Far from the last word on Young Cho...

... but because it's not possible to sustain the intensity with which I've felt this whole matter, this is likely to be the last word from me. Today's New York Times has a definitive article on what happened at Virginia Tech last week. Cho's whole life seems to have been a silent cry for help, up to the point where he decided to fight back. Unfortunately, this being Ammurrica, the way he decided to fight back was by arming himself. However long he may have had violent thoughts, we now know he was making specific plans as far back as ten weeks before he put them into action.

Along the way, there were multiple times and multiple signs when his abnormality was made clear, all the way back to his childhood.

I suppose it's impossible to help someone who will not speak. I was reminded, often, of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. In her book, Kevin is almost as silent as the real-life Cho. Like Cho, Kevin has a disconnect between himself and others, primarily his mother. But Kevin can and does talk when he wants to; he is a charming manipulator of others, his father in particular. Cho does not seem to have consciously manipulated anyone.

While it may not be possible to help anyone who won't speak, it is possible to set limits and to enforce them. That could have been done in Cho's case, but was not. For example, when he was referred to the mental hospital for evaluation, he was released with a recommendation of outpatient counseling. He obviously did not follow through on that recommendation, but nobody did anything about his failure to show up; we don't even know if an appointment was made for him. If this is pursued, in the media for example, what will happen will be that whatever mental health clinic to which Cho was referred will say they are too short-staffed to follow up on people who are referred for counseling but don't show. What I think is that when the person needing help is a student, continued enrollment in the university should require proof that the counseling is taking place, once it has been recommended in a situation like the one Cho was in, where he had already come to the attention of police more than once. Certainly if he had been working a job, his continued employment would have required proof of compliance, and quite possibly of progress in counseling as well.

This young man was twisted, but he was intelligent. He couldn't have carried out such an elaborate plan if he were not bright. It just might have been possible for a counselor to get through to him if he had been forced to go. It was at least worth a try. (I am appalled to realize I almost typed "worth a shot" -- whew.)

This tragedy will be compounded if nothing, ultimately, is done to change the way things are now for mentally ill people in this country. Yet I expect that's the way it will go, because any country that routinely dumps the mentally ill onto the streets and leaves it to the police to look after them when they get violent is not likely to care about the mental health of college students. Likewise, though I think it even less likely, changing the laws for acquring and operating firearms might prevent some future violence , but probably that won't happen either.

I'm still just sick at heart. I'm breaking my brain with thinking how to get some of the experience in a book, since it's the only thing I could conceivably do to contribute to any positive change.

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Comment by Dianne Day on April 23, 2007 at 9:50am
I would hope something would be done, but still I doubt it will happen. Thanks for your comment.
Comment by Robert K. Foster on April 23, 2007 at 9:42am
I think with people like Cho they pretty much don't see anything wrong with their actions. He probably felt that the recommendation for counseling was just another attempt to destroy him or put him down or however he had this worked out in his mind.

In cases like this with a history of police reports, history of psychiatric issues, history of bad social interactions, that some form of *required* and mandatory program should go into effect. Like you say, an employer would have insisted as they have co-workers to consider. A University should be the same way. I don't think that just a single incident should land somebody in such a program. But more and more people are using the word "history" when talking about events of this kind.

I don't know where this will end up but maybe this time something will be done to try and prevent these things.

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