April 18th, 2007

“Like talking to a hole”

As more details emerge on the background of the Virginia Tech shooter, it turns out that his history was one long, loud warning sign that something extremely bad was about to happen.

So how is it that this young man—who was known to have set fires and stalked women; who barely spoke, never made eye contact, and seemed profoundly depressed; who was friendless and expressionless; and whose writings so alarmed his classmates that they were afraid to come to class—how did he slip so readily through the cracks?

The answer is that the cracks can probably never be sufficiently filled without sacrificing more of our individual freedoms than we are willing to give up.

It’s not as though the alarms hadn’t been sounded in the case of Cho. His teachers, for example, found his behavior so profoundly disturbing that school authorities were alerted. But their hands, those authorities reported, were tied, because he had made no threats.

Or rather, he hadn’t made the right kind of threats. Lucinda Roy, who him tutored him separately because his presence in a classroom had become too disturbing to the other students, alerted everyone she could think of: the administration, the counseling office, and the campus police. It’s unclear whether Cho had much (or any) counseling—but law enforcement could do nothing about him, apparently, since his threats were “veiled” rather than “something explicit.”

What about involuntary commitment? Virgina, like most states, has procedures in place, but they are stringent. Usually the commitment process is quite temporary, anyway, and designed merely to get a patient’s meds under control. The days of state mental hospitals warehousing large numbers of potentially dangerous people who have committed no serious crime are over–and that’s a good thing, since that system was widely abused. And it’s fairly clear that by the standards we now use, Cho could not have been committed against his will.

From the descriptions of Cho’s disordered personality, it appears that he was the sort of individual who is so deeply disturbed in so many areas of human interaction, and so resistant to even the idea of counseling, that talk therapy would not have been of much help, anyway. So, short of commitment for an indefinite period of time, the mental health community probably could not have helped him.

But what of the school? The school probably could have dismissed him, and given the severity of his behavior it would have been well within its rights to have done so. Instead, it bent over backwards to accommodate him (the private teacher, for example) and hoped for the best, while his fellow students chillingly speculated on whether he would become a serial shooter.

But a school dismissal would most definitely not have done away with the problem. In fact, it could have exacerbated it by increasing his anger and desire for revenge (not that that would have been a good argument for not dismissing him; it’s simply a fact).

Would a more stringent background check have prevented Cho from purchasing the gun, at least? Perhaps. But he easily could have gotten one illegally; it’s really not all that difficult, if one is determined to do so. And my guess is that Cho was extremely determined.

What else? Well, it’s not something that proponents of gun control like to hear, but the evidence from research indicates that the only factor demonstrated to be effective against serial shootings is the carrying of concealed weapons by trained and certified portions of the population. Researchers John R. Lott Jr. and William M. Landes from the State University of New York and the University of Chicago Law School, respectively, have come to this conclusion in a paper entitled “Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement .”

They evaluated all sorts of factors relating to gun control in particular. The conclusion: the only one that mattered was the carrying of concealed weapons by law-abiding citizens. This worked both to discourage the number of attacks—perhaps because potential mass murderers knew that their likelihood of carrying off such killings would be reduced by the presence of another gunman/woman—as well as the severity of whatever such attacks did occur.

Remedies may be difficult to come by, but one thing is clear: when a person is described as “like talking to a hole” (as tutor Lucinda Roy memorably stated about Cho), watch out. That is the single most common characteristic of those who murder (see this, about Mohammed Atta’s eyes): dead eyes from which the soul appears to have been scooped out.

“Dead eyes” can’t be a criterion for involuntary commitment, I suppose—but if I were to design one, that would be it.

54 Responses to ““Like talking to a hole””

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    Some folks just need killing.

  2. gcotharn Says:

    I mention these not to make any particular point, or recommendation, but only b/c the VT story reminds me of it.

    First: Ymarsakar’s comment is an old Texas saying, from frontier days, after someone had been dispatched to the hereafter:
    “He needed killin’.”

    Second: I’m reminded of a story I’m pretty sure I learned from Instapundit – so it would’ve happened within the last 5 years or so:

    in the rural, sparsely populated mountains of central California, neighbors banded together to kill a bad actor. The bad actor had terrorized an entire community for some time, committing violent acts which County Sheriffs were unable to legally tie him to. The neighbors had appealed to any and all law enforcement they could think of. If left unchecked in the community, the man’s acts seemed sure to progress from property damage to murderous mayhem, as the man had in fact threatened on more than one occasion. Community members felt they had two options. Instead of choosing “move away”, numerous community members ambushed the man as he drove out the front gate of his property. They killed him and disposed of his body. The story is widely known, yet the identities of any of the vigilantes have never been attested to.

  3. Lee Says:

    gcot, in Granby, CO they had just the opposite. Been a while, so forgive the “vagueness” of the recollection. A guy was upset with city officials and the local banker(why is where my memory fades). For two weeks or so, the townspeople watched him “armor up” an old bulldozer with pig iron and welding. He would yell about “showing them” and “getting theirs”, etc. while doing it.
    They watched until he was finished. Then he drove the bulldozer into town and proceeded to demolish the bank, the town hall, the library, the police station, and any other building associated with the city or bank. He was armed to keep people at bay, but authorities eventually mounted the bulldozer and killed him.
    It was obvious what this guy was going to do. I guess “legally” nothing could have been done until he actually “did” something, but people didn’t even take “preventive” measures knowing he eventually would “be coming”.
    Even if people could have “connected the dots” or “read the warning signs” from the VT shooter, probably nothing would have been done anyway. The teacher who read some of his works tried to sound the alarm bells, but was told nothing could be done about it because he had not “done” anything, yet.

