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Cho's Records Given To Investigating Panel

June 14, 2007

By Rex Bowman and Bill McKelway

A panel studying the April 16 Virginia Tech shooting rampage has obtained gunman Seung-Hui Cho's medical records, clearing a major hurdle in determining to what extent he may have received help for his mental problems.

A spokesman for the panel said today the records were received this week after a decision by Cho's family to release them.

Cho's father, Cho Seong-tae, signed the waiver last Thursday, and Tech gave the records to the panel Tuesday, Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said today.

The panel spokesman said the records will not be made public and will only be used in preparation of the panel's full report on the shootings in which 33 people, including Cho, died. The report is due in August.

It was not immediately clear if Virginia Tech planned to release specific information from the records.

Cho was temporarily detained for mental problems in December 2005 but was released for outpatient treatment despite an order that found him mentally ill and a danger to himself.

The state's inspector general for mental health in Virginia has access to the records but also is barred by state law from specifically discussing them.

Panel members have described the records as pivotal to their effort to determine if Cho avoided the outpatient treatment that a special justice had ordered him to undergo after determining that he was a danger to himself.

Panel members have expressed frustration that federal privacy laws kept them from seeing the records.

After bizarre and threatening behavior that included bothersome e-mail messages to a female student, Cho was told to get outpatient treatment during a hearing on Dec. 14, 2005. Cho phoned Tech's Cook Counseling Center and set up an appointment for that same day.

But up until now, Tech has refused to disclose whether Cho ever showed up and, if he did, if he stuck with a treatment program. The counseling center and Tech have cited federal privacy laws that keep Cho's records private even after his death. Cho committed suicide after killing 32 students and faculty members.

The waiver from Cho's family releases Tech from its privacy-law obligations.

School spokesman Mark Owczarski said he does not know the contents of the records, adding that his understanding is that the waiver allows Tech only to give the records to the panel.

The head of the review panel, W. Gerald Massengill, said he has not yet seen the records but expects to see them next week and is confident they will give the panel "a precise look in totality of what took place while he was at Tech."

Contact Rex Bowman at rbowman@timesdispatch.com or Bill McKelway at bmckelway@timesdispatch.com