What Went Wrong?
The insanity and mayhem unleashed at Virginia Tech was a random and rare event. But unlike some unfathomable crimes, this one has a long enough trail of miscalculation and oversight to raise serious questions about safety on campus. The shooter's troubling behavior, his gun purchases, and the campus response on the day of the shooting all hold broader lessons for other colleges, where security issues are notoriously swept out of sight and statistics are hard to come by
One question is whether Cho's culture played a role in his apparent refusal to accept help. In general, experts say, members of minority groups in the United States are less likely to use mental health services. "In Korea, mental diseases carry significant stigma," says Young Shin Kim, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Yale University Medical School, who is Korean. "If you have a person in the family with a mental disorder, then your whole family is damned."
Cho's family emigrated from South Korea when he was 8 years old. His mother and father put in long hours in a dry cleaning shop near the family home in Centreville, Va. Cho's older sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, graduated from Princeton University and works for a contractor at the State Department. Cho, too, was poised for success, slated to graduate. "My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in," Sun-Kyung said in a statement. "We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."
Occasionally, Korean-American kids "have that sense of being of two worlds, not 100 percent Asian or American, and that as much as they are accepted they will never be fully accepted," says Daniel So, a youth pastor at the Korean United Presbyterian Church of San Diego. "It makes it that much harder when you're a teenager."
Of course, many native-born students share the same fears and frustrations. The most striking passages in a 2003 National Research Council report, "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence," talk about how all the young people in the afflicted communities lived lives almost wholly separate from their parents and other adults. "Parents and teachers were mostly unaware" of the shooters' frustrations "and of their universal belief that there was nowhere to turn."
College campuses are eerily similar, with few opportunities for mentoring and coaching, leaving many students living in a "youth ghetto." Pavela praises Roy, the English professor, for making multiple efforts to connect with Cho. "There has to be more intervention," Pavela says. "There has to be more from teachers and administrators. They have to be more involved in the lives of the students."
With Avery Comarow