  4. Lee Says:

    We don’t want to “label” someone, or make a “rush to judgement” about these people. We always seem to “reserve judgement” on the Harrises and Klebolds, etc., but we come down like a ton of bricks if a 6 yr. old points his or her finger and says “bang”.

  5. Christy Says:

    short of commitment for an indefinite period of time, the mental health community probably could not have helped him.

    it’s fairly clear that by the standards we now use, Cho could not have been committed against his will

    * * * * * * *

    Is there any room at all for modifying the standards we now use? Must it be “imminent” danger?

    Out of curiosity, had he attended in any classes in 2007. He’s 23/24, when did he intend to graduate? Did they just lose sight of him in 2006?

    Ruled Mentally Ill, Let Go

  6. jae Says:

    I’ve hesitated to post anywhere else, including my own blog, what I’m about to share here, which is my own eerily similar experience with someone like Cho Seung-hui.

    I reported her to the faculty the next morning against the wishes of the third girl involved. She didn’t want to break the girl’s trust. She didn’t want her to be mad at her. She didn’t want to deal with confrontation. I didn’t want to deal with someone’s death. Some stalking behavior followed but within the week she was removed from the program. HOWEVER, she was told she could leave now or at the end of the semester. She chose at the end of the semester.

    In the meantime, who knows what will happen? Faculty knows she is deeply disturbed and, despite her having expressed violent wishes on occasion, have done nothing. I had to change my phone number because of harassing phonecalls from her in an effort to protect my kids from having to deal with the mess. I’ve been told unless she steps it up (translation: becomes physical) they can’t (re: won’t) do anything.

    Now, what do you think goes through my mind in light of VT? There are many similarities — enough to make my blood run cold at times. Are we at risk because it seems like the issue was addressed?

    At what point do we re-examine to what extent is someone a threat to self or others? And I feel for the kids who just thought he was strange. That’s all we thought at first, too, because nobody wants to think the person next to them is a ticking time bomb.

  7. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    [Lott and Landes] evaluated all sorts of factors relating to gun control in particular. The conclusion: the only one that mattered was the carrying of concealed weapons by law-abiding citizens.

    Indeed, they argued that “carry laws caused an 89% decrease in murders in multiple victim public shootings.”


    It might be fair to point out that John Lott’s research is far from universally respected.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the critiques of his work, would you care to elaborate on why you think they are invalid?

  8. armchair pessimist Says:

    gc’s story appeals to me. It seems the cleanest way; its very illegality got the Law out of the awkward position of having to protect the public while respecting the individual’s rights. Some folks just need killin’. Well said.

  9. Jill Says:

    time.comI know just what you mean about ‘dead eyes.’ I remember seeing a photo of Charles Stuart at the scene of the crime. If you don’t remember him, he was the Boston man who killed his pregnant wife and said that a black man had done it.

    The photo appeared on the cover of Time magazine and when I first saw it, it seemed such a photo of pure evil that I involuntary made a sign of the cross. I just searched the archive of Time covers and here it is http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19900122,00.html

  10. alcatholic Says:


    You wrote in your earlier post that you wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of a counselor that had worked with him, well:

    Killer was hospitalized in 2005 by a mental facility! County not university clinic:

    Va. Tech Killer Ruled Mentally Ill by Court; Let Go After Hospital Visit


    This other article is an interview with a psychiatrist who has dealt with mass shooters:

    Cho Likely Schizophrenic, Evidence Suggests: A Closer Look at the Minds of Mass Shooters


  11. alcatholic Says:

    I’m hopeful universities are going to take a second look at all their potentially psychotic students.

    Students should start coming forward and demand that so and so be dealt with immediately. I don’t think presumption of innocence applies in this case, the behavior code must simply be strictly enforced.

    Students, faculty and staff should threaten to sue schools with criminal negligence if nothing is done about serious cases. I work at a large university, and I expect to start hearing rumblings from up high any day now. If not, I will start asking questions.

    Anyone think I’m way off base here?

    jae, are you considering raising your issue again? I would expect you might get a more sympathetic audience today.

  12. Eric Chen Says:

    My blog post on Cho Seung Hui and the lesson we need to learn: http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2007/04/lesson-we-need-to-learn-from-cho-seung.html

    The pro/con gun control argument impresses me less than my concern that a mindset of self-reliance and self-protection (fighting back) is being bred out of Americans. The inability of many New Orleans residents to help themselves during Hurrican Katrina and the too-high number of deaths in the Va Tech shootings point to some kind of cultural helplessness. I believe advocating for students to carry arms on campus obscures that the students and staff in Va Tech, even without firearms, were not helpless against Cho, but they reacted helplessly rather than aggressively to counteract the threat. If a few students and staff had been able to take the initiative and fight back against Cho with whatever they had available, I believe there would still be casualties, but far fewer of them.

  13. alcatholic Says:

    I hate to post so many comments, but I don’t know any other blogs by therapists.

