It is more of a Massacre than a Suicide
Sometimes I wonder why people choose what is convenient over what is right and proper. We deal with situations in ways that will unburden us the most, taking the shorter route to solutions rather than the long and fruitful one. In effect, we tend to miss life lessons that we ought to reap along the way. Last April 17, 2007 at Blacksburg, Virginia, not just the USA, but the whole world, was shocked as a Virginia Tech student took away the lives of 33 people including himself and left physical and psychological scars in the soul of a lot more.
CBS news coined it as the “deadliest one-man shootout in the history of modern-US.” (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/18/viginiatechshooting/main.2697827.shtml) The shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year old English major, executed a psychologically-rooted escape to reality in a fatal form that he consciously chose. Purchasing 2 hand guns a month and a week prior to the incident, (www.abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108&page=2) Cho did not make any efforts to conceal his identity, and worse, he seemed to be too proud that he even mailed photographs and video-manifestos to an international broadcast station, explicitly telling the world that he did it. (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/18virginiatechshooting/aim2697827.html)
The massacre-suicide took place in two vicinities cut apart by a good 2-hour interval—(www.abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108&page=2) good enough that police officials and school administration could have done much better to prevent the second shooting to happen. It raised a lot of unanswered questions. Why was the second shooting allowed to happen? Why didn’t the police catch Cho at once? Why, in the very first place, did Cho kill the students and professors? So much more that it makes me realize something—in the middle of our own worlds at that time, we were unconscious that a lot of people had been dying.
At this point we can only conduct investigations on what transpired not just on the event itself but also on Cho’s thought processes at the planning and the execution stage. His memorabilia and the other evidences such as the video manifesto and the “suicide note” that he left suggest that he loathed people of the upper social status and this served as his motive to commit such a horrendous thing.
We can only do so much in terms of speculating. Taking into consideration the background of the killer as stipulated by people around him, Cho appeared to be a loner and a person who distanced himself from others in spite of his friends’ effort to reach out. (www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/17.cho.profile/index.html) and this, according to Fairbairn (1995) is a sign of a suicidal person. He lived away from his parents and he had not been seen visiting their house in Washington in the recent years. (www.abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108;page=2)
Being social animals, human beings are not meant to isolate themselves. Durkheim, the earliest proponent of a sociological theory on suicide, typified this as the egoistic form of suicide—when the society has become too organic and the individual has become too individualistic, social integration becomes less and this spurs thoughts of suicide. (Pickering ; Walford: 2000) Cho isolated himself and valued individualism over the accepted moral standards more than he should, not just in the academic but even in his domestic sphere and familial relationships. He may have become too aloof that his needs and thoughts were known only to and by himself. As how Lester and Lester (1971) put suicide of this angle, Cho did not share with the others common societal sentiments, beliefs and goals. True to what sociologists claim, suicide is probable in this situation. Cho did not just plan one, he did one—only after embracing 32 others in his journey to death.
No man is an island, they say. We need people to survive. Cho was a migrant from South Korea. Having stayed in the US for so many years, he lived in a dormitory, miles away from his parents. If he managed to survive this set up, it may be wise and safe to assume that he was able to adapt to his current set-up, at least in terms of his physical environment. But widening the view to include his social contexts, I think that there is much to improve if he is still living. If I was in his position, the only person I get to confide to is myself. It is likely that I am creating an alter ego which is myself. Contemplating on this situation, I can only imagine how filled up his mind had been and it is quite explainable but far from acceptable how he found his voice through violence. Devastatingly, he also found his silence in violence.
It is true, however, that there are evidences that Cho had a bit of deviance from a relatively normal behavior such as his inclinations towards violence as seen, although latently and subliminally, (www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/17/vtech/shooting.html) in his writings—something people around him considered as “very graphic and extremely disturbing.” (ibid) He was also reported to authorities for various beyond normal behavior such as disturbingly contacting two female students, (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/18/virginiatechshooting/ma
in2697827.html) and for apparently showing signs of violence and suicidal tendencies as reported by his friends. His teacher even suggested for him to go counseling, (www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/vtech.shooting.index.html) something he eventually did voluntarily but resulted to a finding of being normal (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/18/virginiatechsho
oting/main2697827.html). His friends also recalled Cho with his imaginary girlfriend. (www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/17.cho.profile/index.html) I can bet how a lot of people thought of him as someone insane. Insanity can be too vague a word but it is an accepted medical orthodox view on suicide. (Fairbairn: 1995) Cho might be driven to act by his highly intense emotional turmoil of rage and anger to, as mentioned above, rich people and his liking of violence that these caused his brain to function in a different nature.
It is most likely that Cho’s mind had undergone upheaval before and during the actual mass shootout. I, along with a lot of other people outside of the tragedy, wonder why and how his problems surpassed the moral consequences of what he did that he still chose to go with it.
The way we perceive death is influenced by the social institutions and cultural contexts surrounding us. (Lester ; Lester: 1971) This was evident in the reactions of people especially after the incident. A lot of prayer vigils were held for this and for other mishaps similar to this.
Anybody can post various explanations about suicide, its causes, its effect and whatever angle there is. Psychological, sociological, environmental and physical-anthropological explanations all merit points in giving light to the unfortunate event. But suicide is suicide. It involves killing. It takes away lives. Our explanations can only go as far as letting everyone know what happened. Taking the next step involves the better option of disseminating information about how to foster and maintain a healthy socio-psychological environment to make suicide less likely
I started this journal by posting a thought. Cho escaped the reality of his problems and emotions in an unhealthy fashion when he could have had explored other options to channel his negativisms. He did it through violence. What chanced was not just a suicide, it is more a massacre—the death of 33 individuals and their hopes and dreams as well. Cho left not just a trail of bloodshed, but a trauma and an ugly memory that people will live by for a long period of time, perhaps, even forever. Now, I’ll end it with some more, what is it that we have to do to make this the last incident of this sort? What is there left for Virginia Tech students and their families in their road back to the reality of accepting what happened? The rest is now up to us. As Cho said, “We’ll soon be together.”
Fairbairn, G.J., (1995). Contemplating Suicide: The Language and Ethics of Self-Harm. New York: Routledge
Lester, D. ; Lester, G., (1971). Suicide: The Gamble with Death. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall
Pickering, W. S.F. ; Walford, G. (Eds.). (2000). Durkheim’s Suicide: A Century of Research and Debate. London: Routledge.