Mama tried

ChoOne of the more nagging questions about the mass killings at Virginia Tech is how the parents of killer Seung-Hui Cho related to him. Their earlier statement to the public clearly expressed agony about their son's rampage. The Washington Post's front-page story from Sunday fills in more blanks, especially regarding the killer's mother, Hyang In Cho. The story by staff writers Amy Gardner and David Cho (with help by Tom Jackman and Theresa Vargas) is saturated with religion, beginning with the lede:

Hyang In Cho was so desperate to find help for her silent, angry son that she sought out some members of One Mind Church in Woodbridge to heal him of what the church's head pastor called "demonic power."

But before the church could act late last summer, Seung Hui Cho had to return to Virginia Tech to start his senior year, said the Rev. Dong Cheol Lee, minister of the Presbyterian congregation.

This paragraph captures Cho's chosen life -- not just of solitude but of self-imposed exile. It stirs up memories of the opening pages of The Great Divorce, in which C.S. Lewis imagines Hell as an ever-expanding city because its inhabitants are so determined to get away from one another:

He played video games, but students from the gaming club never met him. He came from a Christian family, but the campus ministers don't remember him. He knew something about video editing, but the regulars at the student television station had not heard of him. [Suitemate Karan] Grewal never heard his voice, didn't know what classes he took. Those in the suite next door, he said, never knew of Cho until April 16.

Cho took misanthropy to a certain hellish conclusion. The Post takes no side in whether Hyang In Cho was on the right track in seeking spiritual deliverance for her son, nor must it do so. Simply turning up the facts conveys this mother's distress, and her effort to intervene in her son's destructive spiral. For those people in many different religions who believe that evil is real, and that people can resist evil through prayer, the story can make Hyang In Cho a sympathetic and even heroic figure. Good for her. Good for the Post.

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