    Before this incident I never considered the fact that people with paranoid schizophrenia or paranoid delusional disorder are functioning members of society. Are there more untreated or poorly treated Cho’s out there in schools and workplaces? Not mass murders to be sure, but people whose condition could reasonably be more of a public concern than previously thought.

    How does the profession deal with the issue of privacy vs public safety? Do work rules generally prohibit discrimination against or even inquiries about employee mental illness?

    I guess I always figured that the mentally ill would go into treatment, special schools, or go on disability/unemployment insurance. But now I wonder if even severe cases, treated or untreated, simply keep at their jobs or in schools.

    I know one graduate student, friend of a friend, who must be on meds. He had what must be something of a psychotic episode tied in with drunkenness. I know that during that episode of very strange behavior his father’s sternness got him back on his meds or calmed him down or whatever.

    Is a person like this able to…keep his life in order indefinitely or is it only a matter of time before he gets worse? I can only assume that he is not considered too dangerous, and he is social, not isolated. So maybe he is not a candidate for violence, but I still can’t help but think that the public is uneducated as to what to expect from people on medications, the mentally ill, etc.

    Instead of a debate on gun control, I would much more prefer a public debate on the mentally ill and public safety.

    Sorry about the rant. Just venting a little I guess.

  14. alcatholic Says:

    One more question. In another story on the schizophrenia supposition, a Dr. Igor Galynker, director of the Bipolar Family Treatment Center at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, N.Y., claimed the following:


    Hallmark behaviors of paranoia

    Cho also exhibited certain behaviors that could have been suggestive of severe mental illness.

    “[Cho’s] professor Lucinda Roy’s description — ‘He wore shades, cap pushed low over his eyes, whispered, took 20 seconds to answer a question’ — describe somebody who is acutely psychotic, paranoid and has bizarre and inappropriate affect,” Galynker said. “These are positive psychotic symptoms.”

    I’m wondering if Galynker’s overstating the case, or did the non-psychologist Roy really hold a key piece of diagnostic info? I ask because in an earlier article another psychiatrist listed the 20 second pause before answering as a key piece of information about the killer. It seems odd to me that this fact would be picked up repeatedly. Then again INAP.

  15. s Says:

    Cho reminds me of Ahmadinejad. Just take a look at this this picture

  16. snowonpine Says:

    Three words. “In Loco Parentis” I’m sure the lawyers are just chomping at the bit to file lawsuits against the bumblers and incompetents in the VT administration and police force.

    Too bad the most parents can do is hit these fools for some money, which is not going to bring their children back. I wonder if any of the university leadership put themselves in harms way by getting anywhere near the actual shooting.

  17. The Bunnies Says:

    Lee has a great point about cracking down on children using threatening finger gestures.

    I think we’re trying not to feel impotent against this sort of thing, so we violently crack down against defenseless eight year-olds.

    Other than that, I don’t really see what more can be done from the “identifying weirdos” angle. For every Cho who does this sort of thing, thousands like him don’t. I really don’t like the idea of an army of shrinks roaming the country looking for “warning signs.” After all, some would describe me as a “loner.”

    I think our best defense is a good offense. We can’t be such a passive society (Mark Steyn does a great analysis of this here:


    I think it was about a year ago that some school in Texas was training its kids to rush and throw things at gunmen like this, but they withdrew the program because too many caring folks thought it was too aggressive and would increas the kids’ chances of getting hurt.

    I thought it was a great idea. One of the reasons people do this sort of thing is to compensate for a feeling of helplessness with one of overwhelming power. If everyone in the room’s going to go after you and throw notebooks at your head, you’re far more likely to feel like a dumbass than a badass. Yes, weirdo still might hurt someone, but we’ve discovered that being passive doesn’t exactly prevent that sort of thing. However, we also reduce weirdo’s incentives substantially.

    That, and concealed-carry laws. They waited for the authorities ot take care of it on 9/11, too.

  18. Formerly Says:

    “The inability of many New Orleans residents to help themselves during Hurrican Katrina and the too-high number of deaths in the Va Tech shootings point to some kind of cultural helplessness.”

    I can only a shudder at the kind of mental helplessness that allows someone to make such a heartless, not to mention idiotic, comment…

  19. Thinkaloud Says:

    I’m going to reserve any preconceptions on what the students may or may not of done. We do not know if indeed some students did try to rush the shooter (and are dead). I know one of the students killed was said to have been active in Tae Kwon Doe.

    In fact, we may never know exactly what happened with respect to everyone there.

  20. Eric Chen Says:


    Heartless am I? Our protective and emergency services are already as well-developed as we can reasonably expect, but we also have a big country with a lot of people, and emergency situations can rush up unexpectedly and quickly. There are limits to what our professional “first responders” can do. I want *fewer* people to suffer in an emergency situation, and the only way for that to happen is for victims to take it upon themselves in the moment to improve the situation. In fact, the first decisions and first moments are often the most critical decisions and moments in an emergency situation. Losing that moment in order to avoid risk to self or wait for someone else to solve the problem costs victims’ lives, if not one’s own, then someone else’s. Unfortunately, the passive response is exactly the mindset that’s being taught Americans, and exactly and predictably, the response of too many people on Monday.

