On This Date in History: The Virginia Tech Shooting

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Virginia Tech memorial


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Virginia Tech memorial.

The deadliest school shooting in US history took place on April 16, 2007 on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. The massacre would leave 33 dead, including the alleged shooter, later identified as Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, who is believed to have taken his own life.

Seung-Hui Cho would mail out his manifesto to the media in an attempt to defend and explain his rampage. Cho depicted himself as a bullied, picked-on outsider who was driven to violence by an unkind world.

A deeper look into Cho’s life revealed a disturbed, mentally unstable individual with a history of threatening behavior.


1. Shots Rang Out The Morning of April 16, 2007

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GettyWalther P22 pistol,.

Shots rang out at approximately 7:00 a.m. the morning of April 16, 2007 at West Ambler Johnston Hall, a coed dorm that housed approximately 900 students. It is believed that Cho was able to gain access to the building with a magnetic key card because he had an active mailbox there. Cho’s first two victims were Emily J. Hilscher, a student who lived in the dorms and Ryan C. Clark, a Resident Assistant. After Hilscher and Clark were shot, Cho left West Ambler and went to Harper Hall, a nearby dorm where he lived.

By the time emergency responders arrived at West Ambler in response to reports of shots fired, Cho was already back at his dorm, where he was able to change his clothes, delete his email and remove his hard drive. Cho stopped at the nearby post office to send copies of his manifesto explaining his actions to the media, before returning to campus with a backpack full of ammunition. A detailed account of Cho’s movements on April 16, 2007 is available here.

Cho then entered Norris Hall where he opened fire. Approximately two hours had passed between the shooting at West Ambler and the attack at Norris Hall. Cho allegedly placed a note on the door to the hall indicating that any attempt to open the door would cause a bomb to explode. 911 calls began coming in at approximately 9:45 a.m. The victims killed at Norris Hall were students and faculty alike, as Cho went from classroom to classroom, taking aim at anyone in his crosshairs. 32 students and faculty were killed during the massacre, with additional victims sustaining serious injuries. Cho is believed to have taken his own life before he could be apprehended by the authorities.

A first-person account of the shootings is available here.


2. Seung-Hui Cho Released a Manifesto

Seung-Hui Cho

GettySeung-Hui Cho.

Cho was later positively identified as the shooter. Cho was a 23-year-old senior of South Korean descent. Cho grew up near the campus in an upscale, gated community.

Cho sent copies of his self-proclaimed manifesto to the media, defending and explaining his actions. Cho depicted himself as being relentlessly bullied and picked on. Like Elliot Rodger, Seung-Hui Cho was looking for retribution and payback against those who he felt had wronged him.

A transcript of Cho’s manifesto is available here. Please be advised that explicit language is used.


3. There Were Some Troubling Indications of Seung-Hui Cho’s Mental Instability

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GettyA mourner at the Virginia Tech memorial.

There are reports that Cho was on the autism spectrum and had struggled with bullying as a child. Other reports indicate that Cho was picked on by his fellow students in middle and high school. Some of the reports also indicate that Cho struggled with speech difficulties.

Some of Cho’s prior teachers and professors were troubled by Cho’s writing submissions. His writing was often violent and disturbing, and it was recommended to Cho that he seek counseling.

At Virginia Tech, Cho was allegedly accused of stalking and harassing two female students. After an evaluation, Cho was deemed mentally ill. However, having never been institutionalized, Cho was still legally able to purchase and own firearms and ammunition. More information on Cho’s childhood and background is available here.


4. Subsequent Lawsuits Were Filed & Settled

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GettyVigil for Virginia Tech.

An $11 million settlement was reached between Virginia Tech, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the victims/victims’ families. Some victims’ families received a lump sum settlement. Others, including the victims who suffered serious injuries, are entitled to lifelong healthcare which is covered as part of the settlement.

The school was fined for failing to alert the student body of an active shooter on campus within a timely manner. The school has paid out various fines and settlements in connection with the lawsuits, the terms of some of which are confidential.

A wrongful death lawsuit was brought by two of the victims’ families against the school. A multi-million dollar verdict was awarded against the Plaintiffs, but the verdict has been appealed and overturned.


5. Memorial Scholarships Have Been Established

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GettyCorps of Cadets guards keep watch next to a ceremonial candle during a candlelight vigil.

The tragedy at the Virginia Tech campus resulted in the establishment of multiple memorial scholarships. In addition to the scholarships, the school has vowed to never forget what occurred on April 16, 2007.

“In the hours following the April 16 tragedy, the student-driven volunteer organization Hokies United placed 32 Hokie Stones on the Drillfield. The semi-circle of stones became a place to gather, to mourn, and to reflect, and the poignant display inspired today’s memorial. As a community, we dedicate 32 engraved Hokie Stones in honor and in memory of the members of our Hokie family who lost their lives. Hokie Stone has long symbolized the foundation of Virginia Tech. Now, it also symbolizes our relentless spirit, our courage to move forward, and our determination never to forget,” states the official memorial site.

In addition, there are annual fundraisers thrown to support the various Virginia Tech Memorial Scholarships. The official Virginia Tech victims’ legacy site is available here.

Read more about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting here.

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