By Nick Allen and Demian McLean
April 20 (Bloomberg) — Virginia authorities named Gerald Massengill, who led the state police during the 2001 terrorist assault on the Pentagon and the 2002 sniper attacks, to head a panel investigating the worst mass shooting in the U.S.
The group will examine what was known about the mental health of Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech, Governor Tim Kaine said in a televised news conference yesterday. The panel, including Tom Ridge, former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also will examine the law-enforcement response to the shootings.
“There are many questions out there that need answers,” Massengill said at a news conference yesterday.
The massacre at the state’s largest university in Blacksburg led to intense public debate about the effectiveness of the U.S. mental-health system, gun control and the impact of violent movies on people like Cho. Virginia Tech said today that classes will resume April 23.
Relatives of Cho condemned him.
“It served him right he died with his victims,” Cho’s grandfather, Kim Hyang-Sik, who lives in Cho’s native South Korea, told London’s Mirror newspaper. “It’s better not to have such a child in the family.”
They also questioned why his mental instability wasn’t picked up earlier by the authorities. “It amazes me he ever got into university,” his mother’s aunt, Kim Yang-Soon, told the Guardian newspaper.
A survivor of the massacre, British-born student Colin Lynam Goddard, 21, described how he was the last person targeted by Cho and was shot three times. “I just looked on the ground and acted like I was dead,” Goddard said on the Oprah Winfrey show.
“We cannot let this horror define Virginia Tech,” university spokesman Larry Hincker said last night in a televised news conference. “We’re going to do whatever we can to get this place on its feet again, while we remember what took place and prevent anything like that from ever happening again.”
Today is the eighth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. Seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people at their Littleton, Colorado, school before committing suicide. Cho called the gunmen “martyrs” in a video he sent to NBC News on the day of the shootings. He also sent still images of himself brandishing guns.
“I struggled because of the images,” Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis said in an interview yesterday. “You have people out there who are on the edge. They look at the Columbine or Virginia Tech killers, and they say: `Look at the attention they’re getting.’ That worries me.”
Video Broadcasts Criticized
Some of the still images, including one of Cho posing with a hammer, bore a resemblance to scenes in a violent South Korean film called “Oldboy.”
Reacting to criticism, NBC and other news outlets that broadcast Cho’s video started limiting its use. The killer compared himself to Jesus Christ and Moses in the video.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Steve Flaherty said the images and videos weren’t helpful. Police were close to wrapping up the on-campus investigation, he said.
Cho’s mental state was questioned in December 2005, when a Virginia magistrate judge ruled Cho was an “imminent danger” to himself or others. He was taken to Carilion New River Valley Medical Center after two run-ins with Virginia Tech police over unwanted online messages to two female students, university police said. No criminal charges were filed.
Cho shot his first victims early on April 16. Police arrived at Ambler Johnston West dorm around 7 a.m. to find Emily Hilscher, 19, shot to death. Lying nearby was the body of Ryan Clark, a 22-year-old student who may have come to Hilscher’s aid.
Lovers’ Quarrel Suspected
Officers’ first suspected a lovers’ quarrel had gone awry, police said. They put out a countywide alert for Hilscher’s boyfriend. Cho, meanwhile left for a post office, where he mailed the photos and videos to NBC, police said.
At about 10 a.m., Cho entered Norris Hall, where he would kill 30 more people. He also injured at least 15 people.
Six of them are still in hospital. They are all in “stable condition,” HCA Inc. spokesman Mark Foust said.
The slain students will receive posthumous degrees from the school formally known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Some students will be given the option to receive a grade for the semester from work turned in so far. Spring 2007 commencement ceremonies are scheduled for May 11-12.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nick Allen in London at firstname.lastname@example.org .