    Idiotic? Now is the time to learn the lesson, while the object example is still fresh. A 9mm handgun is not magic. A lone gunman, outnumbered by 10s (per room) or 100s (building) of strong and healthy men and women. His actions didn’t happen in the open, but in close quarters. Accounts say he had to go room to room. Anyone with room clearing experience can tell you that the 1st man in – Cho in this case – is vulnerable upon entry in any room clearing operation. He went inside at least 4 rooms with wooden doors (ie, non see-through), which means at least 4 opportunities to ambush him, either on ingress or egress. Granted, not much could have been done in the 1st room, since he had surprise and aggression on his side, but what about counter-attacking Cho after the 1st room and people were aware of the threat?

    You can’t convince me that under the limiting conditions in which Cho operated, that there should have been such a high number of dead and wounded. There were opportunities for the victims to counter-attack that they failed to utilize.

    Heartless … idiotic … I want lessons learned so that mistakes aren’t repeated and so there are fewer victims in the future. It’s not past victims’ fault that a hurricane or an insane killer entered their lives, but nonetheless, they made mistakes we can learn from.

    We can’t blame past victims because they weren’t acculturated with the proper problem-solving aggressive response to a threat; however, future victims need to learn the lesson. We should remain a compassionate society, but at the same time, we should take care not to fall into the trap of becoming a helpless one.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    blackfive.netEric, don’t worry about formerly. He’s a fake liberal that’s projecting his flaws unto you. Such things are easier to do than taking personal responsibility for actions done.

    There are limits to what our professional “first responders” can do.

    You might be interested in this post by Grim on self-reliance and defense against terrorism.


    It’s interesting for two reasons. The first is that it’s a restatement of an earlier problem. Just like with the Taliban-linked militants in the wilds of Afghanistan, the Shi’ite militiaman does not need to succeed in his every desire to appear powerful. He needs only to strike at the one house that is not protected, whenever he is able. If each militia does that, you have a heavy death toll every day. But preventing it requires protecting every house, all the time.

    It’s also a restatement of the challenge we face against terrorists in general. Terrorists bypass the hardened parts of society — police, soldiers, forts — and attack the soft parts. How do you protect society against a foe like that?

    The answer is that you harden the whole society. You distribute warfighting capability across the citizenry. That link is to a discussion at Winds of Change. The entire discussion is worth reading, but that comment illustrates what I am after here.

    What is needed is to recognize the right to keep and bear arms as an indispensable human right, and to couple it with the duty to uphold the common order and lawful peace. Professor Glenn Reynolds has been talking about this for several years, as have others of us in other contexts.

    In order to respond to a militia, a Taliban, a terrorist, two things are needed. The first is to raise the cost of such actions by making them more dangerous. The second is to arrange a form of communication, so that we need not be alone for long. If the Taliban comes at night, you bolt the door, use the rifle to hold them at bay, and summon help. If the militia comes for your neighbor, you and he and your other neighbors hold them off. If the terrorist attacks your office building or your child’s school, coworkers or teachers are ready to frustrate their plans until the police respond.

    This is also an answer to the problem of genocide and ethnic cleansing, which is what Prof. Reynolds intended. We must first admit that we — again, the West, international society — have no intention of actually, militarily stopping genocide. Yet we disapprove of it, strongly. So, knowing we will not use the means at our hand because of a lack of our will, we give the means to stop it to those who will not lack the will — the people who would otherwise be slaughtered.

    This is a traditional part of Special Forces’ work in unconventional war. You find local allies, train them, equip them. The modern terrorist — the global insurgent — seeks the soft areas of worldwide civilization. Therefore, we need worldwide allies. It is important that they be distributed down to the level of villages and neighborhoods, because that is the nature of the war.

    Every man a warfighter. By coincidence, this view of our potential allies will play very well in tribal society. They will read from this view of them that we honor them.

    This was in January, Eric.

    You might also be interested in Grim’s wargaming of the scenario.


  22. alcatholic Says:

    OK, I would much rather talk about the psychosis issues, BUT I was reading the DrHelen.blogspot.com posts and comments and the thought occurred to me:

    For those University communities that are convinced they need to allow armed students why not create a student militia system as opposed to a free for all? Regulated militia composed of select students that apply to join and meet stringent licensing requirements. Maybe only seniors are allowed. Maybe it is tied into the ROTC, Student Safety Officers, RA systems, etc? Maybe you only allow tasers as opposed to handguns.

    2 cents

  23. TomTom Says:

    Alcatholic:Why are you so reluctant, indeed afraid, for folks to have lethal force to apply to those who seek to kill them? What’s magic about seniors (vs frosh) shooting back at a Cho? There’s no ROTC on any Ivy League campus BTW. Only allow tasers, now there’s a real practical idea when someone is trying to kill you with a Glock. Ever hear of cops using a taser to stop a gunman? No? Why not? For a very good reason.

    Our society has become feminized (sorry, neo), wimpy, compliant, sheepish, and afraid. Maintaining the status quo (e.g. “Gun-Free Zones”) is simply unacceptable. I will do my best to put down a Cho if circumstances require, and sleep well after, too.

  24. jae Says:


    I am planning to talk to our department head tomorrow (the first opportunity to meet at this point). At this point there’s only three weeks left, but I hesitate to say “only” at this point.

    I’m not a professional yet, but being in a training program for therapists, I can give some insight on your question about privacy vs duty to warn.

