Today's Papers

Warning Signs

Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech continues to dominate the front pages this morning, as attention now turns to the student who was identified as the shooter and his victims. The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with a look at Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old English major who was identified as the gunman. As soon as his name became public, students and professors came forward to say they had frequently harbored concerns about the South Korean immigrant who barely spoke a word to anyone, didn’t seem to have any friends, and wrote bizarrely violent assignments for class.

The New York Timesleads with information released yesterday that gets closer to explaining why university officials took more than two hours to warn students there was a gunman on campus after the first two people were killed in a dormitory. It seems that, as some initially suspected, police and campus authorities were busy pursuing someone else they thought was responsible. USA Todayleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with yesterday’s memorial services at the Virginia Tech campus. President Bush spoke at the university yesterday afternoon and urged members of the community to “reach out to those who ache for sons and daughters who are never coming home.”

As the identity of the gunman was revealed, it became clear there had been warning signs, and some had even raised their concerns to university officials. Everyone quotes poet Nikki Giovanni, who appears to have been the first to have voiced worries about Cho when he was a student in her creative writing class in the fall of 2005. Giovanni says Cho frequently turned in assignments that she found disturbing (yesterday, AOL posted two plays Cho allegedly wrote for a class). “Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely,” Giovanni said.

At one point, most of Giovanni’s students didn’t show up for her class, supposedly because they were afraid of Cho. As a result, the chairwoman of the English department, Lucinda Roy, agreed to teach Cho privately. The NYT says Roy was so nervous about being alone with Cho that she set up a system so that her assistant would know if she was in trouble. Roy shared her concerns with university officials but they said that nothing could be done since there were no specific threats.

By all accounts, Cho barely ever spoke a single word to anybody and always seemed to hide behind a hat and sunglasses. He shared a three-bedroom suite with five roommates, and the LAT says there was such little communication between them that some didn’t even know how to pronounce Cho’s name. One of his roommates said Cho’s routine began to change a few weeks ago as he cut his hair into a military-style cut and started waking up earlier and going to the gym.

The Post says police found two three-page notes in Cho’s room in which he bitterly wrote about wealthy students and even named people whom he believed had kept him from succeeding. While searching his room, officials also found prescription medicine that apparently was used to treat mental health problems. It is now believed that Cho was responsible for the recent bomb threats at the university.

Cho bought the two guns he used in the shooting rampage legally. Although officials have not been able to confirm that Cho also killed the two students in the dorm earlier in the day, the same 9 mm weapon was used. Assuming Cho was responsible for the first shooting, it’s unclear why he would have targeted the student and the resident adviser at that particular dorm. The LAT talks to the roommate of the first victim and she says her friend did not know Cho, and has no idea why she was a target.

The roommate said that when police came to question her right after the shooting she told them about the victim’s boyfriend and described him as a gun user. That appears to have led police to focus their energies on searching for the boyfriend without realizing that a gunman was still at large. This leads to two of the largest unanswered questions in the case: Assuming Cho was responsible for both shootings, why did he take a two-hour break and what did he do during that time? Also, could Cho have had an accomplice? The NYT goes inside with experts speculating what the delay between the first and second shooting could mean.

Meanwhile, as criticism of the university’s response to the first shooting continued to increase, Virginia Tech’s president asked Gov. Timothy Kaine to appoint an independent committee to review Monday’s events. The committee will also look at whether university officials should have paid more attention to the warnings about Cho.

All the papers write heart-wrenching stories about the victims. The WSJ goes high with, and everyone else writes about, Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who was a well-known professor of aerospace engineering. He was killed while trying to prevent the shooter from entering his classroom, which gave students time to jump out the window. And there’s no shortage of emotional coverage as the papers write about the freshman who loved to dance, the grad student who just got married, and the sophomore who was a talented singer and violinist, to name a few. All the papers mention how MySpace and Facebook have become a gathering place for students to grieve and mourn (not to mention a source for journalists trying to find out information). 

And now for some lighter reading … The LAT fronts a very amusing dispatch from London that uses the breakup of Prince William and Kate Middleton to take a look at the intricacies of class structure in Britain and how they remain important. As far as most British media are concerned, the reason the prince broke up with the commoner was, well, because she was just “way too middle class.” Never mind that Middleton’s parents owned a $2 million house or that they could send her to a prestigious college, it seems her mother’s past as a flight attendant (not to mention her gum-chewing ways) was too much to bear.