It was “a perfect storm of missteps” that allowed Cho Seung Hui to carry out his self-appointed mission of murder.
“The university had all the warning signs,” former prosecutor and judge Jeanine Pirro told Meredith Vieira on TODAY. Cho had been ordered into psychiatric evaluation for two days in 2005, but was discharged when doctors determined he was a threat to himself but not to others.
“They should have monitored him when he came out. They should have known based upon the complaints of so many people that he was a ticking time bomb,” Pirro said. Privacy laws and disability issues notwithstanding, she said, Virginia Tech “could have thrown him out.”
“They had a responsibility not just to other students, but also to parents,” added Dr. Harold Koplewicz, head of New York University’s Child Study Center. Most colleges now require students to provide physical health forms signed by a physician, he said, adding, “It’s time for colleges to ask you about your mental health.”
Pirro also noted that although Cho had been ordered into a mental health clinic, that information wasn’t available to the Virginia agencies that approved his purchase of the two handguns used to murder 32 Virginia Tech students and teachers.
“When he went to buy the guns, none of this stuff was on his record, because the systems are not talking to each other. We’ve got to get the systems to talk to each other,” she said.
Protected by privacy laws
Koplewicz pointed out that a school can suspend a student who is disruptive because he or she doesn’t follow treatment for physical illnesses such as diabetes or seizures. They should also suspend students who don’t get treatment for psychiatric problems, he said.
“He was clearly disturbing to others, in class, to professors, within his own dormitory,” Koplewicz said. “People have to take these warning signs seriously. This kid did not come out of the woodwork. These were years of symptoms that kept getting worse and worse and worse.”
What’s more, privacy laws prevent even parents from knowing if their sons and daughters have been diagnosed with psychiatric problems.
“We have set up this ridiculous privacy issue,” Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, said in a separate interview. “Student records, including grades, cannot be shared with parents.”
Koplewicz warned that the killings and the publication of a “manifesto,” pictures and video clips Cho sent to NBC before attacking the Norris Center can affect other young people. Some will be worried that it can happen at their schools.
“The problem with putting this particular boy’s name out there and talking about him as if he’s a celebrity is that there are these vulnerable kids who feel just as inadequate, who are just as crazy,” Koplewicz said. There is a real possibility that others will copy Cho’s actions.
“We have to be careful not to make the situation worse,” Koplewicz said.