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Cho's Behavior Troubled Those Who Knew Him

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Seung-hui Cho was a troubled and lonely student at Virginia Tech. He was 23 years old. Over and over, his writings and his behavior had raised alarms among the faculty and fellow students, and police say he opened fire in Monday's mass shooting. So while investigators now know more about the who in the tragedy that left 33 people dead, there's still a lot of questions about why.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: Even the people who knew Seung-hui Cho didn't really know him.

SHU CHAN: I never see any friends of him when I lived there except his parents came to, you know, move his stuff.

SHAPIRO: Shu Chan was Cho's roommate at Virginia Tech.

CHAN: When their parents left, the mother, you know, grabbed me, said to me, like, help him. So after that, I just told him several times, if you want a ride, you know, for shopping or something just let me know. But he always refused.

SHAPIRO: Cho took a creative writing class with Professor Lucinda Roy. Roy says she found some of his writings disturbing. He also seemed depressed and angry. She called campus counseling, student affairs, and even the police, but they told her they couldn't intervene since he hadn't actually threatened anyone.

LUCINDA ROY: Having taught for so long, there's a kind of second sense that you have, a special sense when you come across a student who seems to be very troubled. And it seemed to me that when that happened, then all my alarms went off.

SHAPIRO: An AOL employee who took a playwriting class with Cho at Virginia Tech posted two of the shooter's scripts yesterday on an AOL blog. Blogger Ian McFarlane described the plays as, like something out of a nightmare. The scripts are violent and crude in every sense of the word. McFarlane said when he heard about the shootings, quote, "my first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was, I bet it was Seung Cho."

Cho emigrated from South Korea to the U.S. with his family when he was 8. He grew up in the pleasantly generic-sounding town of Centreville, Virginia. Centreville is within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. The streets here are full of typical strip malls and big box stores, interspersed with Korean churches and restaurants that serve chap chae and bibimbap.

The neighbors didn't know the family well. They say Cho's parents didn't speak much English. They'd greet people in the neighborhood but not much else. Marshall Maine(ph) and his wife live across the street. They describe themselves as the token seniors in the neighborhood.

Maine says police cars quietly came streaming into the neighborhood late Monday night.

MARSHALL MAINE: Some men got out of one of the cars, one or two of the cars, and they ran around the back of this row of houses, and the others went up to the door in the front. And apparently they were admitted by the, by someone inside, I gather. But I don't think the door was ever forced or anything like that.

SHAPIRO: He says the cops were in there for about an hour and a half taking pictures.

MAINE: We could see the blinding flash of the flash cameras, you know, you see in the dark night, of course, show up like lightning almost. And then they finally - everybody left. I don't know if the family left with them or not, but I don't think anybody's in there right now.

SHAPIRO: In Centreville's Korean community, most people were very reluctant to talk. Steve Chang is pastor of the Life Global Mission Church in neighboring Fairfax. He said, for many Koreans in the area, this tragedy came as a double whammy. Lots of people knew victims at Virginia Tech, and then they learned that the shooter came from their community, too.

STEVE CHANG: Everyone is connected. I mean everyone is connected with everyone in a Korean community. And we have much less dimension of separation here.

SHAPIRO: Chang says he can't confirm much about the Cho family. He doesn't know anyone who heard from them yesterday.

CHANG: They're certainly a part of the community, and their parents were a regular member of one of the Korean American churches here. And some of the youth pastors knew about the student, their son.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Chang organized a vigil last night. He said he wanted to give parents and children a chance to express their concern and their sorrow together.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.