A familiar narrative is emerging: Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, was picked on in high school — or maybe just in middle school — because he rarely spoke. But did teasing make a normal but shy kid into a mass murderer? I suspect something went wrong very early: He was deeply alienated and classmates responded.

Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., with Cho in 2003, recalled that the South Korean immigrant almost never opened his mouth and would ignore attempts to strike up a conversation.

Once, in English class, the teacher had the students read aloud, and when it was Cho’s turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled. Finally, after the teacher threatened him with an F for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.

“As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, `Go back to China,”‘ Davids said.

He murdered two girls who’d been in his high school class, though there’s no evidence he singled them out.

Stephanie Roberts, 22, a fellow member of Cho’s graduating class at Westfield High, said she never witnessed anyone picking on Cho in high school.

“I just remember he was a shy kid who didn’t really want to talk to anybody,” she said. “I guess a lot of people felt like maybe there was a language barrier.”

But she said friends of hers who went to middle school with Cho told her they recalled him getting picked on there.

“There were just some people who were really mean to him and they would push him down and laugh at him,” Roberts said Wednesday. “He didn’t speak English really well and they would really make fun of him.”

Teacher Magazine is rerunning a story on Bang, Bang You’re Dead!, a play written in response to a 1998 high school shooting that tries to get teen-agers to think about the consequences of their actions. In real life, you can’t hit the reset button.

Professors often encounter disturbed and intimidating students, writes Barbara Oakley, an engineering professor, in the New York Times. They get little support from university administrators.

It’s a simple fact that, for every deranged murderer like Mr. Cho there are thousands more oddballs just below the breaking point. I know one quasi-psychopathic incompetent, for example, who remained on the campus payroll for over a dozen years simply because his supervisor was afraid of being killed if he was fired.

It’s long been in fashion to believe that people are innately good, and that upbringing and environment are responsible for nasty personalities. But research is beginning to show that mean, sometimes outright evil behavior has a strong genetic component. Some of us, in other words, are truly born bad.

That is, some people may have neurochemistries that predispose them to bizarre and violent behavior.

Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

A new study concludes the benefit of anti-depressants for children and teenagers outweighs the “small risk of increasing some patients’ chances of having suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

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  1. I think you hit on the right topic…
    Could the massacre that took place at Virgina Tech Monday morning be the result of a life-long speech impediment — and the ridicule of classmates?

    Read the linked blog for evidence and my hypothesis! BTW, I would post it here, but the info is too long for a comment.

  2. I wonder, when they comb through his school records (and they should) if they will find that he received any special services and for how long. As an immigrant, at a young age, any type of accent should have been minimal and I suspect there was no English language barrier. He knew enough to get into college in the first place (not to mention, his sister went to and graduated from Princeton). You may be onto something.

    Additionally, my son receives speech services from his school and has since preschool. I am lucky that my school district is very accomodating and his speech teacher is very much interested in helping my son beyond what the state says. Even though he should have moved from the program because his sounds for age level are appropriate, she wants to work on the next level with him and help his speech become clearer.

    Perhaps the shooter became what I call a “crack kid”…one who fell through the cracks…as countless others do and just couldn’t deal. (I’m not excusing nor condoning…just trying to figure out why like everyone else.)

  3. I can think of nothing that will fuel an outbreak of copycats of the tragedy in Virginia other than the notoriety the killer at Virginia Tech received on national TV today. Unfortunately, many unbalanced minds in America want recognition and notoriety and NBC has just given them the perfect vehicle. I or no one else can predict when and where a similar fiasco will occur. However, in a country of 300 million people there has to be at least a small number of sick people who will now kill and die just to get their picture, grievances and manifesto on national TV. How sad and shame, shame again on our media.

  4. wayne martin says:

    With a radio host being hounded off the airwaves last week over a totally meaningless comment, it’s interesting that no one is demanding the resignation of those who may well have set the seeds of copycat killing into the minds of who knows how many people?

    One set of rules for us .. and another for the Media elites ..

  5. BadaBing says:

    I taught an English class once at Cal Poly in Pomona with mostly Asian students, almost all of them Vietnamese males. Their responses to a diagnostic essay on how they deal with anger surprised me with a lot of violent imagery and bottled up anger. Many of them said they were angry at their parents for controlling their career choices. They didn’t want to be engineers. They wanted to major in art, psychology, film and other disciplines not in the hard science category. I felt I was working with a class of ticking time bombs.