Monday, April 30, 2007

Are you kidding me?


April 29, 2007 -- The following are facts. Make of them what you choose.

On Sunday night, April 15th, 12 hours before Cho Seung-Hui began his killing spree on the Virginia Tech campus, "Dateline NBC" devoted its entire show to telling the story of psychotic murderer Robert Hyde.

Hyde was a bright young man from Albuquerque who began to suffer a steady mental deterioration until, one day, in 2005, at different locations, he shot and killed five people.

Beyond the murders, the NBC show stressed that Hyde was a time bomb who was released from police custody and hospital care despite frightening episodes and warnings from many, including his family, that eventually there would be hell to pay, that eventually he would kill.

Hyde's story, it turned out, was roughly the same as Cho's life story, except for the killing part. Cho hadn't killed anyone, not yet.

The morning after NBC's show aired, Cho, described by schoolmates as an all-night TV watcher, shot and killed two people.

He then returned to his dormitory to mail a parcel to NBC. It included a note from Cho that began, "You forced me into a corner."

Then he traveled to a different section of the Virginia Tech campus, where he shot and murdered 30 more people.

Surely, Cho's diseased mind was prepped and primed to commit mass murder, at some point. But did NBC's show, the night before, serve as his prompt? In his afflicted state, did that "Dateline" installment push him over the edge? It's unlikely that we'll ever know.

Yet, the numerous similarities between the Hyde and Cho stories are inescapable. So is the timing. Cho's rampage began fewer than 12 hours after NBC's episode about Hyde ended. And Cho interrupted his rampage only to send NBC a you-pushed-me-to-do-this missive.

But even if it's all just a matter of bizarre, chilling coincidences, those coincidences seem too great to ignore or dismiss. They're worthy of your attention.


Dear students of Virginia Tech,

My heart goes out to all of you. The shocking nightmare of the ordeal that you have experienced is truly tragic and I can only imagine how scared you all must be. Your collective strength, dignity and maturity in the wake of this tragedy has been truly inspiring. And despite your relative youth, your humanity humbles all of us.

As both a parent and as a Korean-American man, this tragedy hits close to my heart. And although those two roles are very important to me, they certainly don't mean anything to you. And it's all of YOU that I keep thinking about.

I'm not old enough to be your dad nor young enough to be your peer. Nor do I have any professional background in therapy or grief counseling. But I think maybe sometimes it's helpful to hear the advice of a random stranger to give you some perspective on the horror that you've all just experienced.

Maybe I can help.

See, back on September 27, 1990, I too was a young college student. I was far away from home attending college at UC-Berkeley. College was a blast. Life was good. I was a happy young man.

Or at least I was until that night.

On that night back in 1990, I'd been studying at the library for a few hours. Afterwards, I joined some buddies at a bar to celebrate a friend's birthday. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a deranged madman burst into the bar and started spraying dozens of shots from a Mac-10 machine gun. Mayhem ensued. Both the friends standing immediately to my left and to my right were shot. Twelve inches in either direction and I would have been shot in the back of the head.

In the initial rampage, one student was killed. Seven others were wounded. For almost 8 hours, the gunman held 33 of us hostage. The killer was clearly psychotic and, at more than one point, all of us inside were unsure whether we'd ever make it out of there alive. Thankfully, the entire ordeal finally ended when the SWAT team raided the bar and fatally killed the gunman.

Aside from living in NYC during 9/11, nothing in my life has ever come close to the sheer terror of that experience. Hopefully, nothing else in your lives will ever come close to what you have just experienced.

And although our experiences are different, maybe they're not so far apart. So, with a grain of salt, I want to offer you my advice and tell you what you may expect in the near future. I hope that this, in some small way, helps you.

* The nightmares will be terrifying. You'll have a hard time sleeping for a long time. Every time you close your eyes, you're going to be reliving those horrific moments. I needed to drown myself in Jack Daniels before I could even think about falling asleep every night. I wish I could tell you a better way to avoid the nightmares but I can't.

