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Virginia Tech Gunman Mailed Package to NBC Between Shootings

April 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: Two days after the killings, Virginia Tech students continued to gather today on the campus drill field for impromptu prayer vigils.

ASHLEY RENFROW, Virginia Tech Student: I think I’m still in shock. It hasn’t sunk in yet. Each morning, you wake up, and you see another face or hear another name that hits close to home, and we knew one of the last people that was identified. And I found out at 5:30 last night.

So it’s still incomprehensible. I don’t think you can grasp something of this magnitude and everything that’s going on here. It’s great to have such a large support system. That’s why I chose to stay.

I don’t feel that my safety is in question at all. This could happen anywhere, but we’re Hokies, and we’re resilient, and we’re going to pull through.

New information about Cho

TOM BEARDEN: At a news conference this morning, authorities revealed new information about Seung-Hui Cho. Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said two female students had complained about Cho more than a year ago.

CHIEF W.R. FLINCHUM, Virginia Tech Police Department: In November of 2005, Cho had made contact, through phone calls and in person, with a female student. The student notified the Virginia Tech Police Department, and officers responded. The student declined to press charges and referred to Cho's contact with her as "annoying."

However, the investigating officer referred Cho to the university disciplinary system, which is the Office of Judicial Affairs. The outcome of that referral is handled within the university and is outside the scope of the police department.

In December of 2005, Cho instant messaged a second female student. Again, no threat was made against that student. However, she made a complaint to the Virginia Tech Police Department and asked that Cho have no further contact with her.

Officers followed up the next morning and spoke with Cho concerning this matter. Later that day, our department received a call from an acquaintance of Cho's who was concerned that Cho might be suicidal. Officers again met with Cho and talked with him at length.

Out of concern for Cho, officers asked him to speak to a counselor. He went voluntarily to the police department. Based on that interaction with a counselor, a temporary detention order was obtained, and Cho was taken to a mental health facility.

TOM BEARDEN: Flinchum could not say how long he was at the facility because of privacy rules. And officials said the contacts police had with Cho about those incidents and subsequent mental health evaluations followed established protocols.

Dr. Christopher Flynn is the director of the university's Cook Counseling Center. He explained why they could not force Cho to get counseling.

CHRISTOPHER FLYNN, Director, Virginia Tech Counselor Center: Students who have mental health concerns often are referred to the Cook Counseling Center. We are the local, the university counseling center, we're here to help any student who may be in distress.

Clearly, mental health professionals have a professional duty to protect their clients and to protect the general public. If we felt or if any counselor felt, in the community or otherwise, that a client represented a danger to self or others, we have a duty to warn.

That is why we have involuntary commitment procedures available to us; that is why students can be hospitalized voluntarily. Once they are in the hospital, they are treated with medication. And on release, they are given a plan or a protocol to follow.

That issue does not ever go away. We are always prepared to protect students and the larger community.

Linking the two shootings

COL. STEVE FLAHERTY: We're not aware of any connection with any of the victims at this particular point in time. That is part of the focus of what we're doing right now, is trying to determine what it was that made Norris Hall a place of interest on Monday morning, what it was that made AJW a point of interest to whomever committed that offense on Monday morning.

TOM BEARDEN: Police still say they have no hard evidence proving Cho was the gunman in the first shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall, where two students were killed, and they still don't know what set Cho off.

Meanwhile, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine visited some of the injured being treated at Montgomery Regional Hospital, about a mile from the campus.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), Virginia: The students are generally doing pretty well. Most of them were sitting up in bed, smiling. A couple of them had walked for the first time today.

TOM BEARDEN: The hospital treated 17 people after the shooting.

Cho's dorm and roommates

TOM BEARDEN: Police recovered a chain and combination lock from Cho's dorm room yesterday, along with some of his writings, a folding knife, and computer files. Authorities also reported one of Cho's professors shared concerns with them over his writings, but no official report was ever filed.

Lucinda Roy is co-director of the creative writing program at the university. She personally tutored Cho.