    How does the profession deal with the issue of privacy vs public safety? Do work rules generally prohibit discrimination against or even inquiries about employee mental illness?

    I can only speak for Ohio as state laws differ, but it’s my understanding that the laws governing confidentiality are fairly universal. Counselors, therapists, etc., are legally and ethically bound to confidentiality like medical doctors are. The general exceptions to the rule are threats of suicide, threats to others (and in some places property), elder or child abuse (in some places domestic abuse), and a judge’s court order. Employers are not directly privy to details about employee mental health status, but this can be circumvented if an employee uses insurance to pay for the care. Even then all that is really known is the event of counseling/therapy itself, which may or may not be an indicator of mental disturbance since there are a million reasons to see a therapist.

    Ultimately the counselor has to make a judgment call on the seriousness of the threat (in case of self harm or harm to others). There is a general protocol to follow (lethality assessments). The problem is a counselor can only work with what a client brings to the table. In the case of the fellow student I’ve dealt with, she has a background in psychology, is incredibly intelligent, and knows how much she can say or not say without alarming people. In our circumstance, she let down her guard long enough and information slipped out. But faculty had already raised questions based on her demeanor in class — again an amazing parallel to the observations made about Cho.

    Maybe one of the fortunate things in our scenario is the size of the school… a small Catholic university. It was at a point where it couldn’t be ignored any longer because of the distress it was causing others (namely, ME). We are fortunate to have department faculty who do their jobs well and were as concerned about my welfare as they were hers.

    I guess on the whole my interest here is in the therapeutic aspect (or lack thereof). The tragedy is horrendous and there is a place for political and logistic discussions — I just think the time is not in the immediate. What Cho did was evil — but there is a broken person behind it and that will get lost in the sensationalism of the crime. Maybe it’s my student status… but there are lessons to learn from it which is what I hope happens.

  25. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It’s hard to believe the VT ‘crats really thought the gun-free thing would make them safer. They surely thought it would make them look like really good people and didn’t think beyond that.

    The problem with looking for wackjobs on college campuses is that college is where a substantial number of kids decide that being a non-conformist like everybody else is just the thing. A guy walking across campus loaded with armaments? He’s making a statement. He’s in a play. He’s an undercover cop who’s lost his windbreaker. It would not fit in with being cool to differences to call the guy out, or call the cops.
    Then there will be the practical jokers who think it would be fun to pretend to be wackjobs.
    If they fooled the cops too completely and ended up dead…?
    The practical solution is to have well-trained armed people as part of the population.

  26. strcpy Says:

    Not only are we at the limits of what our protective services can deliver, in cases such as this they are not even remotely required to protect you – only society. That many individuals choose to go WAY beyond that is a testament to the people who choose to put them selfs in harms way – but to count on them to be there instantly and protect you is, well, stupid.

    In an emergency there is only one thing, one entity you can count on being there – yourself. It’s why many of us learn things like CPR – a 10 minute response time is outstanding, for that it takes someone absolutely ready at *all* times and general public to co-operate and clear the roads. For the sub 10 minute that means someone was actively driving around *near* your house, at the ready, and all the other factors mentioned above work.

    In that time many many things can happen. For health emergencies it takes about 5 minutes for full brain death – well below any response time from protective services. From a self defense standpoint you can be raped, stabbed repeatably, and the person flee in that time (and that tends to be what *does* happen, it is VERY rare the police can make it in time).

    For some reason, in any other case than self defense people accept it and think it is a good thing. No one is called paranoid or any such thing for learning CPR or other life saving technique even though the same “complaints” apply (how many ever have a need to use it? Since I spent a lot of time learning it I must just sit around wishing for someone to have a heart attack to use it – right?). However if you learn how to stop a violent crime instead of just clean up after it they act like you are evil and heartless. Many even want to restrict you ability to defend your life which is the *opposite* of what you want (for instance the “equal force” laws many countries pass). I choose to take care of my self and those around me, that way when the authorities get there with better equipment they do not find 32 innocent dead and that extends to *all* points I can do – CPR, carry permits, etc.

    But then, I’m a obviously a heartless paranoid person who blames the victims. Though actually I blame the bleeding heart idiots who forced the victims into the situation where they do not have the ability to save them selfs, but I guess it makes those same people feel better to think otherwise.

  27. alcatholic Says:


    I’m glad that you are surrounded by a caring university and faculty. Let us know how it turns out, and given that you are in a Therapist program, if I would hope everything possible is done.

    Can you make any determination of the seriousness of the troubled person’s condition? I ask not because I am trained at all, but because of a suggestion I read on a drhelen.blogspot.com posting. Would your case be helped by a change to the code of conduct as described by this poster?

