City Paper is not for tourists
Today, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho‘s family has allowed for the release of his newly discovered mental-health records. The records were located recently at the home of the former-head of the school’s counseling center. WaPo reports the not-stunning news that Virginia Tech’s counselors essentially blew off Cho in late 2005—-nearly two years before he went on his shooting rampage. He was never treated at the center despite a court order, and the recommendation of an area hospital.
“The long-awaited records, which were taken home by the fired director of Cook Counseling Center, do not provide a clearer insight into the mind of the college junior who would later kill 32 students and teachers before shooting himself in the deadliest shooting by an individual in U.S. history. Instead, they provide another window into the broken mental health system that allowed him to slip through its cracks.”
The records do indeed read like a troubled student falling through the cracks.
Cho visited the counseling center several times in late 2005: Nov. 30, twice on Dec. 12, and Dec. 14. An email sent that month from one of Virginia Tech’s housing coordinators lays out some of what Cho was up to. It stated that Cho had a “history of erratic behavior and counseling-based issues over the course of the semester.” And states that several school personnel were familiar with Cho’s issues. It goes on:
“Cho’s suitemate called VTPD because Cho expressed suicidal ideations and had previously had ‘blades’ in the room. Cho went to the Police Station on his own will to talk to an ACCESS counselor.”
This is the incident that brought Cho before a judge. The judge issued a temporary detention order; Cho would spend a night at the New River Valley Medical Center for further counseling. He as at the Center on December 13, 2005. The new records include reports taken at the Center.
New River Valley’s document shows that Cho was diagnosed there as having a “mood disorder.” It goes on to state:
“The patient is very resistant to discussing how he feels and if he has any symptoms of depression or mood changes. He stated he E-mailed a friend yesterday that he felt like killing himself. The patient states that he was just kidding around, but that the friend ended up calling the police….He says it’s all a misunderstanding. The patient denies suicidal ideation. However, he is very non-verbal and did not discuss his feelings.”
Under history of present illness:
“Apparently, he had been told by this girl not to instant message her anymore. The message was left outside on the erase board outside this girl’s room. Patient claims that he did not leave this message. However, he became upset at being accused…Later he told his sweetmate (sic) that he may as well kill himself because ‘everybody hates me.’ He did not have any plan or intent to hurt himself.”
Under medication history, the attending doctor wrote that Cho did not answer if he had any previous history with depression, noting that “he just looks down at the floor.”
Under social history, the attending doctor wrote:
“The patient is a junior at Virginia Tech studying in English. He wants to be a creative writer. Does not want to go to graduate school. Lives on campus with a roommate. He says they get along okay. He has lived in Northern Virginia for 10 years. Prior to that he lived in Korea. He denies use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Occasionally he states he goes to the gym, but otherwise does not discuss what he does for fun. Denies having any hobbies….States he has an exam tomorrow in British Literature.”
At the time, Cho was taking Ativan for anxiety, the document states: During a physical exam, the Center noted Cho’s behavior:
“Patient very non-verbal, very quiet, sits in the chair looking down at the floor, does not blink. Often does not answer questions, or perhaps shakes his head yes or no. When he does speak, it’s very slow, very soft spoken. No smile, no laughter, no crying. Patient does not blink. The patient speaks so softly it’s almost difficult to hear him.”
A Center document goes on to describe his stay:
“The patient spent overnight in the hospital, essentially it does not appear that he had any serious intent when he made the suicidal statement. It appears to be more an act of frustration. He was counseled about the need to need to act responsibly and the fact that in his adult life his actions will be followed by consequences. He seems to receive that message fairly well.”
The Center stated that Cho should be treated for his mood disorder on an out-patient basis. The next day, Cho visited V-Tech’s counseling facility. Records show he met with an employee there for 30 minutes and denied wanting harm himself or others. Cho was encouraged to come back in January.
Cho had sought help from the center before. He talked to a counselor on the phone on December 12. He indicated that he had trouble sleeping and interacting with his peers. On Nov. 30, he told another counselor that he had been in a depressed mood for two years, that he has no relationships with peers, and that he gets anxiety attacks when he has to talk to people. They listed him as “troubled.”
But records indicate, Cho did not make a follow-up appointment after his last 30 minute visit. He told the intake worker that he did not yet know his class schedule for the following semester.
In one of the records, a pre-screening for River Valley, it stated that Cho “is unable to come up with a safety plan to adequately ensure safety.”
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.