Sep 8, 2009

Virginia Tech: the link between tragedy and mental health cases

by Kwaku De-Graft Duncan

It is hard to grasp, and nobody can actually explain why a very dark cloud reigns over Blacksburg, Va., wreaking havoc with the most unimaginable tragedies. It is almost as if these catastrophes happen in a routine pattern desperately trying to break the spirit of the Hokies.

It all started on April 16, 2007, with a seriously troubled Cho Seung Hui, a Virginia Tech (VT) student who massacred 32 people with a 9mm and .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. In January 2009, VT student Xin Yang’s head was cut off with a kitchen knife at the Au Bon Pain student café. The culprit was her fellow student and close friend Haiyang Zhu. This shocking news had VT reliving the mass nightmare that happened previously.

“Once again we are challenged as a community to offer support to one another as we process this recent event. Once again we will rise to the occasion,” VT President Charles Steger said in a public address, following the decapitation.

Now, active Campus Crusade for Christ and VT students Heidi Childs, 18 and David Metzler, 19, are the latest victims of the unfortunate events that have struck heartache once again in VT.

They were shot to death 15 miles from campus at the Jefferson National Forest according to the police report. Investigators also claimed that the shooting was random and no suspects had yet been named, according to a Roanoke Times article.

Some may say VT is cursed, while others blame security for the outbreaks of violence. Either way, safety has become a major concern for VT students.

In reality, the tragic events have nothing to do with security or a curse but stem from individual cases of deteriorating mental health.

Fellow students and professors from the VT English Department were aware of Cho’s sinister and anti-social behavior. They also noticed the overly dark and violent material evident in his work.

“Cho, who has been described by classmates and teachers as brooding, withdrawn and silent, also left a rambling, angry, multi-page document in his dorm room. He wrote at least one bomb threat that police found, as well as a novel and some disturbing poems and plays,” stated a Washington Post article.

In addition to that, Cho had to undergo mental health counseling for his disturbing plays and the reported cases of stalking two girls. In the infamous video he sent to NBC, Cho tried to justify his motive for killing by depicting himself as a modern martyr, with a pistol held high in each hand serving as his instruments of judgment. In hindsight, it is clear Cho had been mentally unstable for a long time.

It is also certain that Haiyang Zhu had trouble reasoning when he decapitated Xin Yang. Zhu wrote on a Chinese-language blog that he had been so frustrated over stock losses and other problems that he contemplated suicide or murdering someone, according to Sky News. Zhu became so frustrated, that he hacked off Yang’s head with a kitchen knife. If that’s not mentally twisted, I don’t know what it is.

Now someone has murdered Childs and Metzler, two people who devoted their lives to following Christ and tried making a difference in other people’s lives at VT. They were considered good kids, and the death of this couple is hard to fathom.

VT was unlucky to suffer at the hands of normal individuals who became mentally unstable and were a danger to society. Security is not at total fault, and cannot be blamed.

“Many colleges and universities in California, and around the nation, are forcefully tackling issues of security and mental health during summer orientation seminars and greet-the-freshman gatherings with parents and new students before regular classes begin,” reported the LA Times.

Most colleges and universities now have new emergency notification systems, such as the text-based notifications Liberty faculty and students receive on their cell phones and e-mail. They also offer extensive mental health and counseling programs.

On a higher note, VT has united more than ever. People continue to show support for one another and VT is doing everything it can to help the student body recover from these horrific tragedies. My condolences and prayers go out to the Childs and Metzler family and to all who are Hokies at heart.

Contact Kwaku De-Graft Duncan at

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