    If you go to her blog to the comments of a post called “How on earth was this time bomb allowed to go on ticking for so long?”, anon @ 1:04 PM wrote what I thought were straight forward suggestions:

    Anonymous said…

    It concerns me that VT thought that nothing could be done, that the right of the individual superseded the safety of the whole. I wonder if any 1 person/department had all the info re: what was going on with this individual: mental health admit, potential for suicidal ideation/behavior via parents, stalking, classmates & teachers fear him to the point of refusal to be in class with him, starting a fire in the dorm, and recent silence (escalating from minimal response to not talking). There needs to be a central place for information like this.
    After the fact, the same students and teachers “knew” it was him. I wonder if colleges should have, on the conditions of admission, something to the effect that if you exhibit several behaviors correlating to a DSM IV diagnosis, that failure to address it on your part: not pursuing treatment once identified and no discernable improvement of symptoms/behaviors will lead to parental notification/involvement and possible removal from the educational environment until the behavior is resolved. The school should reserve the right to essentially remove potential threats from campus. This should also be a laborious multidisciplinary process, not to be used to dismiss mere irritants. I would think that this is within the scope of any university. By allowing it to continue, you imply that the behavior is acceptable. SherH

  28. sergey Says:

    What is now known about this guy hardly sufficient for unambiguous conclusion, but it strikes me as a textbook example of condition known in Russia as “sluggish schizophrenia”. This form of malady is rather controversal, because it lacks clear-cut symptoms and diagnosis is very subjective. (To define it formally is just as hard as define pornography in legal terms: the only criterion is “I know it when I see it”.) Exactly for this reason it was widely abused in Soviet era, and hundreds of dissidents were locked up mental institutions under this pretext. But most psychiaters whom I know still believe that this condition is real and very dangerous to society because of complete unpredictability of outcome; as a rule, it leads to suicide, but sometimes to violent sadistic outbursts. Now these patients can’t be compulsory locked up untill they commit somthing criminal.

  29. sergey Says:

    Several years ago there was a story in a Russian newspaper about a witch burned alive in small village in Siberia. Once a little boy disappeared. Everybody searched him for three days in taiga around the village, but in vain, and at last began house-to-house search. At last his dead body was found in a bath-house with more than 40 knife wounds. There was a strange girl in the village, a loner, living with her mother. They came to her izba and found her and blood-stained frock, which her mother tried to clean and conceal. It was night already, and everybody carried kerosene lamp. They made a cross sign and thrown burning lamps into izba and blocked the door by a log. They waited, until the log-cabin was burned to ashes, with the witch in it. Later they explained that the face of the girl was an image of pure evil, she was manifestly possessed be devil. Nobody was punished, except psychiatrist in a town 30 km apart that did not react timely on request for hospitalization.

  30. Eric Chen Says:


    ROTC in the Ivy League is something I can speak on. Princeton has ROTC on campus. Dartmouth does, too. The rest do not. However, Columbia has the Hamilton Society, named after Columbia military alumnus Alexander Hamilton, which is the official student group for ROTC cadets and Marine officer candidates attending Columbia. Columbia also has a large student-veterans population.

  31. Full coverage: Virginia Tech massacre « The No Spin Zone Says:

    […] This Is London, Captain’s Quarters, neo-neocon, Clayton Cramer’s BLOG, Redstate, Personal Democracy Forum, The Democratic Daily, Joanne […]

  32. jae Says:

    alcatholic, (no offense to other commenters — but I think the self-preparedness discussion is a “gimme” at this point)…

    All schools have such measures, to my knowledge. But as you quoted, it’s laborious. To say they have to cover their asses in such cases is an understatement. The only real, significant difference in the VT case and ours is she hasn’t demonstrated violent tendencies, only spoke of one in response to the murder of a friend of hers which they considered a normal grief response of anger. She had, however, made enough other students sufficiently uncomfortable in her behaviors to warrant action. That, accompanied by her very apparent psychological impairment, made it a little easier for them to remove her from a counselor training program — they had the protection of future clients on their side. If she were, for example, an English major as Cho was I’m not sure they would have had the leverage to remove her from the program.

    Students have a right to due process after removal as well. We just discussed a recent published case regarding a similar situation of removal that occurred at the College of William and Mary where the individual sued the university and landed in federal courts. Six years passed without resolution. I think a large part is that fear of litigation, but welcome to America — home of the lawsuit.

    But when you weigh your options, the lawsuit is better than the bloodbath.

  33. Shorter Commenters on This Blog Says:

    The tragedy at VT just confirms every single thing I already believe. Sweet! Nothing makes dealing with a tragedy of unthinkable proportions easier than treating it as a political opportunity to score points rather than an actual tragedy involving actual human beings whose lives were lost or shattered.

  34. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Ymarsakar said: “Some folks just need killing.”

    I am reminded by this of an anecdote from Jean-Francois Steiner’s work, Treblinka. In it, the Commandant of the death camp holds a meeting of his senior underlings to berate them for being insufficiently devoted to the Nazi cause. One officer he chastised for keeping the prettiest Jewish boys for himself in a cabin near the camp; this officer was exploiting Nazism to satisfy his own perversions. Another officer he chastised for being a sadist, and enjoying the killing of Jews in the camp. And so on down the line until he got to the point:

    They weren’t there to kill Jews to exploit them, and they weren’t there to enjoy it. Instead, in order to be good Nazis, they must view their work as a sad, but necessary duty. Jews, he said, just needed to be killed. It was in their interest, it was in Germany’s interest, it was in the world’s interest, and the task had fallen to them to do this duty.

    What I am not saying is that Ymarsakar or the rest of you who echoed his thought are, in fact, Nazis. What I am saying is that it is understandable that when you mix unquestioning adulation of Republican authoritarianism, hypermasculine overcompensation for social awkwardness and isolation, and juvenile “philosophy” based on some half-understood Eastern mysticism and the works of hack sci-fi authors, then it shouldn’t be surprising that you’ll come up with garbage like “some people need to be killed.”

