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Tens of thousands of students, faculty and family members gathered yesterday at Virginia Tech to mourn the victims of Monday’s school massacre that left 33 people dead. It was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. A candlelight vigil was held last night. Earlier in the day, President Bush spoke at a memorial service on campus.
President Bush: “By the end of the morning, it was the worst day of violence on a college campus in American history. And for many of you here today, it was the worst day of your lives. It’s impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering.”
President Bush has ordered the nation’s flags to be flown at half-mast. Virginia Tech’s Marisa Plescia was one of the students attending the memorial service.
Marisa Plescia: “This could be the most devastating thing I have ever been through. Yesterday was probably one of the most terrifying days of my life. I was on campus when it all started. We all just ran away from campus. I live off campus so I went back to my car. I think it’s really important for every single person to be out here today. It’s a horrible thing that happened.”
The memorial service was held hours after Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum identified the student behind the killings.
Wendell Flinchum: “We have been able to confirm the identity of the gunman at Norris Hall. That person is Cho Seung-Hui. He was a 23-year-old South Korean here in the United States as a resident alien. Cho was enrolled as an undergraduate student in his senior year as an English major at Virginia Tech. Cho was in the U.S. with a residence established in Centerville, Virginia, and was living on campus in Harper Hall.”
Police say Cho Seung-Hui killed himself after he shot dead 30 students and faculty at Harper Hall.
A pair of English teachers at Virginia Tech has revealed that they had previously warned school officials about Cho Seung-Hui. One classmate said his writings were “very graphic” and “extremely disturbing.” Lucinda Roy, the chair of the school’s English Department, spoke to NBC News.
Lucinda Roy: “I felt I needed to pull him from the class because I didn’t feel comfortable with him being with the students, and the students had expressed their own discomforts. I kept saying to him, 'Please go to counseling. I will take you over to counseling myself,' because he was so depressed.”
Two of Cho Seung-Hui’s roommates told CNN that he talked about suicide and stalked three women on campus. One of his roommates said in retrospect that Cho had exhibited “big warning signs.” On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine ordered an independent review of Virginia Tech’s handling of Monday’s massacre.
The fallout from the shooting at Virginia Tech is also being closely monitored in South Korea. The lead story on the website of The Korea Herald reads: “Massacre Puts U.S.-Based Ethnic Koreans on Alert.” Residents of Seoul expressed concern that Korean Americans would face a backlash.
South Korean Man: “I was shocked when I heard the killer of the Virginia Tech shooting was identified as a South Korean student. I’m worried as a South Korean that South Korean people living in the United States might encounter some prejudice against them.”
There are nearly 100,000 Korean students in the United States. Here in this country, the Asian American Journalists Association is urging the news media to use caution when mentioning the gunman’s heritage or immigrant status. In a statement, the group said, “We are disturbed by some media outlets’ prominent mention that the suspect is an immigrant from South Korea when such a revelation provides no insight or relevance to the story.”
In other news, at least 85 people were killed or found dead across Iraq on Tuesday. Seventeen decomposing corpses were found buried beneath two schoolyards in Ramadi.
Two professors from Mosul University were murdered on Monday — the same day as the Virginia Tech mass shooting. The school’s dean of political science was shot as he walked through the university gate. A second professor was killed in front of his home. The International Committee of Solidarity with Iraqi Professors estimates that over 230 university professors have been killed since the Iraq War started. Fifty-six are reported missing, and more than 3,000 others have fled the country. Schools in Iraq have also been targets of frequent attacks. In January, at least 70 people died in a double suicide bombing at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University. Another suicide bomber struck the school in February killing 40 more students, faculty and staff.
The United Nations is urging the international community to keep their borders open for refugees fleeing Iraq. The U.N. is holding a two-day conference to discuss how to help the four million Iraqis who have fled their homes. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, addressed the conference.
Antonio Guterres: “The dramatic needs of the Iraqis and the challenges faced by host countries need an urgent and meaningful expression of solidarity by the international community, so well represented here today, as well as an effective action to share the humanitarian burden. That should include financial, economic and technical support, but also expanded resettlement opportunities for the most vulnerable.”
Angelo Gnaedinger, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, also spoke.