LUCINDA ROY, Professor, Virginia Tech: ... so they responded very quickly. I think we also very quickly, it seemed, that they hit a wall themselves, in terms of what they were permitted to do with a student on campus, unless he'd made a very overt threat to himself or to others.

TOM BEARDEN: Two of Cho's roommates at Virginia Tech told ABC News he didn't seem interested in making friends.

KARAN GREWAL, Virginia Tech Student: I tried talking to him at the beginning of the year and introducing myself, but he always shied away or looked away and had no expression on his face. And, you know, after the freshman year, you expect people to know other people, so you don't probe into their life too much if they, you know, don't actively converse with you.

So I think -- I'm scared if I tried any harder, it could have made him angry and he could act violently towards me.

JOSEPH AUST, Virginia Tech Student: He pretty much never talked at all. I tried to make conversation with him earlier in the year when he moved in, like asking him, you know, the general questions like, "What's your major? And what year are you?" Trying to just carry on a conversation or whatever, and he would just give one-word answers and stay quiet. And pretty much he never looked me in the eye.

Remembering the victims

TOM BEARDEN: A number of local churches, including the Blacksburg Baptist Church, have been providing counseling for the families of victims and for students. The senior pastor, Dr. Tommy McDearis, said it's always difficult to confront death, particularly when someone's child has been killed.

REV. THOMAS MCDEARIS, Pastor, Blacksburg Baptist Church: People deal with this kind of thing in different ways. The parents who have lost their loved ones are never going to get past that. You never get over losing a child.

You learn how to cope; you learn how to get on with life. Very few parents that I've ever known who've lost a child have not told me that they think of their child every day, and that may have been for years ago.

The intense part is probably going to go on for another two to four weeks, with waning during that period of time. And then, probably within another six months, people are probably going to start to feel those -- when school starts again in September, we're going to have a lot of anxiety on the part of parents, have a lot of anxiety on the part of students who will be coming back and starting again.

And then, every April, I would think, for a number of years to come, we're going to have to spend some time with people who are remembering intensely again, going through that trauma again in their minds.

TOM BEARDEN: Many of Virginia Tech's students left the school after last night's candlelight vigil, where thousands gathered on the drill field to pay tribute to the 32 dead. Classes have been canceled for the remainder of the week.

Late today, Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel Steve Flaherty announced that NBC News in New York had received correspondence from Seung-Hui Cho that included photographs, video and writings, but he refused to release details or take questions.

COL. STEVE FLAHERTY: We'll be taking every bit of this apart.

TOM BEARDEN: MSNBC has reported that the material appears to have been sent during a two-hour period between Monday's shootings. University officials also released for the first time some of the names of the dead.

LARRY HINCKER, Spokesman, Virginia Tech: I'm going to read the names to you in alphabetical order, last names first. Alameddine, Ross Abdullah. His hometown is Saugus, Massachusetts. He was a sophomore in university studies. He's been a student since the fall of 2005.

Gwaltney, Matthew Gregory. Hometown in Chesterfield, Virginia.

Hilscher, Emily Jane. Her hometown was in Woodville, Virginia, and she was a freshman in animal and poultry sciences. She was a student since the fall of 2006.

La Porte, Matthew Joseph. His hometown was in Dumont, New Jersey. He was a sophomore in university studies and a student since the fall of 2005.

Lee, Henry J., he's from Roanoke, Virginia, and he was a sophomore in computer engineering.

McCain, Lauren Ashley, her hometown was in Hampton, Virginia. She was a freshman in international studies. She was a student since the fall of 2006.

Panchal, Minal Hiralal, his hometown was Mumbai, India.

Shaalan, Waleed Mohamed, his hometown is Blacksburg, Virginia, but he was originally from Egypt.

One confirmation on a faculty member, Librescu, Liviu, who was professor in engineering science and mechanics. His residence was in Blacksburg, Virginia. He joined Virginia Tech on September 1, 1985.

TOM BEARDEN: More names are expected to be released in the coming days.