Posted by: L | May 6, 2007

V-Tech: Cho – fits of anger as a child, church suspected demons Updated 5/11

More details here about Cho’s interaction in church and an analysis (and criticism) of a 4/30 article in Newsweek describing bullying by rich members of a Christian youth group:

I am quoting the article in its entirety:

“It turns out Pastor K is the person Newsweek got this story from. He left the church almost two years before Cho graduated high school. In an interview published in various Korean language newspapers between April 18th and April 20th, Pastor K shared his experiences with Cho.

In this article dated April 19th, Pastor K says that Cho’s mother wanted him to join a Saturday youth group because she was concerned that he was too withdrawn and spending too much time playing video games. While at the youth group, Pastor K reports that he rarely spoke except to say “yes” or “no.”

But in this article from another Korean paper, Pastor K adds that Cho was picked on in the youth group though, as you’ll see, calling this “bullying” is a bit of a stretch. Here is the complete article translated into English [One of my wife’s co-workers agreed to translated it for me. I streamlined some of the wording]:

“When we watched his video manifesto explaining his reasons behind the massacre, all of our family said “that is not like Seung-Hui’. That’s because it was the first time we saw him talking in full sentences and not in pieces of words and because we were surprised to see him spitting out curses like bullets.”

As a Christian leader, I feel responsible when I see him cursing Christianity.According to the interview with Joongang Ilbo (Korean newspaper) on the 18th, Reverend K (age 50) — who taught Cho at the Korean Church in Centerville for 2 years beginning in 2000 when Cho was a 10th grader in High School in Fairfax County, VA — who wished to be remain anonymous, said “As a Christian leader, I feel responsible when I see him cursing Christianity. I am terribly sad.” The followings are excerpts from the interview:

– Have you seen Cho’s video?

“It was the first time I ever saw him so angry. I couldn’t believe it.”

– What was he like in the past?

“He was a loner. I never knew he could talk so fluently. In the past, he never spoke in sentences. If I asked him to pray, he usually didn’t say anything for at least a minute and then would say short sentences like “Let’s have a good time. Let’s be thankful.” Because he always had his mouth shut, even elementary school kids made fun of him. Some even pushed him a bit. So, often I told Seung-hui, “if you get annoyed by these little pranksters, why don’t you yell or get angry with them?” But his usual responses was to just nod and do nothing about it. Because of Cho’s inaction, teasing by some of the mischievous elementary age kids lasted for quite a while.

– Didn’t Cho’s behavior change as he came to church?

He was smart and quick to understand the biblical stories. But his understanding never materialized into faith. I’d say his faith was at about 20%. Every Saturday, I gave him a ride to our church so he could make friends his own age in the youth group. But he never got along with anyone. During snack time, he usually ate in the corner by himself.

– In his manifesto, Cho said ‘do you know how it feels to be insulted (or to suffer)?’ and showed his hostility toward the world….

When other kids made fun of him, he never reacted on the outside but perhaps he felt scorned and belittled inside. Among those whom I had to counsel not to bother Cho were some kids from rich backgrounds. Maybe these little things accumulated inside Cho’s mind for a long time and then exploded all at once.”

– Has he ever been rebellious in church?

No. However, once I recommended that his mom take Cho to see a doctor because he showed some autistic behavior. But his mom didn’t agree with my evaluation and refused to take him to the doctor. If Cho had received proper medical care from early stage, it’s possible this terrible thing might not have happened. I feel regretful for not persuading his mother more firmly at the time.”

So, according to Pastor K, Cho was indeed teased at his Saturday youth group, just as he was everywhere else. His pastor at the time was aware of it, took steps to shelter him from it and tried to get him to stand up for himself. The Newsweek story condenses all of this down into a single sentence that introduces the word bullying:

His parents turned to the church for help with his emotional problems, but he was bullied in his Christian youth group, especially by rich kids.

