BLACKSBURG, Va. — Between his first and second bursts of gunfire, the Virginia Tech gunman mailed a package to NBC News containing pictures of him brandishing weapons and video of him delivering a diatribe about getting even with rich people.
“This may be a very new, critical component of this investigation. We’re in the process right now of attempting to analyze and evaluate its worth,” said Col. Steve Flaherty, superintendent of Virginia State Police. He gave no details on the material, which NBC said it received in Wednesday morning’s mail.
NBC said that a time stamp on the package indicated the material was mailed in the two-hour window between the first burst of gunfire in a high-rise dormitory and the second fusillade, at a classroom building. Thirty-three people died in the rampage, including the gunman, 23-year-old student Cho Seung-Hui, who committed suicide.
The package included a manifesto that “rants against rich people and warns that he wants to get even,” according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.
MSNBC said the package included a CD-ROM on which Cho read his manifesto.
Late Wednesday, MSNBC showed a photo from the package of Cho glaring at the camera, his arms outstretched with a gun in each hand. He wears a khaki-colored military-style vest, fingerless gloves and a backward, black baseball cap. “NBC Nightly News” showed some of the material Wednesday night. NBC also made the material available on its Web site.
NBC News President Steve Capus said the network promptly turned the material over to the FBI in New York.
The material is “hard-to-follow ... disturbing, very disturbing very angry, profanity-laced,” he said on the MSNBC Web site. Among the materials are digital video files showing Cho talking directly to the camera about his hatred of the wealthy, Capus said.
It does not include any images of the shootings, but contains “vague references,” including “things like, ’This didn’t have to happen,’” Capus said.
The package bore a Postal Service stamp showing that it had been received at a Virginia post office at 9:01 a.m. Monday, about an hour and 45 minutes after Cho first opened fire, according to MSNBC.
If the package was indeed mailed between the first attack and the second, that would help explain where Cho was and what he did during that two-hour window.
Earlier in the day Wednesday, authorities disclosed that more than a year before the massacre, Cho was accused of sending unwanted messages to two women and was taken to a psychiatric hospital on a magistrate’s orders because of fears he might be suicidal. He was later released with orders to undergo outpatient treatment.
The disclosure added to the rapidly growing list of warning signs that appeared well before the student opened fire. Among other things, Cho’s twisted, violence-filled writings and sullen, vacant-eyed demeanor had disturbed professors and students so much that he was removed from one English class and was repeatedly urged to get counseling.
In November and December 2005, two women complained to campus police that they had received calls and computer messages from Cho, but they considered the messages “annoying,” not threatening, and neither pressed charges, said Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech Police chief.
Neither woman was among the victims in the massacre, police said.
Around the same time, one of Cho’s professors informally shared some concerns about the young man’s writings, but no official report was filed, Flinchum said.
After the second woman filed a complaint, the university obtained a temporary detention order and took Cho away because an acquaintance reported he might be suicidal, authorities said. Police did not identify the acquaintance.
On Dec. 13, 2005, a magistrate ordered Cho to undergo an evaluation at Carilion St. Albans, a private psychiatric hospital. The magistrate signed the order after an initial evaluation found probable cause that Cho was a danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness.
The next day, according to court records, doctors at Carilion conducted further examination and a special justice, Paul M. Barnett, approved outpatient treatment.
A medical examination conducted Dec. 14 found that Cho’s “affect is flat. ... He denies suicidal ideations. He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder. His insight and judgment are normal.”
The court papers indicate that Barnett checked a box that said Cho “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.” Barnett did not check the box that would indicate a danger to others.
It is unclear how long Cho stayed at Carilion, although court papers indicate he was free to leave as of Dec. 14. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said Cho had been continually enrolled at Tech and never took a leave of absence.
A spokesman for Carilion St. Albans would not comment.