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S Korean 'loner' behind US campus carnage

world Updated: Apr 18, 2007 09:09 IST
AFP
Highlight Story

Thousands gathered on Tuesday for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the deadliest school shooting in US history as a portrait emerged of the killer as a troubled "loner" from South Korea.

After Virginia Tech University was transformed into a killing field where 33 died including the shooter on Monday, police identified the gunman as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, an English major whose morbid writings troubled his classmates.

Cho, who came to the United States from South Korea in 1992 when he was eight years old, reportedly left behind a rambling note venting his rage.

Victims of his rampage included a Holocaust survivor who barricaded the classroom door to allow his students to escape before finally being gunned down, as well as a pair of Lebanese students, an Indian engineering expert and a Canadian French teacher.

Just across from the building where the massacre took place, thousands of students, faculty and community residents lifted candles in unison in an hour-long ceremony after night fell to honor those killed.

The field at the center of campus was awash in flickering candlelight as a bugle played "Taps" and some wept for those lost in the shootings.

Some students scrolled messages in memory of the victims on several wooden boards. "You'll never be forgotten," read one message.

Chief Virginia medical examiner Marcella Fierro said it would take several days to identify all the victims.

Fellow students in a playwriting class remembered the killer as a mostly silent classmate who wrote gory dramas in a juvenile tone.

"The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of," wrote former classmate Ian McFarland who posted two of Cho's plays on aol.com.

The slayings sent shudders around the world, especially in Seoul as shocked South Koreans came to terms with the news that the gunman was a compatriot.

President Roh Moo-Hyun called an emergency meeting of his aides for Wednesday.

Earlier, President George W Bush and his wife, Laura, were among the guests at a campus memorial service.

More than 10,000 people, mostly students dressed in the orange-and-maroon school colors, hugged and sobbed as the Virginia Tech corps of cadets marched into the coliseum solemnly to a muffled funeral drum beat.

"In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you," Bush said. "This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community, and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation."

Two of the victims were shot dead in an initial attack in a campus dormitory around 7:15 am on Monday. Another 30 were killed two and a half hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.

Up to 30 others were wounded, many after jumping from windows to escape the carnage.

Steve Flaherty, superintendent of state police, told reporters Cho had been living in a campus dormitory. He was a resident alien in the United States.

Documents were seized from his dorm room and authorities were reviewing them to gain some insight into Cho's motive. Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations, described Cho as a "loner."

The Chicago Tribune newspaper and ABC News reported that Cho had left behind a note in his dormitory in which he complained about "rich kids."

"You caused me to do this," he wrote in the several-page-long note that also railed against "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans."

Cho had shown recent signs of "violent, aberrant behavior," including stalking women and setting a fire in a dorm room, the Chicago Tribune said.

"His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque," student Stephanie Derry told the college newspaper, the Collegiate Times.

"He would just sit and watch us, but wouldn't say anything. It was his lack of behaviour that really set him apart. He basically just kept to himself, very isolated," Derry said.

Cho shot himself in the head as police closed in on Norris Hall, where he had methodically gunned down dozens of students and faculty members after chaining the doors of the building from the inside.

Flaherty said a 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber handgun had been recovered.

Amid the shock and horror, some students and families accused college officials of failing to lock down the campus or alert students when gunfire first broke out.

But the head of public safety for Virginia, John Marshall, defended university authorities saying they "made the right decisions based on the best information that they had available at the time."

The shooting immediately renewed concern over school security and access to guns that was rekindled last year by a rash of shootings. The state of Virginia has some of the weakest gun licensing requirements in the country.

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