BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Students expressed disgust and disbelief at photos and a rage-filled video diatribe sent to a television network by the gunman who massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech university.
Half-a-dozen Virginia Tech students gathered silently around a bank of televisions in the student center late on Wednesday watching images of Cho Seung-Hui posing with his guns and video of him ranting against rich kids and debauchery.
The package received by NBC News on Wednesday carried a postmark showing Cho mailed his rambling manifesto after he killed his first two victims on Monday morning but before he went on to cut down 30 more people in classrooms.
"That's crazy. He kills two people and then goes to the post office and then he's ready for round two? It's creepy," said graduate student Nick Jeremiah, 34.
The images and long monologue suffused with paranoia and feelings of persecution painted a different picture of Cho, a 23-year-old student who has been described by teachers and other students as silent and withdrawn.
"He just goes on and on -- that's got to be more than he's spoken, ever," Jeremiah said. "I thought, 'well, he does talk."'
Devin Cornwall, 19, who watched the video in a dormitory room with two friends, said the gunman's hatred for rich children made no sense.
"To me, that doesn't personify any Tech student I know. I always think of us as a blue-collar place," Cornwall said.
In the video and an 1,800-word document, Cho railed against wealth and debauchery, portrayed himself as a defender of the weak and voiced admiration for the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
"You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and tortured my conscience," said Cho, speaking directly to the camera and occasionally looking down to read his message.
"You thought it was a pathetic boy's life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people."
The messages added to an already chilling portrait of Cho from roommates and teachers who described him as a disturbed loner. Cho had been accused of stalking female students and was taken to a psychiatric hospital in 2005 because of worries he was suicidal. A Virginia court order issued at the time declared him "mentally ill" and said he presented "an imminent danger to self or others," ABC News reported.
The shooting has rekindled debate over U.S. gun laws, the most lenient in the Western world. News of Cho's past contacts with police and mental health specialists raised further questions over whether anyone could have picked up warning signs.
University officials and police have been criticized for taking too long to alert students to the danger after Cho killed his first two victims in a dormitory just after 7 a.m.
CNN quoted from a search warrant affidavit on Wednesday that showed police suspected a different man of the first murders. The network said police had been told by a student that the boyfriend of murdered Emily Hilscher had recently taken her to a shooting range, and assumed he was the main suspect. They were interviewing him outside the campus when Cho began his classroom rampage.
On the sprawling rural campus in southwestern Virginia, students were beginning to look ahead to Monday, when classes will resume.
"It's going to be weird being back in class. We're still going to feel uneasy in big lecture halls, or crossing the drill field," said industrial design student Phil Padilla, 20.
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.