Officials face questioning on VT's culpability in tragedy
Cho returned to campus after a 24-hour observation in a psychiatric facility.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Weary with grief and struggling to explain their failure to monitor Cho Seung-Hui upon his release from a mental hospital 16 months ago, the leaders of Virginia Tech sought Thursday to begin the healing process for their shattered university.
His voice cracking and his eyes glistening, the man who has become the public face of the school -- a silver-haired administrator named Larry Hincker -- said the time had come for the university to move forward after four days of pain.
"We cannot let this horror define Virginia Tech," Hincker said, just hours after helping fellow officials parry blistering questions from reporters about how the school dealt with a troubled killer-to-be.
"We are going to do whatever we can to try to get this place back on its feet again, while we remember what took place and do what we can to prevent anything like that happening again in the United States," he said.
At a news conference hours earlier, school officials acknowledged that no one from the university had monitored Cho upon his release from a mental facility 16 months ago. They said the courts were responsible for ensuring that Cho followed up with required counseling after he was deemed a danger to himself and possibly others.
Court and psychiatric authorities are not required to notify school officials when a student is released from a mental facility, they said. And after Cho's release in December 2005, Virginia Tech officials said, the school received no complaints that he was violent or dangerous.
The fact that Cho had been detained for a 24-hour period of observation at a nearby psychiatric hospital and then turned loose has angered many. The university has spend the past two days trying to explain why he was released in the first place, and why the courts, the health-care system and the university all failed to track his progress afterward.
On Monday morning, Cho, 23, a senior majoring in English, killed 32 fellow students and teachers in a pair of shootings at the campus, then shot himself to death.
"He had broken no law that we know of," Dr. Christopher Flynn, director of the Cook Counseling Center on campus, said of Cho. "The mental-health professionals were there to assess his safety, not particularly the safety of others. So there is no necessity perhaps that they would notify everybody."
University not notified
School officials said Thursday that because Cho was released, it meant that a mental-health professional had decided that he was no longer a threat to himself or others.
"When they are released into the community, there is no necessary notification of the university," Flynn said. "The university is not part of the mental-health system or the judiciary system, and we would not be the providers of mandatory counseling in this instance."
A campus police officer picked up Cho and escorted him for treatment after the stalking complaints; university police Chief Wendell Flinchum said his office notified the university administration that day.
"It was not a criminal matter," Flinchum said. "We had taken it as far as we could take it. ... After that, I do not know what happened to the case."
Ed Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs, said Cho's roommate and suitemates also did not complain to university officials about "any violence or danger or whatever" regarding Cho.
Since the shootings, however, they have told eerie stories about his sullen demeanor and erratic behavior.
Some of the suitemates have said they complained to the school about Cho's scribblings on dormitory walls, to which Spencer replied: "There's a big difference between writing on a wall, being strange, different, weird and quiet -- and being dangerous."