Is bullying what Cho really experienced in youth group?Is bullying what Cho really experienced in youth group? According to Pastor K he was teased and even pushed by some kids. That might sounds like bullying except for the fact that the kids involved were in elementary school. Cho was in 10th grade at the time. It’s not the image most people probably have in mind when they hear the word “bullying.” For me, that brings to mind a hefty kid who likes to hit people when they don’t hand over their lunch money, not a couple of 5th graders making wisecracks about a sophmore in high school.

It also appears that there were some wealthy kids who picked on Cho, but the pastor stepped in and told them to leave him alone. He wasn’t left to the mercy of these spoiled brats as the Newsweek piece suggests.

So here’s the real story. Cho was picked up and driven to a Saturday youth group so he could make friends, yet sat alone in the corner. He was protected from teasing by his pastor, but refused to protect himself from teasing by much younger kids. He was invited to join a Bible study; yet, until the manifesto appeared on TV no one had ever heard him utter more than a few words. His pastor recommended he be examined by a doctor but — possibly because of the shame associated with mental illness in Korean culture — his mother refused to take him.

Cho’s church made a sincere effort to reach out to him and help him fit in. For whatever reason, he was unable to respond. Perhaps he had a serious mental illness (schizophrenia has been suggested by some, autism by others). Perhaps he was physically or sexually abused by an adult, as his college writings seem to suggest. In either case, it’s hard to imagine what more Cho’s church could have done to help him.

Far from being just another part of the problem, church seems to be the only place Cho went where an adult stood up for him.A lot of people mocked and picked on Cho Seung-Hui. A few, in high school and college, reached out to him, including members of Tech’s Korean Campus Crusade chapter. But no one tried harder to reach out to Cho than the pastors at Centerville Korean Presbyterian Church. Evan Thomas’ story for Newsweek isn’t a lie since Cho was in fact picked on in his youth group, but it manages to mislead the reader about what really happened there. So far as we know, Pastor K was the only adult who attempted to teach Cho how to get along with others. Far from being just another part of the problem, church seems to be the only place Cho went where an adult stood up for him. That effort deserved a lot better treatement than Evan Thomas’ dismissive one-liner.


My Comment:

Fair enough. I think the detailed analysis of the Newsweek piece was warranted. Those sorts of throwaway comments in the major media deserve intense examination. They’re not always as innocuous as they might seem to some one who isn’t familiar with media framing tactics.


A report on 5/5 reports that a bomb threat written on a flyer was found in a classroom the morning of 4/16 by a professor who handed it to the janitor. Note that the note was written in red ink; Ismail Ax was written on Cho’s arm in red ink too. But there is nothing else linking the note to Cho. The janitor described as tall Asian in a maroon cap, black shirt and cargo pants with something jingling on him.

More reporting on Cho in this profile of the onset of his problems in the Washington Post.

Key new points:

*Turns out that Cho exhibited fits of anger as a child, not just taciturnity, as we heard earlier.

*We also learn now that his mother turned to the church rather than to medicine for help. She went to several northern Virginia churches, especially after 2005. The Pastor of the One Mind Church in Woodbridge, Dong Cheol Lee, thought Cho’s behavior showed demon possession and tried to help but didn’t do so in time. Cho’s behavior seems to have got worse in 2005-06, which coincides with his visit to the health center.

*We learn that Cho hardly attended classes in his senior year and spent most of the time in front of the computer. This squares with what his neighbors in Virginia have said – that they hadn’t seen him for some time. Apparently, his behavior deteriorated in his senior year (that is, after his brief encounter with the health care system and – possibly – with medication).

This is a distinct departure from what he was like as a student in earlier years. This report has information that Cho was a math whiz who started out at V Tech by working all the time and trying hard to fit in. His declared major in 2003-04 was business information, but later (by 2005 probably) he changed to English.

That’s about when he started sliding. Hmmm…maybe Limbaugh had a point about the English department (only kidding!)

Something changed and changed drastically for the worse in 2005.

