The Virginia Tech Shooting Essay

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This paper analyzes the case of Seung-Hui Cho, who killed dozens at Virginia Tech in 2007. The paper examines Cho’s background, his mental illness, the way in which reports of the investigation and incident were changed to hide the inept responses of administrators and police. The paper also examines changes that were made to protocol following the massacre and discusses lessons that can be learned from this incident and how institutions can better prepare themselves to ensure that this kind of tragedy is prevented in the future.

Keywords: Seung-Hui Cho, school shooting, mental illness student

Revisions to On and Off Campus Reports

As Urbina (2009a) notes, “during the worst campus shooting spree in American history, Virginia Tech officials locked down some administrative offices and warned their own families more than an hour and a half before the rest of the campus was alerted, according to revisions made in the state’s official report on the rampage.” Notification delays were longer than originally reported both on and off campus, and the manner in which students were protected was slipshod at best: for example, “students who were initially locked down at West Ambler Johnston residence hall, where the first two victims were killed, were later released from the building by the police and allowed to attend their 9 a.m. classes. Two of those students then went to class in Norris Hall, where they were killed by the gunman” (Urbina, 2009a). Likewise, University officials failed to notify the family of Seung-Hui Cho’s first victim, even though she was taken to the hospital where she survived for more than two hours before succumbing to her injuries. Virginia Tech’s delay meant that the victim’s family never got a chance to see her one last time alive. Instead, the University was more focused on locking down administrators—like the workers in the University’s president’s offices, where a warning was given a full half hour before a formal warning was made to students (Urbina, 2009a). Police also took a half hour longer in responding to the alert than was originally stated in the initial report (Urbina, 2009a).

Seung-Hui Cho’s Background

Seung-Hui Cho was born in South Korea and raised there until he and his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was eight. His life had never been easy, and in South Korea, his family had lived in a poor tenement dwelling “in a Seoul suburb in a rented basement apartment—usually the cheapest in a multi-unit building” (Chang, 2007). From Seoul, the family moved to Detroit then to the Washington, D.C. region to be among the South Korean community there. As a teen, Cho was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, for which he was prescribed treatment (Lyttle, 2012). Having to learn English in a new country without a strong support system undoubtedly had a negative impact on him, especially as he found it difficult to express himself. As he grew, he exhibited more and more disturbing patterns of behavior and held animosity towards his parents’ Christian religious beliefs, though he also railed against the “moral degeneracy on campus” in a note written just before his rampage (Harnden, 2007).

Indicators of Conflict, Aggression, and Mental Instability

There were several indicators of conflict, aggression and mental instability in Cho’s life, beginning with his anxiety disorders, mutism and depression in middle school and lasting well into his 20s before his rampage and suicide. He wrote angry, violent-filled stories at school but was unsocial and uncommunicative with peers (Harnden, 2007). He repressed a lot of feelings, which erupted and exploded in a violent massacre. Cho was diagnosed by New River Valley Community Services Board in 2005 as being mentally ill and needing hospitalization after a roommate took Cho to the facility for evaluation following Cho’s admission of suicidal thoughts (Schulte & Jenkins, 2007). However, Cho never received treatment.

Timeline of the Shootings

West Ambler Johnston Hall

Shortly after 7 a.m. on 16 April 2007, Cho shot and two students in West Ambler Johnston Hall.

Norris Hall

At 9:45 am (more than 2 hours later), Cho entered Norris Hall, where he had a sociology class. Here he killed 30 people before taking his own life within the space of 10 minutes (Johnson, 2007).

How the Dorm Shooting Impacted Law Enforcement’s Response

Law enforcement locked down West Ambler Johnston Hall until 9 a.m., at which point students were permitted to attend the rest of their morning classes. However, other offices in the school—such as the president’s offices were still under lockdown, which indicates that law enforcement severely bungled their job of protecting students. The dorm shooting led law enforcement to believe the situation was contained and confined to the dorm. Cho, however, had moved on to the campus to make another attack. Law enforcement should have alerted students and faculty sooner that the location of the shooter was unknown (Urbina, 2009a).

Mental Health Providers

The behaviors that led to Cho’s interactions with behavioral and mental health practitioners included his interactions with students and teachers from middle school onwards. On numerous occasions, he startled students and teachers with his assessments of them and of himself. In the 8th grade, he wrote about suicidal and homicidal themes, which alerted his teachers to the need for a psychiatric evaluation, which was conducted at the Multicultural Center for Human Services (Lyttle, 2012). While at the University, he was also taken to a clinic after divulging suicidal thoughts to his roommate (Schulte & Jenkins, 2007). He was also received at the University’s Cook Counseling Center, though these records were not discovered till later.

Seung-Hui Cho’s Diagnosis

Cho was diagnosed with selective mutism, major depressive disorder, severe anxiety and as being mentally ill….....

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Chang, J. (2007). Gunman’s family had hard life in Korea. Retrieved from

Harnden, T. (2007). The roommate’s story. Retrieved from

Johnson, A. (2007). College gunman disturbed teachers, classmates. Retrieved from

Lyttle, L. (2012). School violence case study at Virginia Tech. Retrieved from

Schulte, B. & Jenkins, C. (2007). Cho didn’t get court-ordered treatment. Retrieved from

Urbina, I. (2009a). Report on Virginia Tech shooting finds notification delays.Retrieved from

Urbina, I. (2009b). Va. Tech gunman’s mental health records found. Retrieved from

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