Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The case of Cho Seung-Hui: What became of his referral to counseling?

The Chicago Tribune advises this morning, in an editorial, "[W]hen we encounter another person whose inner voice seems to be screaming at him or her, we can take the uncomfortable step of notifying someone in authority at our school, or our workplace, or our community." That might do more to prevent a future Cho Seung-Hui from launching a murderous rampage than anything else, the paper suggests.

And I'd be inclined to agree IF "someone in authority" would act on this sort of notice.

Matt Apuzzo, in a story in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, reports that one of Cho's professors, Carolyn Rude, thought "Cho's writing was so disturbing that he had been referred to the university's counseling service." But, Apuzzo reports, Professor Rude "did not know what the outcome of counseling was."

Did Cho ever go? Did the university ever follow up? Presumably the university could not force Cho to accept help; I don't know this for certain, but I assume this to be true. But did the university ever tell Cho that his future attendance at the school was contingent on his accepting help? The university was under no obligation to keep an increasingly dangerous and erratic young man as an enrolled student and resident in its dorms.

Nor was Professor Rude alone, apparently, in her concerns about Cho's pre-rampage behavior. An AP story by Adam Geller, also posted this morning at the Chicago Sun-Times, repeats Professor Rude's suspicions (Geller identifies her as the Chair of the university's English Department) and also quotes the concerns raised by a poetry professor, Nikki Giovanni. Geller reports, "Giovanni said her students were so unnerved by Cho's behavior that she had security check on her room and eventually had him taken out of her class."

Geller's AP story is now updated on Yahoo! News. In the latest article, Geller reports that Cho was reported to the police for stalking two female students and had once been taken to a mental health facility "in 2005 after an acquaintance worried he might be suicidal."

So one professor reported Cho to security, another recommended him for counseling. There were police contacts -- but no charges -- and he may have even been, briefly, in the mental health system.

The newspapers and radio this morning have seized upon the fact that Cho purchased his weapons legally -- and the usual suspects are bleating for increased gun control in the wake of this tragedy.

And that may or may not be a good idea.

But if I were a news editor the lines I'd want my reporters to follow would be this: Did Professor Rude really refer Cho for counseling? What became of that referral? Did he go? Did he refuse? Apuzzo's story indicates that Cho may have been taking medications for depression. Was this related to his counseling? Or did the doctor prescribing these medications even have an inkling about the warning signs Cho was flashing in the university community? What treatment was offered when Cho was brought to a mental health facility?

What did security do to follow up on Professor Giovanni's concerns? Did Professors Giovanni and Rude ever communicate with each other about this troubled student in their department? Who else 'notified someone in authority' at Virginia Tech? What happened?

There are 33 grieving families here -- and, yes, the shooter's family should be numbered among the grieving. Lockdowns and email or text alerts and all the other elaborate security plans that either were followed or weren't followed, or that will be imagined anew in the aftermath of this horror, would never have been necessary if Cho could have been helped. And the Virginia Tech community, at least, might not be in mourning today if Cho had been removed from their midst.

Why did people 'in authority' fail to act on the notices they were apparently given?

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