  35. sergey Says:

    Yes, some folks need killing. Even Bible holds it. “And so expunge evil from thou midst” (Exodus, about stoning idol-worshippers); “It is better for them to hang millstone on their neck and throw them into water” (Matthew, about child-molesters). If Bible is not authority to you, what is authority? Such things can not be deduced from something obvious, they can be only an article of faith. What is your faith, then, if it is not founded on the Bible? Your personal distaste for capital panishment? But why should I connive at your tastes?

  36. Ymarsakar Says:

    Nobody needs to die, because death is inevitable. So some people believe that if you just don’t kill anybody, that you can ease suffering because people will die quietly, as they go into the night.

  37. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “Nobody needs to die, because death is inevitable.”


    “So some people believe that if you just don’t kill anybody, that you can ease suffering because people will die quietly, as they go into the night.”


    “Even Bible holds it.”

    Oh, never mind then.

  38. alcatholic Says:

    jae, thanks for spelling out the process you’ve been through. I think its important to look at the current state of University oversight on mental health issues.

    I certainly think redoubled vigilance in our Universities is the most important responsibility. Hopefully, infrastructure gaps can be rooted out through deeper evaluations.

    In the earlier article I linked to, UC Santa Barbara seems to have made changes after their past tragedy, but I don’t think there was a nationwide awareness raised. I hope whatever changes VT makes will not be isolated to VT, but will spark changes across the country.

  39. Jeffrey W Says:

    Would the authorities have been able to deal with this man more effectively in the days prior to deinstitutionalization?

  40. Ymarsakar Says:


    Stop trying to kill Nazis. As you told us, they don’t need killing. When you stop trying to kill folks, everything will make sense.

  41. strcpy Says:

    Anon Y. Mous, so those nazi’s needed what – a lovin’ and allowed to do their thing? How would you have dealt with them?

    I propose (and your post at least implies you agree) that they needed stopped, and the only way to do so was to kill them. While not a nice or “political” way of putting it – they needed a killin’. I think that is a pretty fair single sentence defense of our involvement in WWII. For a more “nuanced” reasoning once can expand by quite a bit, but it still comes down to the fact that the world needed them killed down to the point where they were no longer a threat.

    Of course, it is easier to think of us on the “right” as being nazis, hating others, and other such nonsense. But then, it seems that critical thinking isn’t your forte – probably why the vast majority of national political figures do not peddle that insanity.

  42. Paul from Florida Says:

    For decades leftist and upper income liberals have justified the behavior of young male criminals throughout society. Entire American cities have almost been depopulated with effects of these elite. Countless millions have been forced to live behind 5 locks, keep their windows closed in the summer, never to walk their own streets or parks. Old people, young mothers, tired low wage working men coming home with a few post tax dollars. This has been going on for decades. Nobody, save the police and the coroner cared.

    Now the same leftist elite are doing to campuses what they’ve done to our citizens and cities.

    Schools can demand a contract with student to maintain themselves. Hygienically, behaviorally and mentally, but they don’t. They say it is because they are kind, but they want the tuition. It’s about a perfect storm of greed and ideology. If Chu couldn’t be the model for, in this case, Virginia Tech acting, then what does a disturbed, ill and dangerous to themselves and others have to do?

  43. sergey Says:

    America needs less universities and more lunatic asylums. Every farmer keeps his elite herd separated from ordinary and drafts out inferior stock. To keep 60% of youth in high education is quite unnatural, there simply can’t be so many deserving this privilege. It is waste of resources – but, of course, very profitable to education crowd.

  44. Thomas Says:

    I’m hopeful universities are going to take a second look at all their potentially psychotic students.

    Students should start coming forward and demand that so and so be dealt with immediately. I don’t think presumption of innocence applies in this case, the behavior code must simply be strictly enforced.

    Students, faculty and staff should threaten to sue schools with criminal negligence if nothing is done about serious cases. I work at a large university, and I expect to start hearing rumblings from up high any day now. If not, I will start asking questions.

    Anyone think I’m way off base here?

    A chill is going down my spine at the way people are reacting to this tragedy. My God! Don’t people know what they are proposing? Last night I heard Bill O’Reilly say that a person who acted out of the ordinary should be sent to a shrink.

    People are proposing a tyranny, inviting it in fact. If you step out of the goose-stepping line, you should be subjected to the verdict of psychiatrists for unlimited probings and proddings… just because someone thinks you might do something criminal someday? Shrinks will be the final decision makers on who is acceptable to society and who isn’t? How would an eccentric survive in such a world? Simple. He doesn’t.

    “Behavior code”?! Good gracious! This is an entirely subjective and arbitrary with no objective standard. This proposal throws habeas corpus right out the window.

    The ONLY state in all of history that gave shrinks that kind of power over everyone was the Nazis giving power to the Gestapo. Their mental wards became concentration camps. People forget that one of the first groups the Nazi’s murdered were the mentally ill. And who decides who’s mentally ill? The Gestapo shrinks; that’s who.

    This is not a liberal or conservative thing. I am hearing this from every corner. This tragedy just offends the hell out of the “name-it-and-claim-it” crowd from the right, and the “it’s all good” crowd from the left.

