Seung Hui Cho never received the treatment ordered by a judge who declared him dangerously mentally ill fewer than two years before his rampage at Virginia Tech, the Washington Post reports. The case exposes flaws in Virginia’s labyrinthine mental health system, including confusion about the law, spotty enforcement, and inadequate funding. Neither the court, the university, nor local services officials followed up on the judge’s order. Cho never got treatment, according to authorities who have seen his medical files. State law says a community services board should have made sure Cho got help; a board official called that “news to us.”
It is impossible to know if the treatment, ordered in December 2005, would have prevented the April 16 massacre tha left 32 students and faculty dead before Cho killed himself. Interviews with state and university officials, lawmakers, special justices, attorneys, advocates, and mental health agencies made clear that what happened with Cho is not unusual in cases of “involuntary outpatient commitment.” Cho, they said, slipped through a porous mental health system that suffers from muddled, seldom-enforced laws and inconsistent practices. Special justices who oversee hearings such as the one for Cho know that some people they have ordered into treatment have not got it. They find out when the person “does something crazy again,” in the words of one justice — when they are brought back into court because they are considered in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. “The system doesn’t work well,” said Tom Diggs of the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, which is studying the state mental health system.