Seung-Hui Cho (January 18, 1984–April 16, 2007), also known as Cho Seung-Hui or Seung Cho was a mass murderer who shot and killed 32 people and wounded many more.The shooting rampage, termed the “Virginia Tech massacre,” took place on April 16, 2007, on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—commonly known as Virginia Tech—in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States.He committed suicide after law enforcement officers breached the doors of the academic building in which he had killed 30 of his 32 victims and wounded many more, both faculty and students. Cho was a South Korean national with permanent resident status in the United States and was a senior English major at Virginia Tech.
Fellow students described Cho as a “quiet” person who “would not respond if someone greeted him.” Student Julie Poole recalled the first day of a literature class last year, when the students introduced themselves one by one: when it was Cho’s turn, he did not speak. The professor, she said, looked at the sign-in sheet, and where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. “We just really knew him as the question mark kid,” Poole added.
According to a CNN interview with both his roommates, Andy Koch and John Eide, Cho demonstrated repetitive behavior such as listening repeatedly to Collective Soul’s “Shine” and writing the lyrics “Teach me how to speak; Teach me how to share; Teach me where to go” on his dormitory room wall.
Andy described two unusual incidents, one in which Cho stood in the doorway of his room late at night taking photographs of him, the second in which he repeatedly placed harassing cell phone calls to Andy as “Cho’s brother, Question Mark”, a name Cho also used when introducing himself to girls with whom he was allegedly obsessed. Koch and Eide searched Cho’s belongings and found a pocket knife; they did not find any items that they deemed seriously threatening.
In the fall of 2005, Cho told Koch and Eide that he had an imaginary girlfriend he called “Jelly”, a supermodel that lived in outer space who called Cho by the name “Spanky”. Due to Cho’s troubling behaviours during 2005-06, Koch and Eide who had tried to befriend Cho, gradually stopped talking to him and told their friends, especially female classmates, not to visit their room.
Andy Koch and John Eide also stated that that Cho was involved in at least three stalking incidents, two of which resulted in verbal warnings by campus police. The first stalking incident occurred on Sunday November 27 2005.
According to Koch, after the incident Cho claimed that he had AIMed the girl online and found out where she lived. He then went to her dorm room to see if she was “cool”, but only found “promiscuity” in her eyes. Eide added that when Cho visited the girl he said, “Hi, I’m Question Mark” to her, “which really freaked her out.”
The girl called campus police; she complained that Cho sent her annoying messages and he had made an unannounced visit. Two uniformed members of campus police visited Cho’s dorm late Sunday evening and verbally warned him not to contact the girl again, no further contact was made.
The final stalking incident occurred on Tuesday December 13 2005. Cho frightened a friend of Koch by writing on her door board a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, scene II, in which Romeo laments to Juliet:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself… . Had I it written, I would tear the word.
The young woman contacted the campus police and again Cho was verbally warned. No further contact was made. Later on Tuesday, Cho texted Koch saying, “I might as well kill myself now.” Worried that Cho was suicidal, Koch contacted his father for advice and they both contacted campus authorities. The campus police returned to the dorm and escorted Cho to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Va.
On the early hours of April 27th, 1984, 18 year old Billy Gilley woke up his sister Jody (16 at the time) by pushing their younger sibling Becky (11) into her room and instructing her to stay there. Confused and sleepy, Jody didn’t stop Becky when she curiously went downstairs to see what was going on. Next thing Jody new, the house filled with screams.
Billy had taken a baseball bat and killed his parents, Bill and Linda, by savagely beating them. Because Becky had interrupted him, he hit and killed her too. Jody thought she was next when she heard her brother coming up the stairs. He appeared in her doorway, agitated and covered in blood, but instead of attacking her, he said “We are free. I’m not crazy.”
The two siblings escaped the house and, as soon as she found herself alone for a moment, Jody called 911 to alert authorities of the crime. Billy was arrested and was convicted and sentenced to three life terms of a minimum of 30 years each. He appealed said sentence in 2008, but it was upheld. Another appeal, in 2011, was denied, so he stays in prison.
Although the jury never got to hear this during his trial, Billy and Jody lived in an abusive household. Their parents were religious fundamentalists. In fact, although he was considered a sociopath by some of the forensic experts that analyzed him, Billy insists that it was the head trauma caused by his father’s punches that led him to the murders.
This case was covered in the book While they Slept, by Kathryn Harrison, in which Jody and Billy share their views on the case. You can also read an emotional testimony written by Jody for the Washington Post in 2005 here.