On Monday, April 16, the nation was shocked by the cowardly acts of a student at Virginia Tech University. As the day ended, the death toll rose to 33, including the shooter. Most Americans and the media looked back to the last tragedy most similar to this, the shootings at Columbine High School. But then, the next morning, authorities released a picture of the culprit. As I looked at the picture, I looked at the face of someone familiar. He was someone who looked a lot like me, more than I would have ever expected after hearing the news. A chill went down my spine.
The same stories spread like wildfire on the news. News of ‘a troubled teen,’ ‘a loner,’ ‘a sick, demented person,’ ‘someone with a me-against-the-world attitude’ and ‘someone in imminent danger to himself and others’ followed in succession, one after another. Through all the news, I had questions like everyone else. What would make him kill? Couldn’t this have been prevented? There are a lot of ‘what-ifs’ that come from a tragedy like this.
When NBC released excerpts of the DVD they were sent by Seung-Hui Cho on Wednesday morning, I grew more interested in the subject. Since we are on a campus with a primarily Asian population, I wondered if it could happen here. I began to think about his motives, his life and what it might have been like. Every news article and report paints a picture of the profile of a typical school shooter. He was ‘a loner,’ rationalized his acts by making himself a victim, had many ‘red flags’ in his past and played violent video games.
Whether any of that was relevant or not, you have to decide. What led to the development of these characteristics in Cho? How far back must we go to see where this could’ve been stopped?
It was a scary thought that I could somehow remotely relate to someone who killed 32 people at his school. Aside from his apparent mental instability, he was just another quiet Asian kid at the school trying to get by.
His inability to connect with others and his lack of emotion are characteristic of many Asians brought up in traditional Asian households. It is possible that he was brought up in a household where his parents didn’t talk to him unless they needed to scold him. Maybe the Kobe Bryant approach was needed; maybe ‘he wasn’t hugged enough as a child.’ Maybe he was programmed to never question his parents, to always hold back and keep his thoughts and emotions in. Perhaps he was never taught how to deal with his emotions like many raised in this type of household.
In a traditional Asian household, children are never taught how to deal with the opposite sex. Cho had been reported as a stalker on two separate occasions by fellow students. Maybe it was something in his approach to girls that scared them enough to call the police, but whatever it was, there were at least two obvious strikeouts for Cho in that department.
Cho was an English major, but told everyone who asked that he was a business/economics major. His older sister is a successful graduate of Princeton University, one of the top universities in the nation. Perhaps there was immense pressure from his parents and family to be successful, to make a lot of money. Of course, most people don’t see much money in English and creative writing. He was also a great student in high school. He got good grades, and probably was teased for being a ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ in his younger years. Maybe that’s another thing that helped drive him over the edge.
Being from an immigrant family may have also had an impact on him. Growing up, his family’s finances were tight. His parents worked as much as they could to get by and to give their children a good life. Maybe his parents were too busy with work to spend time with him. Their spending habits were probably to buy only things they needed, nothing in excess. He might have grown frustrated after living his whole life with nothing going his way.
In one video clip, he poses questions to rich people: ‘You had everything that you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats? Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs?’ I’m sure Cho spent many birthdays as a child wishing he had received a better gift.
I certainly am not condoning his actions and I hope that a lot can be learned through this tragedy. There are kids still being raised in this country the same way Cho was and obviously, the way we are living, the way we are treating each other and the way we are raising kids isn’t perfect. So maybe it’s time we change. Cho’s parents had equipped him well for success academically but not emotionally.
Maybe the onus is on us to treat each other as we would like to be treated, with respect. Perhaps teachers and counselors should have reached out to him. We can speculate all we want at this point, but the only thing we can do now is change and hope this does not happen again.
Eric Quach is a third-year studio art major.