Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More Questions than Answers

The coverage of the VT massacre continues and it seems that little information is being provided. The gunman was possibly a student, maybe even a teaching assistant, but this is not yet known.[Update: The shooter--at least in the second shooting is now known to be a VT student]. It would make sense, since he seemed to have good access to the buildings and knew how to quickly get around in the engineering building. The authorities are not saying if the two incidents in the dorm and later Norris building are connected, yet one would think they would be. My guess is that this was a student of some sort whose girlfriend was seeing another man and the killing was out of revenge--both at her, her new suitor and the school. Perhaps he was having a hard time at the school and had decided to kill himself. Suicide is often the accompaniment to mass murder now in our society.

In many of the news reports, students who saw the killer's face remark on how calm and unemotional his face appeared. People mistakenly believe that the killer would look angry and deranged in the act of mass murder--but that is a different kind of violence--affective violence in which a person feels an imminent threat from another person etc. By the time the killer gets to the stage of actually taking revenge on his targets, he is in a warrior-like state, on a mission, and in predatory mode. In predatory violence, the killer is generally calm and cool, there is minimal or no accelerated heart rate, breathing, or flushing of the skin. There is no conscious emotion and the killer may feel emotionally nothing at that point (for more on predatory violence, take a look at J.Reid Meloy's book, Violence Risk and Threat Assessment: A Practical Guide for Mental Health and Criminal Justice Professionals).

By the time, the killer walked into those classrooms, my guess is that he had rehearsed his mission a number of times, all in his head, while practicing private rituals to encourage him to take the steps necessary to overcome any fear or doubt he might have had. He is the hunter and they are the prey. At that point, nothing will stop this type of killer except the gun they put to their own head or the shot from an officer or private citizen's weapon.

I have many questions. What brought the killer to this point? Could someone have intervened before he went on his rampage? Could the school authorities have done a better job of warning students about the potential of a gunman on the loose? When you have a double murder in a dorm and a gunman who has not been caught, doesn't it make sense to let students know what is happening? For the killer has had the opportunity to think through his act a thousand times in private and has the element of surprise. The students and teachers who were wounded or killed had no warning at all. Would the warning have helped? I don't know, but it couldn't have hurt.

Update: The gunman was a jilted lover who apparently killed his girlfriend and her new lover. [Correction: The jilted lover theory may be false according to the media, the male student killed in the dorm was an RA coming to assist a female resident of that dorm].



Blogger Unknown said...

"Suicide is often the accompaniment to mass murder now in our society."


"Suicide took the lives of 30,622 people in 2001 (CDC 2004)."

How many out of 30K suicides warrants the term 'often'. I don't think you thought that one through.

9:40 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At that point, nothing will stop this type of killer except the gun they put to their own head or the shot from an officer or private citizen's weapon."

Please don't encourage the attitude of "I don't have a gun, so I can do nothing but cower." Any sort of fighting back may save lives - anything might be a makeshift weapon. A high school classroom of fifteen year olds won't have guns but they should fight rather than lay down and die.

9:40 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These things always happen in April (Columbine, Virginia Tech - even the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City). Why is it such a stressful month? Getting ready for final exams and graduation? Coming out of winter hibernation? April showers? Hitler's birthday? Wouldn't you expect more of them in the winter months?

9:51 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Sebastian said...

Are there any kind of behavioral markers that can predict that someone is at risk for committing this type of act? Or are these types of people generally normal until they snap?

9:52 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...


That's what I was thinking. I don't know what I would have done in the situation, though I guess I would have been one of those to jump out the window, but it surprises me that there are no reports of anyone trying to swing a desk at his head, or attack in any way.

9:53 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I meant that the majority of those who committ mass murder go on to kill themselves or know they will die in the process. In some sense, it is a form of suicide, in that they die at the scene by their own hand or that of the police etc.


I agree with you that aggressing against the perp may save lives. In most cases, no one in our passive society will do this, hence most mass murderers thus far in the schools have been stopped by a gun. Of course people should fight back. I encourage this and if you read other posts of mine, you will see that I agree with you.

Anonymous 9:51,

I think that the tension does build up as the year goes on and by the end of a school year, the full realization of how poorly things are going and the stressors hit certain people more severely at that point.

9:54 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sort of thing happens in America now. What a sad truth, but it is a truth. Armed people running amuck, killing innocents and/or people who have "wronged" them. It is part of our lives now.

And I think we need more conceal carry permits to deal with this. Lots more. I am going to get mine now. I am no longer willing to be a potential sheep for some madman's slaughter. Increasing concealed carry permits will not return us to the wild west days, they are already here.


10:00 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I understand it, this young man has only been in this country one year. I wonder, did he not have anyone at home that he could call to confide in? I would be interested to find out what his home situation was like.

10:23 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger SarahW said...

The end of April is when school is winding down; if he wanted to have access to his intended pool of victims he would have to act prior to the end of the semester, which is coming right up.

The aggressor in the shootings bought his gun in early March, and put a bit of effort into his crime, suggesting he had been ruminating on his plan for many weeks if not a longer time. His revenge on the nasty world was going to be served cold.

