Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day 6: "That Haunted Face"

The backgrounders on Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho are starting to appear. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have long front page reportage based on family interviews. We do need to figure this out, but we're not getting anywhere so far. Cho's sister summed it up in her apology on Friday: “This is someone that I grew up with and loved,” she said. “Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.”

The stories are still doing a lot of recycling. Non-malignant shunning remains a theme: "His junior-year roommates mostly ignored him because he was so withdrawn. If he said something, it was weird."

One story has some info about what the cops were doing between 7:15, when the first two killings occurred at the dorm, and 9:15, when the bloodbath in the engineering building began:

The campus police received a 911 call at 7:15, when the rest of the campus was still opening its eyes, the thousands of students who commuted to school not yet on the grounds.

Classes had not begun, and the campus was not alerted to the dormitory killings. The university police quickly picked up some information, and the nature of it led them to make a decision and follow a trail. Ms. Hilscher’s roommate, Heather Haughn, had shown up at 7:30 to meet her and accompany her to class. Instead, she encountered the campus police.

One of the things she told them was that Ms. Hilscher [Cho's first victim] had a boyfriend, Karl D. Thornhill, a senior at nearby Radford University; Ms. Hilscher had spent the weekend with him at his off-campus townhouse, and he had dropped her off at her dorm that morning. Ms. Haughn also told them that Mr. Thornhill had guns and had been shooting them at a range two weeks earlier.

Based on what she said, the police concluded that they had the most clich├ęd script of all — the lovers’ quarrel. They went looking for Mr. Thornhill, and found him on the highway, driving home from a class. They pulled him over and started interrogating him.

But he was the wrong man, and the police were at the wrong place.

That gave Mr. Cho time, and he had uses for it.

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