Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Mass Murderer's Manifesto

I've spoken with a number of psychologists these past few days about the mass killings at Virginia Tech. While they willingly spoke about how people can cope with the tragedy, none, having not examined him, felt comfortable trying to analyze the killer, Cho Seung-Hui. They universally suggested that since he was dead, we'd never be able to understand what went on his head.

Now, however, that is no longer the case.

Between the two shooting sprees, Cho videotaped, and sent off, a manifesto to NBC News. It offers us horrific insight into what was going on in his mind after all.

He reveals his psychotic thoughts. Thoughts that he acted out on the campus of Virginia Tech.

While the images are disturbing, they do help us comprehend.

When such massive tragedy strikes, we strive for answers. Sometimes we look for those to blame for the evil actions of others.

An entire cottage industry of blaming cropped up, and still flourishes, after the 9/11 attacks. For some, the concept that the people who actually hijacked the planes are really responsible, remains, even now, hard to grasp.

This same thought process began almost immediately after the news broke of the carnage in Virginia. Some people blamed Cho's ability to legally purchase his weapon. Others questioned whether he was taking some prescribed medication for mental illness that, they speculated, may have set him off. Others wondered if the odd tattoo on his arm meant he was part of a sleeper terrorist cell. His parents were mentioned. The university. The police.

Those who wish to seek answers need only view his video. Which reveals the real truth. The responsibility for Monday's massacre rests with Cho.


Photo credit: Alex Taylor who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. Taylor was a student at VT from 1998-2004.


psychie said...

The bodies aren’t even buried and already the shootings at Virginia Polytechnic are being politicized.

Pro-gun activists are arguing that the kids on campus were “sitting ducks” because of the school’s gun-free zone policy, a policy shared by every school in America.

Anti-gun activists are arguing that the shootings prove a need for stricter gun control laws.

You can bet both sides will use this as leverage, just as they both used Columbine and other past incidents.

Then you have the “blame the campus” game. Why didn’t they do a lock down after the first two shootings? Why didn’t this, that or this happen? It’s easy to be a hindsight armchair quarterback.

But the problem here is that we were dealing with a very emotionally disturbed young man. We were also dealing with the willful neglect of his past behaviors. Behaviors which should have had the young man suspended or expelled from school and possibly arrested. The later making it more difficult for him to have obtained firearms.

Cho’s track record reads like the psychiatric build up of a serial killer, and I suspect we may find out he once mutilated animals.

In 2005, one professor said she was willing to resign before she would continue working with him. He was caught photographing the legs of female students under the table in one class, and had written “obscene, violent poetry.”

Another professor was likewise disturbed by his writings, however, until a crime had been committed, she was told, nothing could be done.

Cho was also noted as having harassed a female student via telephone. The police were called but the student decided not to press charges. Cho was referred to the campus disciplinary team. Another incident involved stalking and sending a disturbing cellphone message. The police were called in. Cho was confronted. A “temporary detention order” was granted and Cho was referred for off-campus counseling.

He was subsequently admitted to a psychiatric hospital (this was in 2005) but was released the next day, in accordance with Virginia law.

Now everyone is calling for a scapegoat and new laws. Restrictive laws. Among the suggestions I have personally heard, one in particular makes me shiver. The suggestion involves creation of a database which would house the psychiatric records of anyone who has ever sought help for a psychiatric problem or who has received prescriptions for psychotropic medications.

This database would allow the FBI or local police to reject applications for firearm purchases for anyone who has ever been treated for psychiatric problems or been given a psychotropic medication.

Not only would this be an invasive approach, it also violates already existing privacy law (HIPAA). Of course, if a potential purchaser isn’t willing to sign a release, they don’t get a gun. It’s a horrific catch-22. Which right do you give up? Your right to medical privacy? Or your second amendment right?

The temptation to over-react when tragedies like this happen isn’t unusual. But we must be careful in our recommendations.

Making laws (or changing them) based upon the rarity is a concern. The number of university, and even public school shootings, are minimal compared to the number of such institutions nationwide. In the end making laws based upon rare cases could backfire on us all. We could outlaw clowns, simply because John Wayne Gacy used the clown guise to mask his dark, sinister side.

How about looking at this event as what it was: an aberration in human behavior. Next, admit to ourselves that removing the ability to own a gun, taking away the right to privacy, turning our institutions of academia… none of those things can prevent a severely mentally ill person from doing what they want to do and plan to do.

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