Va. Tech Killer Ruled Mentally Ill by Court; Let Go After Hospital Visit

Killer was ruled mentally ill by a judge -- and then let go.

ByABC News
April 18, 2007, 8:47 AM

April 18, 2007 — -- A court found that Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho was "mentally ill" and potentially dangerous. Then it let him go.

In December 2005 -- more than a year before Monday's mass shootings -- a district court in Montgomery County, Va., ruled that Cho presented "an imminent danger to self or others." That was the necessary criterion for a detention order, so that Cho, who had been accused of stalking by two female schoolmates, could be evaluated by a state doctor and ordered to undergo outpatient care.

According to the "Temporary Detention Order" obtained by ABC News, psychologist Roy Crouse found Cho's "affect is flat and mood is depressed.

"He denies suicidal ideation. He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder," Dr. Crouse wrote. "His insight and judgment are normal."

That information came to light two days after Cho, a Virginia Tech senior, killed 32 people and then himself in a shooting rampage on the university's campus.

The evaluation came from a psychiatric hospital near Virginia Tech, where Cho was taken by police in December 2005, after two female schoolmates said they received threatening messages from him, and police and school officials became concerned that he might be suicidal.

After Dr. Crouse's psychological evaluation of Cho, Special Justice Paul M. Barnett certified the finding, ordering followup treatment on an outpatient basis.

On the form, a box is checked, showing that Cho "presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness."

Immediately below it was another box that is not checked: "Presents an imminent danger to others as a result of mental illness."

Authorities said they had no contact with Cho between then and Monday's mass killings.

This afternoon, NBC received a package they believe was sent to the network by Cho. The package includes photographs of Cho holding firearms, as well as a DVD with video and a letter running several pages long.

One of the pictures shows Cho menacingly wielding a hammer. It bears a striking rememblance to a 2003 South Korean film, "Oldboy." The film, an international hit, explores themes of revenge and incest -- themes also apparent in plays Cho had written as a student. However, it is not known if Cho had seen "Oldboy."

The letter received by NBC News is described as angry and rambling---expressing hatred for rich people and elitists. It is described as very similar to the letter discovered in the Cho's dorm room. According to NBC news, it states "this did not have to happen."

The package was mailed at 9:01 a.m. Monday morning at a Blacksburg, Va post office, sources said. Cho allegedly put the package in the hands of a female clerk before leaving. The clerk told us a little while ago she remember seeing Cho and recalls having to look up the zipcode for New York City's Rockefeller Plaza.

It appears that the suspect took the time to mail a package in between his shooting spree---showing a degree of cold-blooded planning.

Police obtained the 2005 detention order from a local magistrate after it was determined by a state-certified employee that Cho's apparent mental state met the threshold for the temporary detention order.

Under Virginia law, "A magistrate has the authority to issue a detention order upon a finding that a person is mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or treatment.

Wendell Flinchum, the chief of the Virginia Tech police department, said that it's common for university police to work with state-affiliated mental health facilities instead of on-campus counseling because it is easier to obtain a detention order.

"We normally go through access [appealing to the state's legal system for help] because they have the power to commit people if they need to be committed," Flinchum said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Cho was taken to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Va., a private facility that can take 162 inpatients, according to court documents.

It's unclear whether Cho went to the hospital with police on his own or was taken there under protective custody, a possibility under the temporary detention order obtained by police.