Almost Infamous 

As I write this piece, details of the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech are flowing on the Internet in one long, uninterrupted stream. Last I checked, Google kindly offered 839 news links after typing in key words “Virginia Tech shootings.” That number will only increase exponentially in the next few days.

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This tragedy also will take 20 different trails in the next 48 hours, which makes it all the more risky to write about on a weekly paper’s deadline. Who knows what will shake out in the next news cycle, or the next? What I know for sure is that every tragic “day-after” story like this has in common a killer with a bubbling, pathological sense of anger and a world that couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. Until we take seriously that brooding, distant, self-destructive sense of our own children, siblings, students and friends, this sickening scene will play over and over again.

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Cho Seung-Hui apparently decided that April 16, 2007, would be the day the world would notice him. In a healthier body, the Virginia Tech English student might have accomplished that by writing his first novel or starting his own business. Authorities are pinning Cho’s motives on a deep, bubbling anger and depression. Somehow, the kid decided a mass murder and his own suicide would be the way to make his point.

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Couldn’t you just close your eyes and let the rest of this story write itself? Or head to central casting, and order up the guy who fits the description of a spree killer. In this case, Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker called Cho a “loner.” Now didn’t that just fit the description perfectly of the Columbine High killers, back in 1999? Eight years before that, George Hennard, a loner who hated women, shot 23 people to death in a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. On Feb. 13 of this year, Bosnian-born loner, Sulejmen Talovic, moved icily through our own Trolley Square, shooting up the shopping mall and killing five people.

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Sometimes, we’re lucky to get a few extra clues about people who kill humans for sport. Virginia Tech English professor Carolyn Rude told The Associated Press that Cho came across as “troubled” in some of his creative writing assignments. One of Cho’s teachers felt “concern” for him after reading his work. She referred him to the university counseling service. Cho’s records weren’t made public.

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At least there was a note. Cho wrote a final rant that referenced “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” at the school. Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had been bullied in school and found solace in each other. They went bowling before killing their classmates. In Killeen, Hennard headed to Luby’s after telling his wife he was going out to “hunt humans.nn

Interviewed on ABC’s Nightline, Tom Mauser, father of Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, repeated what he’s said for years. Spree killings, almost always by males in public places, can be tracked back to anger'deep, gut-churning and unresolved. Figure out from where that anger springs; find ways to address it, Mauser said. He also has become a gun-control advocate. But please, he said, let’s somehow get to the feelings of inferiority, the anger.

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Human beings are not chronic loners. We aren’t wired that way. We may relish our time alone after a long day at work or look forward to a week on our own in the Uintas. But a healthy human isn’t built to turn inside himself, to brood, to mistrust others and to plot against the world in a twisted match of me vs. them.

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In even the smallest ways, we all crave being noticed and valued. I remember that notion washing over me a couple of weeks after the Columbine shootings. As a newspaper reporter at the time, I had been dispatched to Salt Lake County’s West Jordan High School for some forgettable interview. It could have been any building of the standard warehouse variety that passes for the contemporary American high school. Its wide halls, brackish hallway lighting, cavernous classrooms and constantly chirping bells said nothing about a pleasant education and everything about a cattle stockyard.

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It looked like the video I had seen endlessly of Columbine High. Big, loud, cold. It was a place where too many students, in too-crowded classrooms, must try like hell to stand out. Some succeed. Others'typically a wave of “B” and “C” students'survive. And others, the brooders, the outcasts, the kids we chalk up as strange but probably harmless, what do they do? Move on to college, perhaps, then wake up one day and shoot up the campus.

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I mean, it isn’t like we haven’t been warned.

In this issue:
t
• A remembrance of the late Kurt Vonnegut (p. 22)
t• Ted McDonough unravels a tough child-custody battle between lesbian parents. (p. 18)
t• How did the Tribune’s editorial board suddenly get all gung-ho about a Main Street sky bridge? (p. 20)

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