The Loner

Recommended: The Washington Post’s long writeup this morning on what’s known about Cho Seung-Hui, the student responsible for Monday’s Virginia Tech slaughter. The story is full of details that convey the kid’s isolation and the sense of menace he apparently conveyed — in one case, 63 of 70 students stayed away from a poetry class he attended because they were reportedly scared of Cho — that I haven’t seen anywhere else. For extra credit, the reporters and editors managed to put together an 1,800-word piece without once describing the subject as “a loner.” That’s almost worth a Pulitzer right there.


“[Poet and poetry instructor Nikki] Giovanni said she appealed to [Professor Lucinda] Roy, who then taught Cho one-on-one. Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

“Roy said she warned school officials. ‘I was determined that people were going to take notice,” Roy said. ‘I felt I’d said to so many people, “Please, will you look at this young man?” ‘

“Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

” ‘I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people,’ Roy said. ‘I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.’ ”

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7 Replies to “The Loner”

  1. I think legally it could be very difficult to do much with an adult people find menacing and scary if that adult isn’t making any overt threats or otherwise breaking the law. Even in a college situation.

  2. A letter to the editor in today’s NYTimes suggests that Vermont’s very low violent crime rate is a direct consequence of its very unrestrictive gun laws. Why doesn’t Vermont’s situation scale up?

  3. I agree that it would be hard to do anything, though now the VT people are saying this guy had been on their radar in late ’05 — same time period when he was scaring his fellow student poets.
    Interesting point about Vermont, and that situation (relatively unrestricted gun ownership and relatively low homicide rates) appears to be found in Maine and New Hampshire, too. Massachusetts has strict laws and a murder rate that’s higher than its neighbors’ but far below the national number. To come to any conclusion, I think you’d need to look at a bunch of factors — demographics, the ratio of urban to non-urban population, the extent and concentration of urban poverty with its attendant ills, the pattern of gun ownership (how widespread gun ownership is, what sorts of guns people typically own).

  4. It seems to me that gun laws are not the issue. Cho did purchase his guns legally, but if the laws had restricted his access to guns via the pawn shop, he would have found another way. It is not access to guns that is the problem, but rather how to deal with such blatant antisocial behavior in a college environment – one where young adults are given new, and oft times, overwhelming independence. This is not a gun rights issue. This is a Cho issue.

  5. Give this guy a knife and all his disconnection and anger, and he’d rate a 75-word brief in the national news. I’m not saying it’s just guns that are to blame; that’s simplistic. But one can’t ignore the recurring tragedy and their common elements. Guns, for one; antisocial behavior, for another. I’d add a social and cultural environment in which most people seem to have accepted this kind of thing as inevitable. That — the apparent acceptance — I have a hard time with.

  6. “That — the apparent acceptance — I have a hard time with.”
    Well, the question is what’s the alternative? For all the talk of this country being the best place on Earth it also has a high concentration of deviant behavior that individuals can’t control. You try hard to raise your kids right and vote for the people that you think will make good decisions for the future but there’s very little else that can be done. Some are good, inspirational teachers. Some are motivational leaders. But not the majority. For those others that don’t want to live in a society where bloodshed is the norm there’s a sense of futility. You can leave the country, as I did, but there are all kinds of issues that can arise. Not to mention that it’s not even an option for most people who are unhappy with the state of affairs here. So what else is there? Acceptance? I don’t know exactly what you mean by acceptance. To me it means you know that’s the way things are. I know that there is no way this country is going to give up its guns. I know that this country for whatever reason is the most violent affluent culture on the planet. Do I like it? No. Do I wish it would change? Of course. Do I feel that I have the power to change it? No. So I accept it.

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