- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

RICHMOND — Relatives of the student gunman who killed 32 persons on the Virginia Tech campus allowed the university to turn over his mental health records to a gubernatorial panel investigating the shootings, the panel’s chairman said yesterday.

Federal privacy laws governing health and student information had prevented the panel from reviewing Seung-hui Cho’s records.

Panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill had said he would go to court if necessary to obtain them.

“This is not all the records that we will need,” Mr. Massengill told the Associated Press. “But this is certainly some that we felt a strong need to take a look at.”

University spokesman Larry Hincker said the family gave permission for the release of the records late last week.

Mr. Massengill said they were delivered to the panel on Wednesday, but that he had not yet examined them. They will not be made public.

Virginia Tech officials had been in negotiations with the family since the panel met in Blacksburg in May through a liaison that was “some law-enforcement organization,” Mr. Hincker said.

Panel members — who do not have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony or obtain records — have expressed frustration at state and school officials, who have said they couldn’t turn over Cho’s medical, mental health or scholastic records because federal privacy laws protect people even after death.

Cho killed himself on April 16 shortly after a shooting rampage in which he killed two students at a Virginia Tech dormitory and 30 other students and staff inside a classroom building. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Cho was involuntarily sent to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Center near Radford for an overnight stay and a mental evaluation in December 2005 after a female student complained about unwanted computer messages from him.

A special justice found him to be a danger to himself, but not to others, and ordered him to receive outpatient treatment.

After a nearly 15-hour stay at St. Albans, Cho made an appointment with Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center, but there was no indication that he received the treatment.

Cho’s family authorized the release of records from the center.

“I think these records should show a number of things, but certainly some of the questions that we had as to any counseling, any encounters he had had with the mental health community,” said Mr. Massengill, a former Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency’s response to the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.

While pleased that the panel will not have to fight for the mental health records, Mr. Massengill said he still wants access to other medical and school records.

“I think it’s important that we learn as much about Cho as we can from his childhood on up,” Mr. Massengill said. “Any record or any interview or any process that will allow us to do that, we’re certainly interested in.

“His high school years are of particular importance to us,” he said.

Classmates have said that Cho, who moved to the United States from South Korea at a young age, was teased at affluent Westfield High School in Chantilly, apparently because of his shyness and odd, mumbling way of speaking.

In a video diatribe Cho mailed to NBC News the day of the shootings, he ranted against rich “brats” with Mercedes-Benzes, gold necklaces, cognac and trust funds.

Mr. Massengill said the panel may have to meet several more times. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, has asked that the panel finish its work before school starts again in the fall.

{bullet} AP writer Sue Lindsey contributed to this report from Blacksburg, Va.

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