A Boy Called “Question Mark”

On April 16, 2007, a Virginia Tech student by the name of Cho Seung-hui murdered 32 people and injured 25 others in what was one of the worst school shootings to date. Everybody was impacted by the massacre that day no matter where they lived. It was heartbreaking, terrifying, and confusing. How could a 23-year old boy take the lives of so many innocent classmates? What were his motives? Could something like this happen at my school/job?

One of the lives taken that day was a classmate of mine from high school, we had just graduated together 2 years earlier. She happened to be in one of the classrooms that Cho barged into and was killed instantly. Learning of my former classmates death brought out a lot of emotions. First and foremost, grief. I felt so sad for her family, and for her only sister whom I had grown rather close to my senior year. Second, I felt thankful. Thankful that my own sister had decided to leave Virginia Tech, where she was a full-time student, and move back home a few months before the shootings. On April 14, 2007, my sister drove back to VA Tech to pickup the remainder of her belongings. I remember her telling me how “dark” she felt campus was, and she just needed to go home. She ended up leaving campus earlier than expected because she felt something just wasn’t right. I now believe that the foreboding feeling she experienced was for good reason.

My sister knew Cho, she had a class with him. Learning of his shooting rampage made her extremely upset and question why she hadn’t seen this coming. I imagine this is a feeling that most people get when somebody they know mentally snaps, commits suicide, or does something equally us surprising. 

The reason I am writing about this today is because I was going through some old emails (boring day at work) and discovered one my sister sent me after the shooting. We are not too much alike, but we do have one thing in common: using writing as cathartic tool. I reread the email she had shared with some family members and I and all the sudden April 16, 2007 came flooding back to me. It made my heart heavy, but I feel it is something that needs to be shared. It is a good reminder to love those around you no matter how different they may be. You never know what your kind gesture or reaching out may mean to someone. 

I have changed all of the names in her letter for privacy reasons:

Yesterday 32 people were murdered at VA Tech by my former classmate Cho Seung-hui A.K.A. Question Mark. We called him Question Mark because that is how he thought of himself and therefore that is how we perceived him. I remember sitting down in the front row of my British Literature class. It was a small classroom, very confined, no windows, cramped, mostly girls. The teacher Mrs. Jackson, spoke slowly with a slight lisp yet perfect annunciation. I remember having to hold back laughter at first because her glasses were so thick that her eyes looked like my chihuahua’s…big and bulgy. A sheet of paper was passed around the classroom, it started with me because if you walked in the classroom door, you would walk all the way to the far right front seat. On this paper we were to write our names for attendance. After the paper went around she looked at it and began to call our names out to put a face with the name. She called my name first, gave me a smile while saying “Jessica, that’s a very nice name” and continued on. As she continued on and got to the forth name or rather punctuation mark she paused. She looked up at the last chair in my row where he sat, face down, hat curved low shadowing his face. “There’s just a question mark here, is that your name, question mark?” He sort of nodded, as all of us in the class began to chuckle, I looked at the girl next to me, my face beat red trying to hold back a huge laugh. Mrs. Jackson looked around at our class, I could tell she too was confused and she laughed a little and looked at us saying “is this some kind of joke?” Everyone then blurted out in laughter, Question Mark said nothing. I recall her looking for an official attendance so she could put a real name with the face. I believe she did find his name and call him that, but from then on Question Mark stuck with the rest of us. Every time he would walk in the room we would look at each other and say “Hey there’s Question Mark, look at Question Mark”. He was mysterious and more quiet then the quietest of them all. His name is what made him unique, but is also what made him stand out in my mind on the day of the shootings.

I had no reason to suspect my fellow classmate from over a year ago to be a mass murderer. I barely knew the kid, had a few brief encounters, but nothing memorable. But as more came about from the case, “The shooter was an Asian male”. I started recalling things I had forgotten about Question Mark, signs I should have taken more notice too.

A few weeks into the class I was friended by a “Question Mark” on Facebook. I didn’t know if this was the same “Question Mark” from my class because if you fail to upload a picture of yourself on a Facebook profile, it will then default a big blue question mark picture. For some reason I accepted this request, looked at the profile and found it to be very strange. I don’t remember much, except the profile had the words “question mark” every where! The relationship status I also recall was “in a relationship” which struck me as odd, because there were not any signs on the profile/wall of a relationship being evident and I had also received 2 strange private messages from Question Mark. I don’t remember what they entailed, but I do remember them being completely random and strange. They were deleted as quickly as being received, and they were forgotten as quickly too.

A few weeks later I received a message from a fellow classmate in that class her name was Kristen. She sat 2 chairs over from me in the front row. She had some sort of big ace bandage on her leg, I guess she had injured it playing some sort of sport. She sent me a warning message because she had viewed my friends list and saw that I had friended “Question Mark”. She told me she had to get a restraining order against him because he had been stalking her and showing up at her dorm unexpectedly and really freaking her out. I took her warning to heart and immediately unfriended Question Mark.

From then on I don’t recall seeing him very much. He showed up to class only a few more times for exams. He never talked, never smiled, left unexpectedly during oral presentations so as not to speak in front of the class. He was so quiet that it was noticeably loud. I don’t think there is a student in that class who can’t remember question mark. I can barely remember any other persons name in that class, but Question Mark sticks out. He was strange, alone, disturbed. He was hurting inside, he had so much anger that he held on to, he let it all bottle up inside and only released it in his writing. His writing was a call for help, and although measures were taken to get him help, they were not followed through properly. How many more Question Marks are out there? How many people laughing does it take for a Question Mark to explode? How many cries for help can a Question Mark make before finally going through with his nightmarish fantasies? These are the questions we should ask ourselves every time we step foot in to a classroom. We should start to think twice about the consequences of our actions, because our action could be that straw that broke the camel’s back.

Why is it that it must always take another tragedy to be reminded of these things. Have you noticed that the tragedies are exponentially growing in fatalities and yet, the lessons still remain the same. The answer is not changing the laws, these are the same laws we’ve had for years and years and it wasn’t until just recently that school shootings became so pronounced. The answer is changing ourselves. Our father’s fathers grew up trained to be gentlemen, our mother’s mothers proper women. I’m not saying this generation was perfect, but compared to the way we treat each other, the way we lack so much respect, they were perfection because they knew control, generosity, humility. Let us try to relearn what our generation has so quickly forgotten. Let us try to prove our elders wrong and show that we can and will be a mature growing nation. Live every day happy, without a grudge when you lay down to sleep at night, and with the patience to accept those who may be abnormal or different. Who’s to say what one person is compared to another? Who are we to judge?

Luke 6:37-38
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

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2 thoughts on “A Boy Called “Question Mark”

  1. I’m so glad your sister wasn’t hurt by Cho. I remember that day clearly. I was teaching just an hour and a half away and had students that had just graduated a year earlier, attending VT.

    Your sister wrote a beautiful email.

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