- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

Virginia State Police are investigating how gunman Seung-hui Cho’s missing mental health records ended up in the home of a former campus doctor.

The records, which document treatment Cho received at Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center prior to his April 2007 rampage on the school’s campus, were returned to authorities last week, officials said Wednesday.

Dr. Robert Miller found the records at his home July 16, then brought them to campus, according to a memo sent from the university counsel’s office to the governor’s counsel.

An attorney for Dr. Miller told the university that the records were removed from the counseling center - along with the records of some other students - when Dr. Miller departed as director of the facility more than a year before the shooting.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the “state police are now investigating the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, whereabouts and discovery of the missing documents from Cook Counseling Center in order to determine if, in fact, a criminal act was committed.”

When reached at his private practice by the Associated Press, Dr. Miller declined to comment.

Mark Owczarski, a spokesman for Virginia Tech, said the counseling center searched extensively for the records, which were also being sought by state police, but that Dr. Miller told officials he did not know where they were.

Mr. Owczarski said he could not comment on the “nature” of the records’ discovery. He said as soon as the university was informed of the files’ return, officials informed the police and the governor.

“People were aware he had sought treatment there. And people who were involved in that treatment and those discussions certainly were aware of Seung-hui Cho’s mental health and the interaction of the Virginia Tech community with him. But the file was not found. And that led to a lot of concern about what had happened to it and who was involved,” Gov. Tim Kaine said Wednesday.

The governor said the records would be made public shortly, either with the consent of Cho’s family or through a court order.

“We think it is imperative the files be made public as quickly as possible,” he said.

In April, the families of slain students Erin Peterson and Julie Pryde filed a civil lawsuit, which seeks damages from the state, the Blacksburg, Va., school and its counseling center, top university officials and an area mental health agency that treated Cho. The lawsuit charges negligence leading to the massacre, during which Cho killed two people in a dormitory and 30 others two hours later in a classroom building.

Prior to the shooting, a judge declared Cho a danger to himself during a court commitment hearing in 2005 and ordered him to receive outpatient mental health care. Cho never received treatment.

The discovered files could help support their case that Virginia Tech was aware of Cho’s mental state and did not handle it effectively.

The families of 24 slain students and faculty last year reached an $11 million settlement with the state in lieu of a lawsuit. The settlement also paid for lifetime medical help to 18 injured in the shootings.

Peter Grenier, of the D.C. law firm Bode & Grenier, which negotiated the million-dollar settlement, said the discovery would not affect the settlement.

“Not in the least bit,” he said. “His prior medical records were irrelevant. Our claims focused solely on what Virginia Tech did or did not do after the first two murders that morning. Whether they had those records or not was irrelevant to our theory under the law.”

Families of the victims expressed surprise Wednesday at the discovery.

“I’m still more interested in what’s in [the records] than that they’ve been found,” said Andrew Goddard, whose son, Colin, was injured in the attacks and who now works for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“I think he was just as amazed as I was that [the records] were in such an obvious place,” Mr. Goddard said. “Are doctors allowed to take records for patients when they no longer work for that office? Are those the only records he has, or is there a big stack in his house? Shoddy police work over there comes to mind. We’re not trying to nail someone. But if it turns out from those records that Miller considered Cho to be dangerous, that needs to be brought out.”

Vincent Bove, a New Jersey-based crime specialist who advised several of the families after the shooting, said the discovery of the records “undermines the credibility of Virginia Tech as never before.”

“It is unconscionable that after all this time [the records] are finally appearing,” he said. “What else is not being shared with the public?”

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