barely spoke to any of them.
One said that he was aware that Cho had made unwanted advances to female students on the Internet. When police responded, Cho became upset.
"And he told me that he might as well kill myself," the roommate, identified as Andy, said.
(Raleigh News & Observer reporter Jane Stancill contributed from Radford, Va. Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Jack Douglas Jr. contributed from Northern Virginia, and David Montgomery contributed from Blacksburg, Va.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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