It's pretty safe to say that Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui never saw the basement tapes that Columbine gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left behind. Oh, he probably read about them. But aside from a brief period of media viewings, the tapes have never been released. Officials were concerned that they might inspire copycats if the public got hold of them.
So Cho didn't see them, but he was enough of a fan of his predecessors' work to leave videos of his own — which are now all over the Internet, starting right here -- and referring to Harris and Klebold as "martyrs" to the cause.
What cause is that? The cause of deranged psychokillers who think they have cancer in their head and rich brats are to blame for their isolation and misery, apparently. Read all about it in Cho's rambling manifesto, which echoes to an uncanny degree Harris's own denunciations of Littleton's fat cats and prosperous, unself-aware popular kids who never invited him to their parties.
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Do we blame the media for paying so much attention to the Columbine killers that other vengeful, disturbed young men like Cho see mass murder as their ticket to glory? Or do we try to come to terms with the emerging profile of these school shooters found in their writings and videos, which the authorities want to keep from us?
Six years ago, Westword opted for the second approach, publishing for the first time extensive excerpts (view them here) from the journals of Eric Harris that had been locked away by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office since the day of the massacre. I still believe it's the right thing to do; taking a hard look at who these people really are and how they came by their consuming hatred helps to deromanticize them, to take away the kind of mystique that leads some to view them as martyrs.
These are issues of pathology and mental illness, ultimately. It's too early to know if something more could have been done to prevent Cho's rampage, but the record left by the Columbine killers teaches us there is plenty to learn about warning signs and escalating criminal behavior before the next "martyr" sits down with his video camera to make his tearful farewells. –Alan Prendergast