Cho Seung-Hui

Cho Seung-Hui, the murdering 23-year-old student from South Korea responsible for the deadliest shooting spree in modern U.S. history, apparently had a recent history of mental health issues, including a short stay at a psychiatric hospital in 2005.

University Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said his officers confronted Cho in late 2005 after two women separately complained that he had harassed them through a variety of means, including in-person, through phone calls and with instant messages. After the second incident in December 2005, Cho’s roommate warned police he might be suicidal, prompting them to issue a “temporary detention order.” Police then sent him to a nearby mental health facility, Access Services, for a psychiatric evaluation.

Officials would not say how long Cho stayed at the facility, but a roommate said he was gone for a couple of days, a time period consistent with an evaluation stay to determine whether a person is in danger of harming themselves or others. Police Chief Flinchum characterized the harassment as “annoying,” not “threats.” Since Cho was apparently gone for only a few days, he was likely found not to be in imminent danger to himself or others and released. It is typical for someone evaluated for suicidal ideation to be prescribed followup treatment and care, such as seeing a therapist or being prescribed an antidepressant medication.

Cho was responsible for the deaths of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia on Monday, April 16, 2007. After shooting two people in a dormitory in the morning, Cho made his way to a classroom building and killed 30 more people, and then took his own life.

Cho a “Sullen Loner”

As new details emerge daily about the killer, students and teachers have described Cho as a sullen loner whose creative writings for his English literature degree were so laced with violence and venom that they alarmed some of those around him. It was reported earlier that two English professors had recommended Cho be seen by the university’s counseling service, but it is unclear whether he ever was or if any followup was conducted by either the teachers or the counseling center.

Draft scripts for two plays allegedly written by Cho for a writing class contain “really twisted, macabre violence,” according to a student who was in class with him at Virginia Tech. Other news reports have also stated that Cho was taking an antidepressant medication for depression. These reports are consistent with someone who was previously assessed for suicidal thoughts, a common symptom of severe depression.

Despite encounters with the law and his past psychiatric treatment, Cho was able to legally purchase the two handguns he used in the attack. The shooting has also rekindled national debate over U.S. gun laws.

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