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The Virginia Tech massacre that took place on April 16th, 2007, occurred due to a variety of miscommunication throughout Seung-Hui Cho's life and on the actual day of the incident. Cho's mental background and short-lived stays at institutions were left unattended by Virginia Tech, and therefore no treatment was taken care of by the school. The lack of communication on campus to make students aware of what was taking place was also insufficient. Police and officials were unaware of suspicious activity that Cho was doing and suspected wrong individuals. As a result of this miscommunication, Cho was left alone for over two hours to commit the violent crime of murdering thirty-three people, including him when it was all said and done.
Figure 1: Virginia Tech Campus Location claudiocaprara.itThe massacre that took place on April 16th, 2007, at 7:15 a.m. in West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed dormitory, and again two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building, on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, was one that occurred due to a variety of miscommunication throughout twenty-three year old Seung-Hui Cho's life, as well as, on the actual day of the incident (Massacre 2007).
Cho's unstable mental background and short lived stays at institutions were either ignored by or simply left untended to by Virginia Tech, and therefore no treatment was taken care of by the school. The lack of communication on campus to make students aware of what was taking place was also insufficient. The incident proved that more than just an email to students is appropriate when a shooter is on campus. Police and officials were unaware of suspicious activity that Cho was doing and suspected wrong individuals after Cho initially killed two people in the dormitories. This took up necessary time needed to find Cho and gave him time to change clothes, mail out his package to MSNBC News, and then go continue his rampage. As a result of this miscommunication, Cho was left alone for over two hours to commit the violent crime of murdering twenty-seven students of Virginia Tech, five faculty members, and finally himself (Massengill 2007).
The purpose of this report is to discuss the event itself, the miscommunication leading up to the massacre, and the miscommunication on the day of the event. Also, the communication improvements and aftermath will be discussed along with a closing that helps keep these thirty-two individuals in the minds and hearts of everyone.
The Massacre at Virginia Tech
West Ambler Johnston Shootings
The tragic event began around 7:15 a.m. in West Ambler Johnston co-ed dormitory; however, Cho was spotted outside of it at 6:47 a.m. To begin this rampage, Cho shot two people at this dormitory even though he lived in and no real connection is seen for the cause of the shootings. The victims in West Ambler were Emily J. Hilscher, a freshman, and Ryan C. Clark, a Resident Advisor. It is said that Cho may have believed that he had a relationship with this girl even though it wasn't true, thus she was first. Clark heard and responded to it and was then shot as well (Massengill 2007).
Norris Hall Shootings
Figure 2: Shooting Locations wikipedia.org Two hours after the initial shootings, Cho was still left alone to do as he wished until about 9:15-9:30 a.m. when he is spotted around Norris Hall, which is the engineering building located across campus. Here the rampage truly begins and ends. 9:40 a.m. the shootings begin in Norris Hall, but prior to this, Cho prepared by chaining the three main doors shut and placing a note stating that a bomb would go off if the doors were attempted to be opened. Shortly after, the shootings began and in a matter of eleven minutes it was done. In this short amount of time, Cho went up and down a hallway on the second floor and killed thirty people, including five faculty members (Massengill 2007). Once police entered the building through a door that Cho was unable to chain shut due to its locking mechanism and reached the second floor, Cho shot himself ending this tragedy and putting the death count to a total of thirty-three people making it the deadliest campus shooting in United States history (Massacre 2007).
Figure 3: Seung-Hui Cho mylifeofcrime.wordpress.com Cho was born in South Korea and migrated to the United States at a very young age. He was a South Korean citizen with a permanent United States resident status. At the age of three, Cho was described to be quiet, shy, and socially awkward child that wasn't open to physical contact of any kind leading some to say he was borderline autistic. As early as eighth grade, Cho was diagnosed with severe depression and selective mutism, a social anxiety that causes him not to speak. Cho was put into therapy throughout middle school and high school until he was of age to decide to stop going. It was said that Columbine seriously influenced Cho and his writing, which he did best since it was his only form of self-expression, changed afterwards showing signs of darker person. Cho applied to Virginia Tech and was accepted (Massengill 2007). Due to federal privacy laws that prohibit disclosing information about one's mental health and problems if at such a low tier on the spectrum of bad mental health, Virginia Tech was not aware of his poor mental health background at all (Shuchman 2007). Also, since Cho was left on such a low level on the mental health spectrum, he was able to purchase guns legally. This miscommunication provides that guns should be left out of the hands of all mentally unstable individuals, no matter their degree.
Looking back on the entire situation as a whole, as the Virginia Tech Review Panel did, there were various signs during Cho's college career that signaled he was in need of help. Cho was investigated for reported stalking and harassing of two female students and was even said to introduce himself as "?" through texts to people. There were reports that Cho's classroom and social behaviors were disturbing and after many different people of the community, such as Virginia Tech police officers, professors, and students, recognized that he was mentally troubled, state psychiatric evaluators briefly committed him to a psychiatric hospital. It is unclear whether anyone from the school monitored him after his release. These discoveries have left investigators wondering whether the killings could have been prevented. There was no communication between all these events even though it could've been an early sign that Cho's selective mutism was developing into schizophrenia (Shuchman 2007). The clear sign of this is the suggestion that the killing of Emily Hilscher was one of romantic background despite her saying that she never even met or spoke to him prior. All of these signs should've been connected and Cho should've been carefully watched, especially after his stay at the psychiatric hospital (Massengill 2007). This miscommunication allowed him to build up a hate inside himself because nobody was there to help. The hate, in turn, became an obsessive fantasy that he eventually made reality to create his destructive demise.
