The VA Tech Massacre: Has the Spin Begun?

A STRANGE convergence occurred yesterday. While you and I stared, heartbroken and dumbfounded at the raw, terrifying, often chaotic images that dominated cable news, on the other side of the world in Israel and in Poland, Holocaust survivors remembered the massive loss of life and dignity forced upon an entire generation of Jews by a Nazi madman during World War II.Yesterday’s massacre in Blacksburg is now being called historic — the bloodiest day in civilian life here in the United States. This singular incident will come to define Virginia Tech and the small town of Blacksburg. With flags at half-mast throughout the nation, we will mourn with the families and friends, but the loss will never end.For now, we try to make sense of it all. As Derek and I talked last night about the tragedy, I mentioned how we’d get a name today, and by early morning, we did — or did we? Like you, I closely followed each live announcement and news conference yesterday, and I kept notes. And the police conclusions aren’t necessarily adding up.One item that stands out for me is the claim by law enforcement last night that the shooter was a Chinese national here on a student visa. According to investigator, Doug Hagmann, police had a name for the ‘Chinese national’. That report mentions that this Chinese national had likely entered the US through San Francisco, and that he was here on a student visa.This morning, we are told that Cho Seung-Hui is the shooter. Seung-Hui is a South Korean who came to the US at eight years old but retained his S. Korean citizenship. According to the Washington Post, his parents live in Fairfax County, an affluent suburb of Washington DC, just outside Arlington and Alexandria. BBC NEWS reports that Seung-Hui’s “face was reported to have been badly damaged after killing himself, but that he had been positively identified by fingerprints and immigration records.”Police report this morning that a receipt for a 9MM handgun was discovered in Seung-Hui’s backpack (a receipt dated from March, 2007). However, the serial number on that handgun (recovered yesterday) had been filed down. What sort of dealer would sell such a gun and offer a receipt? Also, how could a ‘resident alien’ purchase a gun legally (a receipt smacks of a ‘legal purchase’, right?)

Here’s what I found. According to an expert quoted in the linked article:

You can obtain a firearm if you are a resident alien and present proof of residency 90 days prior to a purchase. Usually a utility bill for 3 months prior to the day the RA attempts to purchase the firearm bill must match your state DL or ID address. The RA also must must fill out 4473 form and pass a background check. But on a student VISA? No way! Those guns had to be stolen or he fooled the system some how!

So, if the guns were stolen (both guns’ serial numbers had been filed), why the receipt? And why would a shooter keep the receipt for a weapon he intended to use in such a manner? Clearly, the shooter planned the carnage — doors at Norris Hall had been chained — most people don’t carry chains on campus on a normal day. ABC News reported that “sections of chain similar to those used to lock the main doors at Norris Hall, the site of the second shooting that left 31 dead, were also found inside a Virginia Tech dormitory.” This rampage was planned.

He left a note.
Although details are sketchy, police say they’ve found a ‘disturbing note’ in the shooter’s dorm room. Some claim the note is signed ‘Ismail-AX’ in red ink — but the Chicago Tribune reports today that ‘Ismail-AX’ was found on the shooter’s inner arm. The note included ‘rambling accusations’ against ‘rich kids and debauchery’ and ‘deceitful charlatans’. He is said to have set fire to a dorm room and stalked women.

The solitary English major appears to fit the classic description of a ‘lone gunman’. His body was recovered along with those of the victims at Norris Hall. Police report that Seung-Hui’s status as a ‘resident alien’ offers them a thick file for perusal, and that they intend to use fingerprints from the file to compare to those on the weapons. Question: Why can’t police simply fingerprint Seung-Hui’s body? Reports say his face was damaged — presumably by a self-inflicted shot to the head — nowhere does it mention any damage to his hands.

Medication for Depression
Media analysts are now emphasizing that Seung-Hui is reported to have been taking prescribed medication for ‘depression’.

Bomb Threats
April 2 and April 13, Virginia Tech campus received bomb threats that could have been intended as tests for campus police response. Talking heads are attributing this to the careful planning of a loner, but this activity is also typical of terrorist planning. A bomb threat allows terrorists to ascertain response abilities and time, and it reveals locations of any special ops teams (derived by following the SWAT and other special ops vehicles back to their storage locations).

So, what am I saying?

• Two incidents happened yesterday — at 7:15, a ‘domestic dispute’ in a freshman dormitory. During one of several press conferences yesterday, campus police said the description of the West Ambler-Johnston shooter did not match the Norris Hall shooter (when reporters pushed this, the police spokesman denied he had said anything about a description). In fact, police claimed to have a man in custody following this incident — a man who ‘knew the victim’. What about this ‘person of interest’?
• As of last night, police had identified a ‘Chinese national’ who entered the US recently via San Francisco. Seung-Hui is a S. Korean ‘resident alien’ who came to the US at age 8.
• The rampage was clearly planned, so the shooter must have known such an event would surely end in his own death. So, why put a receipt in his backpack (how helpful)?
• What does ‘Ismail-AX mean? Is it a poorly spelled reference to Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son? Islamic tradition considers Ishmael the legitemate heir to Abraham and God’s promises. Was Cho Seung-Hui muslim? I Googled ‘Ismail-ax’ and found several Russian and French blogs with photos — no one looks like Seung-Hui, but there are references to the “Ax Crew”. I Googled that and found various references to hip-hop. This may have no connection, but who can tell yet?
• Police began searching a residence in Virginia, presumably Seung-Hui’s parents’ home, last night — so where did the ‘Chinese national’ story come from?

Right now, we all want answers. We need to find a reason for the unreasonable. Did Seung-Hui commit this horrible crime? Quite possibly. Did he plan it in advance? The evidence suggests that. Was there a second shooter? We’re told the answer to that is ‘no’ — that one of the weapons used at Norris was also used at West Ambler-Johnston. If true, then who were the police questioning for two hours from 7:30 to 9:30? Who is this ‘person of interest’? Is he still in custody?

Here’s what I can tell you: Something feels wrong. In retrospect, it’s clear from current reports that Seung-Hui sent out signals that he was near a breaking point — what caused it? Surely, we’ll learn much more in the hours, days, and weeks to come.

As you hear the latest, be sure to check each new ‘fact’ against the raw information. As with the Holocaust survivors who met yesterday to mourn and remember, Americans need more than just a name for the ‘monster’ — we need the truth.