Responding to Tragedy

RESPONDING TO TRAGEDY….When we learned yesterday that Cho Seung Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, had been an “eccentric loner” who had written “disturbing” essays and plays, my heart sank. Here we go again, I thought. It’s going to be just like the aftermath of Columbine, when high schools around the country went crazy and started expelling kids who wore too much black, or who wrote compositions too full of teenage angst, or who affected a pose of rebellion that was just a bit too unnerving. It was an insane overreaction to a tragic event, and one that’s gone a long way toward virtually outlawing a lot of fairly normal teenage behavior.

But then the stories about Cho started dribbling out, and it turned out he was more than just an eccentric loner. He wrote poetry so disturbing that classmates refused to come to class and he ended up getting one-on-one tutoring. The tutor, Lucinda Roy, says she tried repeatedly to warn campus officials about Cho but was told there was nothing they could do. There were complaints two years ago from female students about harrassment. After the second one Cho was checked into a psychiatric hospital.

In other words, Cho’s behavior wasn’t merely eccentric. There really are good reasons to think that it might have been possible to do something prophylactic before Cho finally snapped and killed 32 students and professors two days ago. And it’s going to be perfectly reasonable to start thinking about ways this tragedy might have been stopped before it ever occurred.

All I can say is: I still hope everyone takes this very, very slowly. There might be lessons we can learn from Monday’s tragedy, but our first reactions are almost certain to be wrong. Probably our second reactions too. Whatever we do, let’s not make the cure worse than the disease.