    No offense, Neo, but as insightful as shrinks are, they are also one of the sickests category of human beings out there. One of the highest suicide rates, alcoholism rates, domestic abuse rates, … across the freakin’ board. Just think about the kind of people who want to become shrinks. More than likely they are trying to cure themselves as well as their patients.

    If we give this absolute power to the shrink they WILL become the sociapaths.

    Let us tread softly here and think, really think about what we are proposing.

  45. The Thomas Chronicles » Knee Jerk Reactions Abound Says:

    […] commentor at Neo-Neocon wrote this: I’m hopeful universities are going to take a second look at all their potentially […]

  46. alcatholic Says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Excellent post. And I agree with you more and more as I reflect on everything. I’m glad more and more people are letting me know that they think my initial ideas were off base.

    I responded on your blog.


  47. Thomas Says:

    Howdy Alcatholic,

    Thanks for responding to my blog. I’ve posted a rather lengthy response there.

    I don’t claim to know the solution to any of this, and I think society is caught in a Catch 22. On the one hand, we can’t declare someone mentally unsound and shove them off somewhere for re-education. On the other hand, if we are not willing to do that and lose our freedoms in the process, are we prostrate in the face of such mindless explosions of violence?

    I don’t know. In the coming weeks, I hope people would try to look at this issue on every side and come up with sober analysis and wise decisions. But I think for the moment, we should just look at the issue and reserve judgment til later. In the meantime, we can always beef up security…

  48. sergey Says:

    “But their hands, those authorities reported, were tied, because he had made no threats.”

    It is time to untie these hands. Autist with sadistic fantasies, agitated depression and paranoid delusions is a threat himself – he need not make any threats to justify compulsory hospitalization. He is a ticking bomb. If the system of institutionalized mental care was abused some 30 years ago, this is not a valid reason to dismantle it. Any system can be misused; it means only it needs improvement, not abolition. Psychiatry is not intended only to help ill; it the first line of society defence against dangerous psychos. This tragedy is a warning about doctrinal failure, consequence of human rights fetishism unchecked and unbalanced against valid security concerns.

  49. muscle for brains « Writhe Safely Says:

    […] Neo-neocon: “Dead eyes” can’t be a criterion for involuntary commitment, I suppose—but if I were to design one, that would be it. […]

  50. muscle for brains « failbetter Says:

    […] Neo-neocon: “Dead eyes” can’t be a criterion for involuntary commitment, I suppose—but if I were to design one, that would be it. […]

  51. alcatholic Says:

    After thinking over Thomas’ arguments, the Writhe Safely post linked to above, and engaging in other debates, I’m starting to disagree with my initial idea that all we need is more aggressive mental health screening. To potential abuse, and, as I’m learning, psychiatrists probably aren’t very effective at preventing violence.

    I now believe the best role Universities can play is to seriously confront and punish aggressive/violent behavior.

    Dr. Peter Breggin makes this argument against relying on the mental health profession to protect us from the Cho’s of this world. Police intervention is needed.

    The more I learn about the role and limitations of psychiatrists, the less I’m convinced they could be relied upon to keep the public safe. The police and administrative enforcement of suspension or other punishments for unacceptable behavior seem much more powerful institutions for dealing with campus violence and hopefully preventing mass murder.

    Dr. Peter Breggin writes:

    The answer to vengeful, violent people is not more mental health screening or more potent mental health interventions. Reliance on the whole range of this system from counseling to involuntary treatment failed. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that locking people up against their will or otherwise “treating” them reduces violence. As we’ll see, quite the opposite is true.

    So what was needed? Police intervention. Almost certainly, the police were hampered in taking appropriate actions by being encouraged to view Cho as a potential psychiatric patient rather than as a perpetrator. It’s not politically correct to bring criminal charges against someone who is “mentally ill” and it’s not politically correct to prosecute him or to remove him from the campus. Yet that’s what was needed to protect the students. Two known episodes of stalking, setting a fire, and his threatening behavior in class should have been more than enough for the university administration to bring charges against him and to send him off campus.

    Police need to be encouraged and empowered to treat potentially dangerous people more as criminals than as patients. In particular, men stalking women should be handled as definitively as any perpetrator of hate crimes. Regardless of whether the victims want to press charges, the police should. Cho shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with it a second time.

    How would a police action have affected Cho? Would it have humiliated him and made him more violent? There’s no way to have certainty about this, but anyone with experience dealing with threatening people knows that a good dose of “reality,” a confrontation with the law, is much more of a wake up call and a deterrent than therapeutic coddling. Furthermore, involuntary psychiatric treatment is one of the more humiliating experiences in American society, and tends to make people more angry, not less.

    Mental health interventions do not protect society because the person is almost always quickly discharged because his insurance coverage has run out or because mental health professionals, who as a group have no particular capacity to make such determinations, will decide that the patient is no longer a danger to himself or others. Indeed, in December 2005, when the university obtained a temporary detention order against Cho, a magistrate referred him for a mental health evaluation that found “his insight and judgment are normal.” Need I say more about the hazards of relying on mental health screening and evaluation to identify dangerous perpetrators–even after they have already been threatening people?

  52. alcatholic Says:


    If you still read these comments, how is your case going?


  53. John Says:


    Have you ever been so busy on the internet going from page topage,…

  54. Michelle Kwan Says:

    Hello…I Googled for international tae kwon do, but found your page about …and have to say thanks. nice read.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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