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QUESTION MARK KID

Blacksburg (Virginia), April 17 (AP): The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people, including himself, dead was identified today as a student from South Korea whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school’s counselling service.

Police and university officials offered no clues to 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui’s motive in the massacre, the deadliest shooting rampage in modern US history.

News reports said Cho may have been taking medication for depression, that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic and that he left a note in his dormitory in which he railed against “rich kids”, “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.

“He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him,” school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Cho, a fourth-year student majoring in English literature, arrived in the US as a boy from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in suburban Washington, DC, officials said. He was living on campus in a different dormitory from the one where yesterday’s shootings began.

The Chicago Tribune newspaper reported on its website (chicagotribune.com)that Cho left a note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances. Citing unidentified sources, the Tribune said he had recently shown troubling signs, including setting a fire in a dorm room and stalking some women.

US broadcaster ABC, citing law enforcement sources, reported that the note, several pages long, explains Cho’s actions and says: “You caused me to do this.”

Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, the newspaper reported.

Classmates said that on the first day of a literature class last year, the students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho’s turn, he did not speak.

The professor looked at the sign-in sheet and, where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. “Is your name, ‘Question mark'’” classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

Cho spent much of that class sitting in the back of the room, wearing a hat and seldom participating. In a small department, Cho distinguished himself for being anonymous. “He never talked,” Poole said.

“We just knew him as the question mark kid,” Poole said.

Prof. Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university’s English department, said she did not personally know the gunman. But she said he spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department’s director of creative writing, who had Cho in one of her classes and described him as “troubled”.

She said Cho was referred to the counselling service, but Rude said she did not know when, or what the outcome was. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws.

“There was some concern about him,” Rude said. “Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they’re describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we’re all alert to not ignore things like this.”

The rampage consisted of two attacks, more than two hours apart — first at a dormitory, where two people were killed, then inside a classroom building, where 31 people, including Cho, died after being locked inside, Virginia police said. Cho committed suicide; two guns were found in the classroom building.

One police official said Cho’s backpack contained a receipt for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol. Cho was a legal, permanent resident, federal officials said. That meant he was eligible to buy a handgun unless he had been convicted of a felony.

Investigators stopped short of saying Cho carried out both attacks. But ballistics tests show one gun was used in both, Virginia police said.

And two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced, said Cho’s fingerprints were found on the two guns used in the rampage. The serial numbers on the two weapons had been filed off, the officials said.

Colonel Steve Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia police, said it was reasonable to assume that Cho was the shooter in both attacks but that the link was not yet definitive.

Officials said Cho graduated from a public high school in Virginia in 2003. His family lived in a Washington, DC suburb.

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