He may not have been carrying ID, but a person who identified the shooter before the press and claimed to have sold (with all proper paperwork) at least one of the weapons used, said agents told him the serial number had been ground off the weapong, but that the receipt for the weapon was found on the person of the dead shooter; that indicates to me he had perhaps tried to plot the perfect murder of the girl who rejected him, if she wouldn't come back ----but then decided he wanted everyone pay for his miserable existence, and not only did not want to hide his identity, but wanted to make sure his story would be told.

It's not that ladies don't lash out when depressed or cornered,- but men seem a lot more interested in taking out strangers. I wonder why that is.

10:23 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Remember that mass killings like this are rare, that is why we have so much trouble predicting them, there is little to go on. Mass shootings in the US have gone up a tiny bit, but not much, so I don't think we are into the wild west yet. For more on the number of mass shootings, take a look at the Volokh conspiracy post here:



Women are general more "relational" in their killing, that is, they kill intimates such as spouses or children or those they care for. Women tend more to poison or kill in ways that are not as dramatic, hence, there is less drama and less coverage. Also, it feels safer, something about strangers being killed makes one think that they could be next whereas family killings or intimate killings are more contained and make people feel that if the killer does not know them, there is less chance of harm. True to some degree.

10:28 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...

Getting your concealed carry is a great idea right now.

A sickening side effect my husband has noticed after these killing sprees occur, is that the price of the model of gun used in the crime goes up, and dealers run out of them quickly.

It would be nice to have a process by which a college student could become a certified "armed student". Same with faculty.

Ideally, if the whole population was required to carry, the commission of these crimes would go way down. Where these kinds of laws are in place, violent crime drops markedly.

10:32 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sebastian: It seems like every time something like this happens, there's the obligatory media report that suggests that the person was absolutely normal up to the day of the incident -- the prototypical "He seemed like such a nice boy!" It's part of the MSM narrative that says that us ordinary Joes can't be trusted with weapons because the slightest little thing will push us over the edge.

But in every such case that I've ever looked into, the perp was a deeply disturbed person and the warning signs had been there for a long time, but were ignored or improperly addressed by the people closest to him. We know now that the VT perp had been planning his assault for at least a month. I'm willing to bet that there were signs, which will now be recalled by people that associated with him.

10:38 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger El Duderino said...

How to warn an entire campus that large? I went to UConn and if something were to happen at one end of campus you may never hear about it at the other end. Would it have reasonable to "lock down" the campus after the first shootings were reported? In hindsight it would seem so. But who can say if the murderer wouldn't have been locked in with his victims?

10:39 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger sophizo said...


You should make sure to get your facts straight before posting an article from another country. Read the following article from the Washington Post to get the real story:
Centreville Student Was Va. Tech Shooter

The shooter was from just outside Washington, DC (my home) and the guy he killed in the dorm was an RA, not her new lover. Now that we know the shooter was from here (DC), we'll be getting more details about him than probably most of the country. I would suggest keeping track of the story using The Washington Post as your source from now on and not a website from the UK. Since a HUGE number of VT graduates live here, they will want up-to-the-minute coverage until this whole thing is sorted out.

11:12 AM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cho had shown recent signs of violent, aberrant behavior, according to an investigative source, including setting a fire in a dorm room and allegedly stalking some women." (quote found on Hot Air)

It appears that the young woman was an acquaintence, if even that.

My question to those in the know, why was he allowed to remain enrolled in school if he was showing "violent, aberrant behavior?" It would be interesting to know what his records from high school include.

Do we protect the privacy of the mentally ill while placing the general population at risk?

12:36 PM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see what comes out before rushing to the conclusion that this guy ought to have been expelled. It's important to remember we live in a society where there's a presumption of innocence. Although a university isn't a court room, I would not be comfortable with universities expelling students because of unprovable allegations.

I also would hate to see this lead to "zero tolerance" policies like we see in primary and secondary schools, and cause all matter of relatively innocuous activity to get people expelled.

12:45 PM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoy your CCWs while you can. This incident may inspire some massive changes in Virginia's current firearms laws. Happened in England, happened in Australia - could happen here.

2:52 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Ron E. Marks said...

You said "Suicide is often the accompaniment to mass murder now in our society"

I wonder... Is the suicide planned ahead of time as the finale or does it come after as a result of an overwhelming feeling of remorse at what the shooter just did? Maybe it is just a simple feeling of "there is no way I can get away with this!"

3:53 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Ron E. Marks said...

Bugs said...
Enjoy your CCWs while you can

I cannot see how changing gun laws regarding CCW can make any difference. Most violent crimes, in my understanding from research, are commited using stolen weapons. The legitimate gun owners are for the most part legitimate. It's the criminals that are "criminal". Criminal's usually do not legally purchase a registered gun and carry license. IMO of course. Thanks for reading.

3:57 PM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't like expounding on this political bullshit while people are still in the hospital bleeding and others are lying in the morgue waiting for their parents to take them home. Guns don't matter - people do.

However, my point was that incidents like this put politicians under great pressure to "do something." The obvious "something" is to enact stricter gun control laws. Doesn't matter if they work or not - it's the symbolism that counts. the politicians will be seen "doing something" about this terrible tragedy.

Meanwhile, in the real world where Cho and his victims exist - life goes on...

4:24 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

The worst US school massacre occurred in 1927. A farmer was upset about a tax hike and bombed an elementary school.

11:30 AM, April 19, 2007  
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