- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday that changing the state’s mental-illness reporting procedures could close the loophole that allowed Seung-hui Cho to buy the guns he used to kill 32 persons at Virginia Tech.

A court in 2005 determined that Cho, then a Virginia Tech junior, posed a danger to himself and ordered psychiatric counseling for the South Korean immigrant after two female students accused him of stalking them.

Cho, whose family lives in Centreville, checked himself into an off-campus, outpatient mental health facility, but the court’s order never appeared in the background database that gun dealers are required to check before selling a firearm because he was not involuntarily committed.

Federal law bars the sale of guns to people who have been judged mentally defective. But it is up to states to report their legal proceedings to the federal government for inclusion in the database used to conduct background checks on prospective gun buyers.

“Whether they are committed or required to get outpatient treatment, I think once there’s an adjudication that they’re mentally ill and they pose a danger to themselves or others, that is the kind of information that should be shared, we believe, with the national database,” Mr. Kaine told WTOP Radio.

Mr. Kaine said he might be able to “administratively” tighten that reporting requirement through an executive order.

Retired Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Gerald Massengill, whom Mr. Kaine appointed to head a commission studying the massacre, said the commission will take “an expedited look” at the issue.

“Based on what we know now … it’s pretty clear: He should not have been able to obtain a weapon,” Mr. Massengill told the radio station.

Meanwhile, reports emerged yesterday that Cho hired a female escort a month before his rampage, the deadliest shooting by a single perpetrator in modern U.S. history.

Dancer Chastity Frye told a Roanoke television station that she found Cho “creepy” and that he made a physical advance but stopped after she pushed him away.

Investigators yesterday declined to comment on specifics of the case.

A spokeswoman in the FBI’s Richmond field office referred press inquiries to Virginia State Police or the Virginia Tech Police Department.

The university has scheduled a press conference for today during which law-enforcement authorities will provide an update on the investigation.

Authorities pulled from the university server all e-mails to and from Cho, as well as e-mails to and from his first victim, Emily Hilscher, according to court documents filed Monday. Police also recovered other e-mail logs and Cho’s personal cell-phone records.

Last week, authorities seized Miss Hilscher’s laptop computer and her cell phone. Officials have not said whether Cho had a personal connection to any of his victims.

On the Virginia Tech campus, classes are back in session this week, with counselors available for students and staff.

Students have two weeks left of school, and administrators are allowing them to drop classes without penalty or accept their current grades. University officials said class attendance was about 75 percent Monday and that 85 percent to 90 percent of students still were living in their dorms.

The fate of Norris Hall, the classroom and office building in which 30 of the 32 victims were killed, remains undecided, but it is unlikely to be used for classes again, Provost Mark McNamee said. Workers are putting a chain-link fence around it, and classes that had been held there were relocated.

Students and staff paused for moments of silence Monday at the times Cho killed his victims, then himself. The tributes included an emotional ceremony with a bell tolling 33 times and students and faculty releasing white balloons for each victim. After a few chants of “Let’s Go, Hokies,” the students and professors headed to class.

Queen Elizabeth II plans to pay tribute to the shooting victims when she visits Virginia for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, Buckingham Palace said yesterday. There was no indication what sort of ceremony will be held, but a visit to the campus was ruled out, a palace spokeswoman said on the condition of anonymity in line with royal rules.

Two of the students wounded during the shootings remained hospitalized yesterday, one in stable condition and another in serious condition.

The governor also met in suburban Washington with Korean-American leaders to assure them Virginians do not hold people of Korean descent responsible for the tragedy. Cho, 23, came to the United States at about age 8 and was raised in suburban Washington.

“I can assure you that no one in Virginia — no one in Virginia — views the Korean community as culpable in this incident in the least degree,” Mr. Kaine said. He also said Virginia “would be a weaker place, Virginia would be a lesser place, if it were not for the contributions of our Korean-American citizens.”

n Staff writer Natasha Altamirano contributed to this report.

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