Thursday, April 19, 2007


Every time for the past few days, I've visited a news site and been hit by the images and the sheer number of stories about the tragic, disgusting, disheartening events that happened on the Virginia Tech campus less than a week ago. As with most stories that seem to embroil the entire nation, whether it's Don Imus's nappy-headed commentary or Terri Schiavo's right to die, these stories -- whether as dictated by the people or the media, or some sort of combination thereof -- refuse to go away...on many occasions, with good reason. Yet I do often finding myself in the position of avoiding news sites once it's clear the site in question, whether CNN or The New York Times or what have you, has saturated and exceeded the point of the return.

The formula, in essence, is "Does my need/desire for information about this particular topic outweigh the sad, unfortunate, tragic images and information I will undoubtedly confront upon visiting said site?" Soon after the event(s) are first reported, I've had my fill.

So when it came time to read about Cho Seung-Hui's actions -- both the shootings on the campus at Virginia Tech and the contents of the package he mailed -- between the shootings -- to NBC, I had, for the most part, reached that point where enough was enough.

And then I saw the photos of him posing with handguns, some of which depict him pointing said guns at the camera and some of which depict him pointing a gun at his own head. What strikes me as most noticeable about these photographs, and the embedded photo (courtesy of NBC and CNN) is how angry this guy looked. These photos were not taken between the shootings; the package thereof was mailed between them. These were taken at some point while Seung-Hui was preparing this attack. So this series wasn't his way of making an "in-the-moment" documentary of his actions.

Still, aside from the sheer number of fatalities, not to mention injuries, it amazes me that he was perceived by his classmates as well as faculty and staff at the University as having some sort of behavioral and/or mental deficiency. He was clearly angry, anti-social and all of his interaction with the other people on campus, before Monday, hinted -- strongly -- that his thoughts and his outward emotions were tinged with anger and violence.

So why was this guy not anyone's priority?

Let us, for the time being, forget the notion that it seems more people in modern society are "snapping." Even if that weren't true, let's simply assume that this individual was referred for mental health treatment and underwent some sort of exam over the past 18 months. Let's also, for the time being, forget the notion that pressure, drugs (anti-depressants and the sudden lack thereof), even food additives, chemicals, etc., play a part in modern society's seeming increase of these types of anti-social explosions by lone, paranoid, depressed or disgruntled individuals. Can't we simply accept that these types of incidents are happening on a frequent enough basis that people need to be vigilant about those people they suspect may have mental or societal difficulties?

We've all, at one time or another, encountered someone we clearly believe is "not all there." Whether that means the guy whose OCD precludes him from shaking peoples' hands, to another guy who mutters loudly to himself on the subway whilst wearing a scarf and a winter hat in the middle of July, to someone who always seems outwardly angry, to the quiet, withdrawn members of an office staff or a school class whose only outward expression is anger, violence and something that doesn't quite seem normal.

Who are we to judge others? That argument is legitimate, of course, in that no one is truly "normal." What you or I might suspect is strange, odd behavior might be perfectly reasonable to another. Moreover, whether it's my neighbor who waters her lawn at 3AM wearing a fright wig and a pink tutu, or the guy who goes jogging at midnight wearing ladies clothing, clearly each and every one of us has our own way of living daily life.

However, Cho Seung-Hui clearly had mental problems. His on-campus behavior, outside of class, was marked with discord and with females reporting his behavior as stalkerish. In class, his work -- particular, two plays he presented to an entire drama class -- was marked with anger, profanity, a non-sensical hostility and a clear penchant for retribution and vitriol. His professor had him removed from her class for these reasons and reported his behavior to the administration. Subsequently, the police department was alerted to his behavior. So why did Monday happen?

As we attempt to move past this tragedy, and those who lost friends and loved ones in this episode somehow try to come to grips with what happened, I'm not advocating a litigious revenge on the school administration, the police, or anyone in particular. I am, in its stead, advocating some sort of progress as to how we should address these situations, not only by questioning how one can buy a handgun with this sort of mental history, but how to prevent these things from happening as well as training security to handle these situations should -- if not when -- they happen.

There's far too much minutae embedded in the life of Cho Seung-Hui and his behavior to be addressed here. Further, his actions don't merit any attention. What merits attention is the lives he took or impacted with his actions. But most importantly, this incident -- and similar incidents that will undoubtedly happen in the future -- should and must be examined so we can, perhaps, find a way to prevent these things from happening again.

If nothing else, that would be a tribute to the people who lost their lives in this senseless, awful episode in America's modern, and violent, history.

No comments: