Ex-Va. Tech official had gunman’s mental records
BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Virginia Tech gunman’s missing mental-health records have been found at the home of a former university counseling official more than two years after the bloodbath — a discovery that angered victims’ families struggling to understand how the killer fell through the cracks so disastrously.
The belated emergence of Seung-Hui Cho’s file, a development disclosed in a memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, represents another embarrassing lapse in the case and raises questions about how such potentially explosive evidence could be lost for so long.
“Deception comes to my mind in my first response,” said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was wounded. “It gives me the impression, ‘What else are they hiding?’”
The contents of the file have not been made public, and Gov. Tim Kaine said it is unclear why Dr. Robert C. Miller, former director of the campus clinic where Cho was counseled because of his disturbing behavior, took the records home more than a year before Cho killed 32 people and committed suicide on April 16, 2007.
Because Miller brought the file to his attorney’s attention and it was not found by law enforcement, its discovery calls into question the thoroughness of the criminal investigation and the findings of a commission appointed by the governor. The commission never interviewed Miller.
Victims’ families want to know whether the file contains warning signs that could have prevented the nation’s deadliest shooting rampage.
“Would things have been different if we had this information? What information is in those records?” asked Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shootings.
Miller, 54, declined to comment when reached by telephone at his private practice.
State officials said they would release the records publicly as soon as possible, either by getting consent from Cho’s estate or through a subpoena. The medical records are protected under state privacy laws.
Miller told his attorney about Cho’s file last Thursday, said Mark E. Rubin, the governor’s chief legal counsel. According to a university memo shared with victims’ families, Miller took the records for Cho and several other students home around the time he left his job at the center in 2006.
After the massacre, the counseling center conducted an exhaustive search for the records in 2007, and Miller told investigators at the time that he didn’t know where they were, university spokesman Mark Owczarski said.
Virginia State Police are investigating whether a criminal act was committed, spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. Kaine said it was illegal to remove records from the center.
The governor said he was dismayed that it took two years to find the records.
“That is part of the investigation that I am very interested in and, of course, I’m very concerned about that,” Kaine said.
The families of two of the dead were already claiming that Miller withheld troubling information about Cho. A lawsuit they filed in April claims Miller was told by Cho’s English professors about his disturbing behavior and by the school’s residential director that Cho had a history of erratic behavior and suicidal thoughts and had “blades” in his room.
The lawsuit claims Miller never passed that information on to either of the therapists from the counseling center who dealt with Cho during three 45-minute triage sessions in 2005.
Notes of the warnings to Miller or those made by the therapists concerning the three meetings were never found by investigators. It is unclear if those are part of the recovered records.
“Why would he take any student mental health records to his home at any time, and why that student?” said Robert T. Hall, an attorney for the two families. “It certainly is a question of whether there is more to the Seung-Hui Cho mental health history than we’ve been told.”
The Virginia Tech Review Panel appointed by Kaine interviewed more than 200 people. The leader of that investigation, former Virginia State Police Superintendent Gerald Massengill, said Wednesday that investigators interviewed Miller’s successor at the clinic, but not Miller.
Massengill said Cho’s records could be critical to understanding the rampage and “should give us a better understanding of what actions the university did or did not take.”
After the massacre, the panel faulted school officials for waiting two hours to warn students that Cho had killed two students in a dormitory. By the time the warning went out, Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building, where he killed 30 students and teachers before shooting himself as police closed in.
Some have also faulted the university for not responding more decisively to warning signs from Cho, including his increasingly sullen behavior and twisted, violence-filled classroom writings. Cho also managed to buy two guns despite his history of mental illness.
In a video tirade he sent to NBC on the day of the massacre, the 23-year-old Cho railed against “snobs” and rich “brats.”
Associated Press Writers Bob Lewis, Dena Potter and Steve Szkotak in Richmond contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that the plaintiffs’ attorneys did not find the missing file. Miller told his attorney about the file during the ongoing discovery process for a lawsuit.)
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