Angelo Gnaedinger: “Bombings, suicide attacks, shootings, abductions, murders, the destruction of civilian property and forced displacements are a daily reality for millions of Iraqis. In this dreadful situation and after years of violence, one wonders if a single Iraqi family has been spared human and material loss and their accompanying physical and psychological scars.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are now estimating the war has produced 900,000 orphans.
In other news on Iraq, charges have been dropped against one of the marines involved in the killing of two dozen Iraqis in Haditha. Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz had been charged with five counts of unpremeditated murder. The U.S. military agreed to dismiss all of the charges against him in exchange for his testimony against his fellow marines.
The United Nations Security Council has held its first-ever debate on climate change. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the U.N. must view global warming as an issue linked to international security.
Margaret Beckett: “Today is about the world recognizing that there is a security imperative as well as economic, developmental and environmental ones to tackling climate change, and for us to begin to build a shared understanding of the relationship between energy, climate and security.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that global warming could lead to crisis around the world.
Ban Ki-moon: “Extreme weather events and natural disasters such as floods and drought increase the risk of humanitarian emergencies and thus the risk of instability and dislocation. Migration driven by factors such as climate change could deepen tensions and conflicts particularly in regions with large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees.”
During the debate at the United Nations, Russia and China said the Security Council was not the right forum to debate climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming have increased by 16 percent over the past 15 years.
In the West Bank, undercover Israeli troops have assassinated a senior Palestinian member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades near Jenin. Israeli troops wore disguised as Palestinians and were driving a civilian vehicle. One Palestinian eyewitness said, “They pulled him out of his car alive, they pulled him by his neck, put him on the ground and shot him.” Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians held rallies in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday to mark the annual Prisoners Day. More than 10,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, many without charge.
The U.S. Post Office is in the process of implementing new postage rates for magazines in a move that could put many independent and small publications out of business. According to the advocacy group Free Press, the rate change was proposed by Time Warner and was developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight. Postal rates for smaller periodicals could increase by as much as 30 percent, while some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent. Free Press founder Robert McChesney says the new postal rates could make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine, unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate. Free Press is calling for a congressional hearing on the changes. The group has just launched a new website at stoppostalratehikes.com.
Meanwhile, online radio stations have been dealt a major setback. Last month the Copyright Royalty Board decided to implement a new system to determine how royalties are paid for music played online. Analysts predict the royalty increase will bankrupt 85 percent of online broadcasters. The board’s decision was opposed by many small Internet broadcasters as well as National Public Radio and Yahoo. On Monday, the Copyright Royalty Board denied a request to reconsider the royalty hike. The board also declined to postpone the May 15 deadline to collect monthly payments under the new rules. Up until now, small broadcasters have been allowed to pay about 12 percent of their revenues, but now the royalties will be calculated on a per-song, per-hour rate. To fight the rate increase, a group of webcasters, musicians and independent record labels have formed the SaveNetRadio Coalition.
In science news, more theories are emerging on what is causing the disappearances of bees across the country and in Europe. As much as 70 percent of the commercial bee population on the East Coast have gone missing. The Independent newspaper of London reports that some scientists believe that cellphones might be causing the problem. The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously home-loving species from finding their way back to their hives. A limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. The disappearance of the bees could cause massive food shortages, because most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left.”
In Japan, the mayor of Nagasaki has died after being shot. Police said the killing was carried out by a member of a gang with links to the country’s largest crime syndicate.
In news from a Haiti, a journalist working for the New York-based paper Haite Progres has been murdered. Johnson Edouard was shot to death in his bed in the city of Gonaives. Edouard had close ties to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s political party Lavalas. Lavalas leaders have called the killing a political execution. According to Reporters Without Borders, Edouard is the second Haitian journalist to be killed this year.
And here in New York, the city’s police department has agreed to pay an activist $150,000 after she was kicked and kneed in the head by former Assistant Police Chief Bruce Smolka. Video shot by former Democracy Now! producer Ana Nogueira showed the activist Cynthia Greenberg getting kneed in the head by Smolka. The incident took place during a protest against both the war in Iraq and the U.S. government’s treatment of immigrants.