You may remember the Virginia Tech tragedy more than two years ago, when a student at the university, Seung-Hui Cho, opened fire one day on his classmates, killing 32 people and himself on April 16, 2007. What you may not have known is that Cho’s mental health records from when he was seen at the university’s counseling center went missing and were never located. Until now.
Mental health records for Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho that were missing for more than two years have been discovered in the home of the university clinic’s former director, according to a state memo shared with victims’ family members.
Cho killed 32 people on April 16, 2007, then committed suicide as police closed in. His mental health treatment has been a major issue in the vast investigation of the shootings, yet the records’ location had eluded authorities.
But Cho’s weren’t the only records found in the Dr. Miller’s — the former director’s — house:
A memo from the university […] says Cho’s records and those of several other Virginia Tech students were found last week in the home of Dr. Robert C. Miller. […] The memo said Cho’s records were removed from the Cook Counseling Center on the Virginia Tech campus more than a year before the shootings, when Miller left the clinic.
It’s not unusual for a clinic director, or even a therapist, to occasionally take some patient records home. It may be prohibited by clinic policy, or even state law as Gov. Kaine states in this article, but it’s done all the time.
What is unusual is that this clinic director never returned the records. You take them home overnight, work on them, and then bring them back the next day. Maybe a weekend if you have a lot of work to do. But not returning them before you leave your position with the clinic? That’s odd. Sure, it could’ve been an oversight or a simple disorganized mess they were buried under. But after the school shooting two years ago, if you even suspected you might have them, you might go looking for them in your piles.
That they are only now turning up does suggest something a little more than absent-mindedness.
Why are the records still important?
Miller is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by the families of slain students Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde. The suit claims Miller was told by Cho’s English professors about his disturbing behavior and by the school’s residential director that Cho had a history of erratic behavior, suicidal thoughts and had “blades” in his room.
The lawsuit claims Miller never passed that information on to either of the therapists from the counseling center who dealt with Cho during three 45-minute triage sessions in 2005.
Miller wouldn’t comment for the Associated Press article, so we only have one side of the story. But I found it odd that Miller wouldn’t have passed along pertinent information to therapists who worked under him when he had information given to him about a particularly troubled student like Cho apparently was.
It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit plays out, assuming it goes to trial. But we probably won’t have to wait that long. According to the article, Virginia plans to release “the records publicly as soon as possible — either by consent from Cho’s estate or through a subpoena.” And then we’ll have a whole ‘nother news cycle in which armchair psychologists can dissect the meanings found within such records.
And, naturally, people will find “signs” in those records that point to the possibility of the tragedy or that somehow foreshadowed it. This Monday-morning quarterbacking, however, is fraught with difficulties, as we can nearly always find data to support a later behavior or action a person took. It’s human nature to want to make sense of a tragedy such as this one, and to connect the dots.
But in real life, those dots don’t look at all connected. Without making excuses for anyone, university counseling centers see hundreds of troubled students every year. As an expected but money-losing service provided by most colleges and universities, counseling centers are usually not terribly well-funded or have access to all the resources they typically need or want. Perhaps things have changed since I worked at a public university’s counseling center many years ago while in training, but they are also not well-equipped to handle serious mental disorders either (like depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder). This probably varies from university to university, but at the large university I was at, they referred most of those kinds of individuals to therapists within the community.
I have no idea why Miller took these records from the clinic and never returned them, even during the publicity of the investigation in the aftermath of the shootings. I suspect we’ll find out why shortly, though.
Read the full article: Va. Tech gunman’s mental records found in home