On April 16, 2007, a school shooting at Virginia Tech University would leave 32 people dead. In the aftermath of such an occurrence, news reporters, psychologists, and other experts convene discussions on how or why a person would be driven to such an action. Was it the violent computer games? Was his inspiration the violent plays he created for his writing class? Or did he simply crack under the burden of never fitting in? Classmates, teachers, and family members have often pointed out his inability (or unwillingness) to communicate.
In an interview with the killer’s uncle, the International Herald Tribune discovered, “A pastor at a Korean church in Centerville, Virginia, where Cho grew up, told the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper he had once advised Cho’s mother to take him to a doctor to check for autism. The mother disagreed, but prayed in church for her son to crawl out of his shell”(Choe). This was a pattern that would follow him all his life. From early childhood, his extended family thought that he was mentally disabled because he seldom spoke nor showed affection for anyone. Otherwise, he was considered a good child because of his obedience to authority figures.
In elementary school, he excelled in mathematics and English and was a model student. In middle school and high school, Cho was teased and picked on for his shyness and unusual speech patterns. Some classmates even offered dollar bills to Cho just to hear him talk. Also, his parents largely overlooked him as they only talked about their daughter and hardly ever mentioned anything about their son. Most of Sun Kyung’s friends were surprised to learn that she had a brother, because she almost never mentioned her family (Cho & Gardner). He was isolated both at home and school, and his caretakers were at a loss on how to handle him.
Because of the way people made fun of his accent, he adamantly refused to participate in class until a teacher threatened to fail him. Between classes and at lunchtime, people would push him around and laugh at him because he could not speak English very well. Others picked on him because he was a loner, never responding to others when spoken to. Otherwise, most students simply left him alone, even though they recalled witnessing his torment. As of this writing, it is unknown how much his high school experience scarred him, spurring him forward to his mental collapse.
Cho graduated from Westfield High School in 2003 and entered Virginia Tech that fall as a business information systems major because it had one of the highest income potentials for those just starting out in the world. Eventually, he switched programmes to pursue a degree in English Literature and his writing was disturbing to many of his professors. His poetry teacher had him expelled from her class and the department chair tried to reach out to him through tutoring…yet, she was extremely afraid of him and took security precautions during these periods.
Many reports cite that he had a habit of stalking and that at least two female students complained to school authorities without resolution. In a 2007 article on stalkers, he exhibited textbook behaviour. “Although we do not yet know the facts, from what we do know so far about Cho, it’s more likely that he developed false ideas about Emily than that a popular, stable girl like her accepted a relationship with a young man who wrote vulgar, violent plays, who did not return greetings, who barely ever cracked a smile, and who fantasized about how to hurt others. Even if she went out with him, she’d probably have soon realized he was trouble.
Whatever gesture she made, it’s clear that something she did or didn’t do made him angry, and many people suffered as a result”(Ramsland). Clearly, his lack of basic social skills led to his undoing, yet that cannot be the only factor because there are numerous people with poor social skills that can cope much better with the slings and arrows of reality—establishing successful careers, and perhaps even deep relationships with a select group of people. The following sections will explore his degree of psychopathy, theories surrounding mass murderers, and other contributing factors that led to his collapse.
Causes and Effects The purpose of Farrington’s paper on twenty-first century criminology (2004) is to examine the risk factors for violent crime. Some of these include inconsistent parenting, social or economic disadvantages, antisocial personality, and other pervasive developmental disorders. In the case of Cho Seung-Hui, he had come from a relatively well-to-do family, but had difficulty socialising with other people. His parents alternated between concern for his mental health and outright neglect.
Referencing the profile above, it is clear that they favoured their ambitious, socially aware daughter over an introverted son that often caused them embarrassment at family gatherings. According to his pastor, his mother was concerned for his soul, yet refused to give him the mental health care he needed showing inconsistent parenting. Arriving in the United States at the age of eight, he spoke no English and he was at an age where the acquisition of new language begins to get difficult. Most other children would have befriended their American classmates, took the teasing in stride and learned the English language fluently.
However, because he might have been autistic, learning a language later in life would have been extremely difficult because he would neither talk to his classmates nor seek to engage anyone around him. Secondly, he was economically disadvantaged. His parents emigrated with very little money, and they worked very long hours just to make ends meet, which left him to his own devices. He was mostly interested in video games that involved shooting people. While his behaviour was antisocial in terms of his total disregard for the people around him, he does not quite fit the DSM-IV criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder.
According to Farrington, antisocial behaviour (or an antisocial personality) severely limits one’s options in life. For instance, such people have difficulty finding and maintaining employment, and are more likely to be fired if employed (p. 155). While Cho was a student at the time, students and teachers alike almost universally disliked him for his extreme introversion, perhaps this led him to develop a profound hatred for his fellow human beings—one that he was unable or unwilling to hide.
