I WAS TRAVELING LAST MONTH WHEN WORD came of the horrific shooting deaths at Virginia Tech. From my hotel I watched numerous news reports on the shootings, trying to make sense of a senseless situation.
Instead, I saw talking heads field all manner of theories about why Cho Seung-Hui committed the most brutal massacre on a college campus in U.S. history.
Several stations repeated unfounded rumors that he was obsessed with the young woman who became his first victim, and a jealous rage was the trigger. In fact there appears to be no link at all between the two.
There were experts who espoused that Cho must have "trained" for his rampage with violent video games. But authorities found no games among his belongings, and his former roommates claim they never saw him play video games.
Another report targeted the influence of a Korean gangster film, Oldboy, based on similarities of some photos of the killer to scenes from the film.
Still another source put forth the theory that Cho was a "mind-controlled assassin," brainwashed by drugs. Cho may or may not have been on antidepressants at the time of the shootings.
One expert speculated that the gunman may have had a tumor in the frontal lobe of his brain that controls impulses. This was based on her examination of brain scans from 31 killers, 20 of whom had damage in that area.
And there was Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University (Okla.), who said that based on what he knew, he had no doubt that Cho's actions were "satanic in origin."
Whether any of these theories actually played a part in the tragedy may never be known. What is known is just as frustrating. Frustrating because, as has come to light, there were many warning signs that might have changed things had they been acted on.
No one would deny that Cho Seung-Hui was an extremely troubled young man. Former classmates say he was isolated and didn't seek or accept offers of friendship. He was "pushed around and taunted" because of his manner and ethnicity. He rarely spoke in class, and his writings were filled with hateful and violent images. The notes he left behind are screeds against women, religion, and those of privilege.
Sadly, if the rash of threats and hoaxes that sprang up on college and high school campuses in the days following the attack are any indication, there are many young people who feel the same way.
Drug treatments have improved in recent years to the point that there are now many more students on campus than in the past that have psychiatric problems.
"Many are functioning very well with the help of medication and counseling. But keep in mind that the number of counselors in college counseling has dwindled even as more people go to college and a higher percentage of them have some type of emotional or mental problem," says Lori Sudderth, director of Quinnipiac University's (Conn.) criminal justice program.
"The tragedy in Virginia may prompt universities to rethink their security procedures, but I also hope it prompts college communities to rethink the resources they devote to mental health services," Sudderth says. "Students and faculty need to know the signs and symptoms of violent off enders before they reach the breaking point.
Learn bout Campus Security initiatives in the aftermath of Virginia Tech at www.universitybusiness.com/security.