* For a long time, the everyday sounds of life will have a much greater effect on you. Whenever you hear a car backfire, you'll hit the floor in sheer panic. The sound of breaking glass will make your heart jump out of your body. This will all be so instinctive that you are sure that it will never end. It will. It took me over a year. It took some of my friends even longer.

* You will find solace only with those with whom you shared the same experience as you. It's natural to develop a sort of "band of brothers" survivor mentality. And trust me, it's going to be extremely therapeutic for you to discuss your feelings with those who shared your experience and can appreciate the tragedy on a personal level. But don't shun friends or family because you think they just don't "get it." They love you and are trying to be empathetic. Allow them in.

* You may use alcohol and drugs to numb the pain and dull the memories. Be careful. I consumed more alcohol in the weeks following my experience than I had my entire life. I thought it helped but the healing really didn't begin until I stopped drinking and confronted the pain.

* See a counselor. Join support groups. Get professional help. Although I'd been through therapy before and was aware of its benefits, I had several friends who, prior to our ordeal, were not big believers. Trust me. Speaking to a trained professional can be immensely cathartic.

* Stay away from all members of the press. They often lend a sympathetic ear at a time when you could gratefully use one. Don't trust them. They do not have the slightest regard for your best intentions. In incidents like this, they will live up to their reputations as bottom-feeding scumbags.

* Turn off the TV. Forget about the newspapers. Don't surf the internet for stories related to the tragedy. You need some distance to process everything. The media coverage is only going to make you angry. People are going to use this incident to push their political agendas, voice their individual opinions, and attack their personal enemies. Ignore the vitriol. Those people don't care about you and you've got to take care of yourselves.

* Get away from it all. Grab some close friends and go camping. Take a vacation. Having friends with you will help you deal with what happened but putting some physical distance between you and the university will help also.

Your feelings of fear and anxiety are going to last for awhile. This is completely normal. Try and be proactive and address your feelings now while you're in the moment. Otherwise, you'll find yourself spiraling in depression months later. Trust me. I've seen it.

Ultimately the incident can serve as a learning experience. You're lucky to be alive. Be grateful for that. Maybe it will give you more insight into how precious life is. Maybe it will spur you to live your life in a different manner. It will affect all of you in different ways. Just try not to let the experience be a destructive one for you.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of you. Stay strong, Hokies.


RESPONSES TO ABOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm graduating from Tech in only a few weeks. All I can say is that the past week has just been surreal, almost like it hasn't hit me yet even though I've seen hours and hours of coverage on CNN. I knew three people who died and two who were wounded, and it just floors me how supportive and caring people have been. Have you seen pictures of the candlelight vigil? It was simply amazing how many people came out in support and seeing pictures of it later, it was a beautiful thing.

Honestly, the best thing that has helped me was Nikki Giovanni's poem she read at convocation. When I saw/heard her saying it at convocation, I just broke down and cried. It's an amazing poem written by an amazing woman that just summed up everything perfectly. ( if anyone wants to listen)

Like Laura, I'm a VT student also. Thank you for posting this. It HAS been hard talking to my parents and sisters about all of this. They say the right things but I feel more comfortable being with my friends right now. I'll try to remember not to push my family away. Thank you.

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now but have never commented until now. i want to thank you so much for writing this piece. i have had a heavy heart since Monday and I've been able to cry for the first time after reading this. i really hope that Va tech students also get to read your piece to give them some comfort in their pain.

this tragedy has hit me close to home. I immigrated to the US as a child, grew up in northern Virginia, and went to college close to tech. I've been overwhelmed by emotions after this tragedy. most of all i feel pain for the victims and their families, and their lost potential and innocence, but i feel sorry for the family of the assailant. when i read the media coverage, I get confused at why they keep referring to this kid as a Korean, when he is a Korean American. and it's also upsetting that Korean people are apologizing for the actions of this mentally ill individual just because he's of the same ethnicity. while i understand that Koreans come from a collectivists culture, i feel feel frustrated that they feel they should apologize for him. i'm originally Iranian but i'm not going to apologize because of the actions of that schizophrenic Iranian man just as it would be crazy for Irish Americans to apologize for timothy mcvey's actions. in any case, thanks for sharing this. i know that it will bring others some comfort.