The Warning Signs that Could Have Prevented the Virginia Tech Shootings

After Columbine it didn’t seem possible that an even bigger school violence tragedy was possible, but unfortunately the Virginia Tech massacre proved to be just that, going down as the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in the history of the US. In April of 2007, a Seung-Hui Cho who was a senior at Virginia Tech, killed 32 people in a matter of a couple of hours and then went on to kill himself.

Cho started his killing spree in one campus residence in the early hours of the morning, then went back to his dorm to change his clothes which were covered in blood. While the police were dealing with the shootings only a building away, Cho took the time to delete his emails and remove his computer’s hard drive. He then went to a nearby post office where he mailed a package containing things he had written as well as some video to NBC News. That was almost 2 hours after the initial shooting rampage. He then continued on to another building on campus holding a backpack that contained more than 400 rounds of ammunition, 2 guns, a knife, hammer and several chains and locks. While in Norris Hall, Cho locked three of the main exists using the chains and locks and included a note on the door that claimed a bomb would explode if anyone attempted to open the door. He went on to fire approximately 174 rounds during that second attack that lasted only approximately 10 minutes. During that time he revisited many of the rooms that he had already shot into earlier and then killed himself with a gunshot to the head. By the time the day was over, Cho had killed 27 students and 5 faculty members, wounded 17 more people with gunshots and 6 more were injured as a result of trying to escape.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Virginia Tech massacre was that the gunman had a known history of being mentally unstable and possibly dangerous, yet continued to attend the school as his condition only deteriorated and made him a bigger threat to himself and others. He had been diagnosed with a form of social anxiety disorder and depression in the eighth grade and went on to receive treatment for the next few years from doctors, counselors and other professionals. He voluntarily stopped receiving treatment a few years later. Sadly, none of his history was shared with Virginia Tech due to privacy laws. During his junior year of college various professors encouraged him to seek counseling after finding his behavior and his writing to be disturbing. He also was investigated for the stalking and harassment of two students that led to his being declared mentally ill and ordered to go to therapy by a special justice in Virginia. Again, none of these serious warning signs were followed up on before the day of the shootings.