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Cho shunned friendliness, roommate from Md. says

The Baltimore Sun

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- He was a quiet English major - a loner who avoided eye contact and conversation and whose creative writing so disturbed one professor that she sought intervention for him.

Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman in the Virginia Tech shooting rampage that left 33 dead and more than a dozen injured, was described by those who knew him as troubled and anti-social.

The 23-year-old South Korean native lived in a residence hall, sharing a three-bedroom suite with young men who said they barely knew him.

"I never saw him with anyone," said Cho's roommate, Joe Aust, 19, a sophomore from Westminster. "He ate alone in the dining hall and shunned any attempts at friendship."

Cho shot himself as police closed in on Norris Hall, the engineering building where police believe he opened fire in at least four classrooms, killing 30. Two hours earlier, police believe, he shot to death a freshman woman and a popular residence hall adviser across campus, at a residence hall near his own dormitory.

When police searched Cho's undecorated room late Monday, they found a note with "a rambling list of grievances" against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus, sources told the Chicago Tribune.

There was no evidence that Cho left behind a suicide note, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said at a news conference yesterday.

A search warrant return filed in Montgomery County (Va.) Circuit Court shows that police seized a chain and padlocks - investigators said several entrances to Norris Hall had been chained shut from the inside - and dozens of books, notebooks and computer items from Cho's room Monday night.

Police said the two guns found at Norris Hall, a Walther P22 and a Glock 9 mm handgun, were purchased legally, one as recently as last month.

Cho had shown recent signs of disturbing behavior, setting a dormitory room on fire and allegedly stalking women, an investigative source told the Tribune.

Also, in an application to search Cho's dorm, authorities wrote that Virginia Tech had received two previous bomb threat notes, and that they were seeking to determine whether they were written by Cho.

A third note with a bomb threat - this one against engineering department buildings - was found near Norris Hall and was believed to have been written by Cho, the search application says.

His roommates in Harper Hall said that Cho's behavior around them was unusual - but not alarming.

When the shootings occurred, said Karan Grewal, 21, a senior from Falls Church, Va., "No way did I think it would be him."

"He didn't seem like a guy who could even hold up a gun," Grewal said. "He seemed like a shy foreign exchange student."

Cho worked on "normal school projects" and downloaded music and music videos of all sorts on his computer, said Aust, his roommate.

Aust said that Cho's parents helped him move into the suite last fall, but that Cho seemed to have few, if any, friends.

Aust and Grewal said they rarely heard Cho speak - even when they tried to make conversation with him.

"He would not even look at me," Aust said. Grewal said he couldn't get a response from Cho last fall when he asked him his name.

Recently, Grewal said, he spotted Cho lifting weights at a gym. He also would see him downstairs in the common area of Harper Hall watching Spike TV and Friday night wrestling matches.

A speeding ticket issued to Cho on April 7, while he was traveling 44 mph in a 25 mph zone in his 2007 Kia van, describes him as 5 feet, 8 inches and 150 pounds.

Cho's family moved to Centreville, Va., in Fairfax County, in 1992, an investigator told the Tribune. His parents run a dry-cleaning business, and a sister graduated from Princeton University, the investigator said.

The family lives in a townhouse on a well-kept cul-de-sac under a flight path to Dulles International Airport. Cho attended nearby Westfield High School in Chantilly, graduating in 2003. Mary Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County public schools, said yearbooks indicate that Cho's only extracurricular activity was the science club during sophomore year.

Neighbors described Cho as quiet, and said they did not know him or his family well.

"I rarely saw him, so I don't know much about him," said Bruce Green, 18, who lives across the street from the family. "It's just a shock."

Gabriela Tasende, 34, who has lived around the corner for seven years, said she took her children trick-or-treating to the house, but doesn't recall Cho.

"We passed by [the house] every day. We might have seen each other," said Tasende, waiting to pick up her first-grader at a bus stop. "Yesterday, it seemed so far. Today, it's in our backyard."

The neighborhood is "a family-oriented community," Tasende said.

Virginia State Police came to the Cho home Monday night, said Officer Camille Neville, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman. Fairfax police accompanied the state officers there and elsewhere in the county, she said.

Throngs of national and foreign media descended on the townhouse development yesterday, prompting Fairfax police to establish a barricade to prevent neighbors from being bothered.

At Westfield High yesterday, the flags of Fairfax County, Virginia and the United States flew at half-staff. Students described a somber school day.

"A lot of people were crying," junior Alex Osborne said. "People just couldn't believe he came from here."

Westfield High, which has more than 3,200 students, boasts of recent state championships in football and track. Each year, the school sends several graduates to Virginia Tech - including two of the shooting victims, freshmen Reema Samaha and Erin Peterson. There was no indication yesterday Cho knew them.

At Virginia Tech, Cho seemed unable to fit in - switching majors from business to English several years ago, according to a university official. Faculty in the university's English department learned yesterday morning that the shooting suspect was one of their students.

"We're appalled that there would be an association," said Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the department. "We're all shocked beyond belief by the enormity of all of this."

Rude said she did not know Cho. Lucinda Roy, the former English department head, had him as a student in 2005, and Rude spoke with her. According to Roy, Cho was "quiet but showed signs that he was troubled," Rude said yesterday.

Roy sought intervention for Cho after becoming concerned about some of his writing, Rude said. It was unclear what that intervention request was or when it was made. In general, Rude said, intervention could include a report to the dean of students or a referral to the university counseling center.

Senior Shane Moore, a 21-year-old resident of Woodbridge, Va., described an encounter with Cho two years ago at a campus dining hall.

Moore's friend and dining companion, Joseph Boayue III of Bristow, Va., had attended Westfield High with Cho, Moore said. The two spotted Cho dining alone, and Boayue decided to approach him, Moore said.

"I'm going to get him to talk to me," Moore recalled Boayue telling him. Boayue always said hello to Cho when he saw him on campus, but Cho wouldn't even look at him, Moore said.

That day at the dining hall, Moore said, Boayue and Moore sat down with Cho. Boayue reminded Cho about their shared high school days, Boayue cracked a joke and Cho laughed, Moore said. The three had a brief conversation, Moore said, and then they parted ways.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Sun reporters David Nitkin and Matthew Hay Brown reported from Centreville, Va., and Chantilly, Va., respectively.

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