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MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2007

Those who knew Cho reflect on warning signs

By Allen G. Breed and Chris Kahn
Associated Press Writers

BLACKSBURG, Va. — When Andy Koch last saw Seung-Hui Cho in a dining hall a week ago, his former suitemate pretended he didn’t see him and simply walked the other way.

The next morning, Karan Grewal bumped into Cho — in his underwear and a T-shirt — on his way out of the bathroom they shared. Grewal had no idea how close he was to the presence of pure hatred.

The last time Sara Lichtenstein stepped foot in her dormitory, the sounds of sirens and gunshots were fresh in her memory.

They are among a handful of Virginia Tech students who passed within the orbit of the gunman or his victims in the last hours before his murderous assault. They have had a week now to reflect on the ominous warning signs that may have existed before Cho carried out his massacre.

For Grewal and Koch, a few of their bizarre interactions with Cho make more sense. But to them and others, Cho’s actions remain as inexplicable as they were when the gunfire started echoing through campus a week ago.

Spanky hits the scene

Koch remembers taking Cho out to some parties at the start of the fall semester in 2005. He introduced Cho to friends, but the sullen roommate didn’t say much. At one party, Cho did get tipsy enough that he opened up.

He said he had an imaginary girlfriend named Jelly, and that she was “a supermodel that lived in space.” Jelly had a nickname for Cho — Spanky.

Once, Koch knocked on Cho’s door looking for his roommate, John. The door was locked, and Seung wouldn’t open it up.

“I’m in here with my girlfriend and we’re making out,” he said.

“Who says that kind of stuff?” the junior from Richmond asked.

Then there was the beer-pong game. It was down to the final shot, and it was Cho’s turn to sink a pingpong ball in a beer-filled cup from across a table. Cho stared down a cup of beer and nailed the shot with amazing accuracy.

“Usually there’s a lot of smack talk going on and he didn’t even blink an eye,” Koch said.

The incident offered a glimpse of the calm Cho’s victims witnessed as he marched from desk to desk, room to room, firing his two guns into his defenseless targets.

One night, he was awakened by police officers banging on the door. Cho had been harassing a female student via the Internet and was talking about suicide, and police showed up to intervene. When Cho did the same to a friend of Koch’s, and the woman contacted the police, Cho sent a text message to his suitemate.

“I might as well kill myself,” he wrote. Koch called police again, and Cho was committed.

Still, Koch never imagined that Cho was capable of the bloodshed that he unleashed on Monday, when he killed 32 students and teachers before finally committing suicide.

He is amazed Cho even knew how to use a gun, and he never feared his physical presence.

On Monday, Koch will be returning to classes, albeit a little awe-struck about what just happened. “It’s hard to believe that I ate dinner and lived in the same suite with the largest mass murderer,” he said.

Silent roommates

Grewal lived with Cho this school year, and he crossed paths with him the morning of the shootings.

It was 5 a.m., and Grewal had just pulled an all-nighter. He was walking out of the bathroom of their six-person suite — No. 2121 — as Cho was walking in, wearing boxers and a T-shirt.

The two had long ago stopped talking, so it was no surprise that they said nothing to each other on that fateful morning.

A few hours later, Grewal was being questioned by police about his roommate.

The basic story was this: Cho was a loner who rarely said a word, and when he did speak, it was one-word conversations. He sometimes watched game shows and Spike TV, usually by himself. He had been getting up earlier than normal lately, by 5 a.m. in the two days prior to the shooting. He apparently started lifting weights in February.

But a mass murderer?

“He didn’t seem like a guy who could even hold up two guns and shoot really. He was not athletic in any way,” Grewal said.

Coping with afterwards

Lichtenstein lived in West Ambler Johnston, on the same floor as Cho’s first two victims — Emily Hilscher and resident assistant Ryan Clark. She knew Clark well.

On Wednesday, the shell-shocked 19-year-old math major packed her bags and headed home to New Jersey, where she spent the week with her family. After she got home, Cho was seen delivering his rant over the network news. She tried not to listen.

On Sunday, Lichtenstein packed her bags, boarded a plane and returned to her dorm, suitcase in hand.

The university gave students the option of staying away and keeping the grades they had before the shootings. She said the thought of not returning to school never crossed her mind. She also plans to visit one of her friends who was shot in the stomach.

As painful as it is to return, Lichtenstein thinks it’s necessary.

“It will be a healing thing.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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