* He is said to have studied a text on Deviant Behavior in class in that last year, which may show he had some awareness of his problem. The class was held on the second floor of Norris Hall, where the shooting took place.

* What’s also interesting to me is how university officials are guarding his records, citing privacy laws. I am sure it’s going to be a major embarrassment for them to explain how Cho managed to avoid being flunked for such incompetent writing, non-attendance, and generally erratic and dangerous behavior.

All this reflects poorly on Virginia Tech, I’m afraid, however much people spin it. What a pity. Apparently, the school has a great engineering faculty. Too bad that the administration and security don’t seem to have matched up, at least in this instance

Note: the more I see the different pieces of this puzzle, the more I am inclined to think that although we have a person with psychological/psychiatric problems at the center of it, we also have some other influences at work here. I suspect we may find some kind of traumatic incident in 2005, or some authority figure’s influence coming to bear on him…

Now we have a couple of more hints why Norris was chosen: Cho took at least two classes that we know of on the second floor – one where he read about deviant behavior and another where he studied the Genesis story of Ishmael.

We also know he was a very bright math student, a whiz according to at least two reports. If he chose to go into business management at first, maybe it was because he wanted to be more socially acceptable to the affluent Virginian kids he envied or resented (if we go by what he said on his video).

Karan Grewal, his suite mate, was puzzled by that comment, though, noting that most of the students were middle class and on scholarship of some kind. I haven’t studied the demographics of the school, but looking through the list of victims I found that, as you would expect in a Virginian college, a lot of his victims were Virginia residents:

1. Leslie Sherman, sophomore history and international studies student from Springfield, Va.

2. Maxine Turner, 22, senior majoring in chemical engineering from Vienna, Va.

3. Mary Karen Read, 19, freshman from Annandale, Va.

4. Reema Joseph Samaha, 18, freshman from Centreville, Va

5. Erin Peterson, 18, of Chantilly, Va., an international studies major

6. Lauren Ashley McCain, 20, of Hampton, Va., freshman international studies major.

7. Henry J. Lee, also known as Henh Ly, 20, first-year student majoring in computer engineering from Roanoke, Va.

8. Rachael Hill, 18, of Glen Allen, Va.

9. Emily Jane Hilscher, 19-year-old freshman from Woodville, Va., majoring in animal and poultry sciences.

10. Matthew Gregory Gwaltney, 24, of Chester, Va., graduate student in civil and environmental engineering.

11. Austin Michelle Cloyd, sophomore international studies major and member of the honors program from Blacksburg, Va. Previously from Illinois.
12. Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva, 21, of Peru, sophomore majoring in international studies. He also had lived in Woodbridge, Va.

13.Brian Roy Bluhm, 25, civil engineering graduate student from Stephens City, Va. He had previously lived in Iowa, Detroit and Louisville, Ky

14. Jarrett Lee Lane, 22, senior majoring in civil engineering from Narrows, Va

14/32 means that nearly half of his victims were Virginian residents or had moved there. (The rest were foreign born or were from close by (PA, NY or NJ).

Was this, in fact, an attack on the Hokies, as Pat Buchanan puts it? Or is this simply the usual proportion of locals you’d find in any college?

I am going to hold off commenting on the fact that this is yet another murder/shooting in which a charge of demon possession has raised its head. It’s too easy to speculate irresponsibly at this stage on something like that. I wonder why we are not hearing anything more about the medication he was reported to be taking daily, according to roommates. I would think it would be easy enough to find evidence in his dorm room.

Meanwhile, I would like to find out more about the One Mind Church and what if any connections it had to the prayer circle Cho’s sister attended. I wonder if any other pastor had the same belief about Cho and whether anyone else tried to help.
Also, this new information doesn’t sit too well with jihadi theories. I wonder if the freepers will find a new classification – Diablo-fascist, or some such thing…

(no offense intended to Christians, Muslims…. or Satanists or anyone else…)
Where is Charles Krauthammer when you need him?


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