Therefore, it is quite unlikely that he would find much professional success unless it was in a field where contact with other people was kept to a minimum. Perhaps he might have felt backed against the wall; he was close to finishing his degree, yet might not have had any prospects beyond graduation. Ultimately, his breakdown was not a function of Antisocial Personality Disorder. He lacked the glib narcissism of the psychopath, but instead nursed a cold anger from a life of being a liability to his family, a social outcast, and outside the bounds of sympathy or understanding. Many believed that he might have been autistic.
His academic achievements in his early years precluded him from having one of the more severe disorders on the spectrum, but he might have had Asperger Syndrome, which is described as “social deficits of the type seen in autism, restricted interests as in autism, but, in contrast to autism, relative preservation of language and cognitive abilities—at least early in life (Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, p. 25). Usually diagnosed in childhood, Asperger Syndrome is a lifelong social disorder characterised by a lack of empathy, limited ability to form friendships, one-sided conversations, clumsy movements, and intense absorption in special interests.
As a child, this situation is extremely difficult because most children instinctively identify characteristics that are not helpful to a particular group, and exclude accordingly. For instance, if one is severely overweight, does not bathe regularly, or wears the same clothes to school every day, people will give that person a difficult time. Children that are extremely shy or extremely aggressive would be subject to banishment from the group. It is not just humans that are guilty of this.
In fact, it is easy to get empirical evidence by going outside and watching a large flock of pigeons for sometime. Eventually, one sees the social dynamic among the birds. There is always at least one that the others are chasing off, even if there is no food involved. Unlike pigeons, humans have a long memory for humiliation and abuse, but the threshold for pain is different for each person. Because he might have also been a highly sensitive person, his threshold for social pain was considerably lower than others.
Coupled with a love of violence, it is not so difficult to figure out why he chose the course that he did. Behavioural Theories Lester, Yang, & Lindsay (2004) wrote that the average Middle-Eastern suicide-bomber often has an authoritarian personality. Such traits include conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, power, anti-intraception, and projection (pp. 290-291). While Cho did not fall under that particular category, he was a terrorist and did share traits in common with the Authoritarian Type, especially conventionalism, submission, and projection.
Conventionalism is the rigid adherence to conventional middle-class values. Cho first majored in International Relations in order to fit in with the rich Virginian kids and buy into the consumerist mindset that money should be the driving force in life (quite prevalent in US society). Authoritarian submission is obedience to the in-group; blindly giving allegiance because there is no internal moral compass to guide them. He was extremely obedient to authority figures for most of his life, and he often thought in black and white. There was very little grey in his universe.
Authoritarian personalities place a premium on strength, which aggression is the only way to deal with those that disagree; Cho could not gain the admiration of others, so he tried to gain distinction by killing as many people as possible. Unlike most authoritarians, Cho was introspective—unfortunately, he looked within and did not like what he saw, and he found that no one else did either when he shared his creative works with others. Perhaps this mindset led him to try to control Emily Hilscher and when he found he could not, he murdered thirty more people before turning the gun on himself.
Conclusions Even with the rash of school shootings that have rocked the world over the past decade, many experts are still at a loss in addressing these issues. While most news watchers believe in the walking time-bomb theory, all stories feature a quiet lone wolf type with a grievance will spend months or years planning such an event, and spreading chaos to other unsuspecting students and teachers. While the field of criminology extensively covered serial murderers, parents that torture and murder their children, and crimes of passion, school shootings are still not comprehensively understood.
Profound alienation is the modern mental epidemic of the twenty-first century. More people are reacting to this violently by murdering co-workers, peers, or family members. Research exploring the link between profound alienation (from family, peers, and social institutions) and homicidal behaviour should be explored. Bibliography Cho, D. & Gardner, A. 2007, ‘An Isolated Boy in a World of Strangers,’ The Washington Post, http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/20/AR2007042002366. html Farrington, D. P. 2004, ‘Criminological psychology in the twenty-first century,’ Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health.
Vol. 14, pp. 152-166 Klin, Ami, Volkmar, F. R. , Sparrow, S. S. (eds. ) 2000, Asperger Syndrome, Guilford Press, New York. Lester, D. , Yang, B. & Lindsay, M. 2004, ‘Suicide Bombers: Are Psychological Profiles Possible? ’ Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Vol. 27 pp. 283-295 Ramsland, K. 2007, ‘Was Cho Seung-Hui a Stalker? ’ The Crime Library, http://www. crimelibrary. com/news/original/0407/1801_stalker_profile. html Sang Hun, C. 2007, ‘Relatives in South Korea say Cho was an Enigma’, International Herald Tribune, http://www. iht. com/articles/2007/04/20/america/family. php