Day of the Massacre
Cho's life long miscommunication of his mental health built up to the event that occurred, however, it is said that the communication, or lack of, during the morning of April 16th truly created the scale of the disaster. Virginia Tech was no different than most schools with its policies, and it would be hard to say that any school would've done better, yet it is clear more could've been done. Leading up to the day, Cho was reported practicing chaining the doors, however, this wasn't reported until the actual day of the event. This began the series of miscommunications that made this tragedy worse.
The police initially assumed that the first two shootings at West Ambler Johnston Hall were either a murder suicide or at least ones of a less serious nature than random shootings. When they arrived at 4040 at around 7:30 a.m., roughly fifteen minutes after the shootings, they began asking questions to get an idea of the suspect. Since Emily Hilscher's friend told police that Hilscher had a boyfriend who picked her up every Monday morning and brought her to school and was an avid gun user, this was their immediate suspect. However, once the boyfriend was found, his story checked out. Meanwhile at 8:25 a.m., the Virginia Tech Policy group met to decide how to notify the students of the homicide even though there were no guns found or even probable suspects, thus the school should've been aware and made the students aware that the shooter was still on the loose and dangerous. It wasn't until 9:26 a.m. that an email was sent out notifying every one of the dormitory shootings. This allowed Cho almost a full two hours to change clothes, reload his weapons, mail out his manifesto to MSNBC, and prepare and stalk his next target. This is where the true miscommunication was because some sort of notification to make the students and faculty aware needed to be done, and it definitely shouldn't have been in the form of an email (Massengill 2007). Immediately after, the second round of shootings began in Norris Hall, which in all likeliness probably never even saw the email.
The miscommunications with purchasing weapons along with the privacy laws, such as HIPPA and FERPA, that left Cho able to slip under the radar at a big school were the main problems with the day of the event making Cho not even a probable suspect. The lack of communication between the Virginia Tech board and student body were the main problems making this event much worse than it could've been.
As talked about previously, the Virginia Tech Review Panel was created by Tim Kaine, Governor of Virginia, to review the events leading up to the shootings and to see what all-around could've been done better. They documented countless interviews and reviewed lots of records about the actual incident, what lead up to it, and what can be done in the future to prevent something like this. The panel found these details to be most significant about the entire situation: Cho's life leading up the event, federal and state laws concerning privacy of health and education records, gun control issues and how Cho purchased them, actions of law enforcement following the shootings, emergency medical care onsite and off, work of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, and the service provided for surviving victims of the shootings and others injured, the families and loved ones of those killed and injured, members of the university community, and caregivers. The panel ultimately decided that Virginia Tech could've saved lives but because of miscommunication throughout Cho's life and the tragedy itself as discussed in detail earlier, they were unable to do so (Massengill 2007).
The aftermath of this event sparked debate on many topics. The gun control debate was brought back up simply because Cho, a mentally unstable individual, was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols despite structured laws that prevent this. The incident and its aftermath energized student activists to rally seeking to overturn bans that prevent gun permit holders from carrying their weapons on college campuses. A new group formed called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, and as of March 2008, it claimed to have 16,000 members at 500 campuses nationwide (Boccella 2008). The response to how gun laws affected the massacre was divided. No major changes were made and Virginia Tech still is supposed to have a gun free campus. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine condemned the gun law debate saying, "To those who want to make this into some sort of crusade, I say take this elsewhere" (Gopnik 2007)
Another debated issue was how Cho, who showed signs of poor mental health, was left unnoticed at Virginia Tech as discussed earlier. The main aspect debated was that following Cho's return to Virginia Tech after his admission to the psychiatric hospital, why wasn't he counseled and watched after. "The counseling piece is a critical part in the college environment, and there truly was no counseling," said emergency physician Marcus Martin, a member of the review panel, on June 11 (Shuchman 2007). College mental health specialists debated the best way to keep other disturbed students from falling through the cracks as Cho did. Close follow up is extremely necessary after being released from psychiatric hospitalization, many wonder why he wasn't and most schools are trying to learn from Virginia Tech's mistakes.
On June 17, 2008, Virginia Circuit Court Judge Theodore J. Markow approved an eleven million dollar settlement in a suit against the state of Virginia with 24 of the 32 victims' families. The settlement also covered some of the injured, however, the other eight victims' families chose either not to file for a settlement or were simply unresolved (Massacre 2007).
Figure 4: The Victims eglobe1.com In conclusion, the Virginia Tech disaster was one that will not be soon forgotten. It is one that needs to teach America and even the world how to prevent this from happening at a place that is closer to home. The miscommunications from this tragedy both throughout Cho's life and on the day of the event do the teaching and the review panel in the aftermath make it easier to learn by laying it out for us. Hopefully, laws continue to develop or are even dismantled as a result of this disaster and we all better from it as a whole. The thirty-two victims from this tragedy will be missed, and I hope that their families know it's not just me expressing my deepest condolences, but it's nationwide, and I'm sure we all hope that something like this is not in our foreseeable future.