- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The massacre inside Virginia Tech’s chained-shut Norris Hall lasted for nine minutes as gunman Seung-hui Cho fired 170 rounds, killing 30 persons before shooting himself in the head, police said yesterday.

However, investigators still cannot say why Cho, an English major at Tech, committed the deadliest single-gunman attack in modern U.S. history.

“We talk about possible motives and theories and whatnot, but we don’t have any evidence to suggest anything,” said State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty.

He said investigators, including FBI agents, have searched computer files, cell-phone records and e-mails, and have compiled 500 pieces of evidence from Norris Hall alone.

Yet nothing has indicated a motive or close link between the 23-year-old loner from Centreville and his victims, Col. Flaherty said.

Two hours before Cho chained shut three public entrances to Norris Hall and started his rampage there, he killed two persons across campus in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory. In between the attacks, he mailed a package to NBC News in New York that included a videotaped tirade and written manifesto about rich “brats” and their “hedonistic needs.”

Investigators confirmed yesterday that the multimedia package was made before the April 16 shootings.

Col. Flaherty, who is overseeing the team investigating the shootings, said police have been unable to answer one of the case’s most vexing questions: Why did the killing begin at the dormitory and why was freshman Emily Jane Hilscher, 18, the first victim?

Witnesses placed Cho outside the dorm shortly before 7:15 a.m., when he fired the two shots that killed Miss Hilscher and senior Ryan Clark, 22, a resident assistant at the dorm, Col. Flaherty said.

It is not known how Cho entered the dorm. But investigators said a 911 call was made as somebody was perhaps falling out of his bunk bed.

They also have said it appeared that Mr. Clark was trying to intervene between Cho and Miss Hilscher.

Police searched Miss Hilscher’s e-mails and phone records looking for a link. Although Col. Flaherty would not discuss exactly what police found, he said neither Cho’s nor Hilscher’s records have revealed a connection.

“We certainly don’t have any one motive that we are pursuing at this particular time or that we have been able to pull together and formulate,” he said. “It’s frustrating because it’s so personal, because we see the families and see the communities suffering, and we see they want answers.”

Virginia Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum said Cho had a class this semester in Norris Hall, although it was not scheduled to meet the day of the rampage. Investigators have found no other link between the shooter and the building, which is home primarily to engineering offices.

Col. Flaherty said that the investigation will proceed at a slower pace as authorities examine evidence and that the case might not be closed for months.

That so few people knew Cho has frustrated investigators. Even family members have said they rarely heard him speak.

“I guess the thing that is most startling to me, I say startling, surprising, is a young man who’s 23 years old, that’s been here for a while, that seemed to not know anybody,” Col. Flaherty said.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, has appointed a panel to investigate the shootings, the emergency responses and other related issues.

Col. Flaherty said that Cho practiced shooting at firing ranges before the attack and that he was not connected to recent bomb threats on campus.

He said the first police officers to enter Norris Hall shot the locks off the chains, heard what turned out to be the last shot that Cho fired and raced up the steps to find more than 50 people hurt or dead, actions that he called “incredible acts of heroism.” Cho shot himself in the head and was found dead among the victims.

Col. Flaherty and Chief Flinchum praised the campus and Blacksburg communities for their resilience and outpouring of help and sympathy.

They declined to take reporters’ questions about early warning signs to Cho’s mental illness and his firearms purchases, two handguns.

Church officials in Cho’s hometown of Centreville in Fairfax County say his family tried for years to get him counseling. Analysts say his parents may have been unsure what to make of his disquieting isolation and held back by the stigma mental illness carries in their culture.

Cho, who was 8 when he emigrated to the U.S. with his family, was already showing signs that worried his family in South Korea: He was unresponsive, nearly mute and distant, relatives say.

Mr. Kaine met Tuesday with Korean-Americans and promised to re-evaluate mental-health outreach to immigrants after community leaders pleaded with him for more funding and resources.

Though mental-health problems carry a stigma in most cultures, they can be especially hard to identify in immigrant populations where people may not know whether problems are internal or related to the stresses of adjusting to a new country.

The Rev. Dihan Lee of the Open Door Presbyterian Churchs in Herndon, says many parents are unsure when their children are merely adjusting to U.S. life — or need outside help.

“If you come to this country and your child has to deal with learning the language, fitting into the culture and they show behavior problems or are socially awkward, you chalk it up to just trying to fit in,” he said.

Church is the backbone of many Korean communities in the U.S., serving as a place of worship and a community center. But mental health is rarely addressed there.

News that the gunman was Korean set off a torrent of discussion and reflection among Korean-Americans, who debated whether pressures within the community may have contributed to Cho’s isolation.

For many, the burden of fulfilling the “American dream” can be immense, said Josephine Kim, a Harvard lecturer who specializes in mental-health issues among Asian-Americans.

She cited a study showing that 76 percent of Asian-Americans treated in emergency rooms for attempted suicide cite intergenerational conflicts with their parents.

n AP writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.

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