BLACKSBURG, Virginia - The Virginia Tech gunman's missing mental-health records have been found at the home of a former university counselling official more than two years after the bloodbath - a discovery that angered victims' families struggling to understand how the killer fell through the cracks so disastrously.
The belated emergence of Seung-Hui Cho's file, a development disclosed in a memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, represents another embarrassing lapse in the case and raises questions about how such potentially explosive evidence could be lost for so long.
"Deception comes to my mind in my first response," said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was wounded. "It gives me the impression, 'What else are they hiding?"'
The contents of the file have not been made public, and Gov. Tim Kaine said it is unclear why Dr. Robert C. Miller, former director of the campus clinic where Cho was counselled because of his disturbing behaviour, took the records home more than a year before Cho killed 32 people and committed suicide on April 16, 2007.
Because Miller brought the file to his attorney's attention and it was not found by law enforcement, its discovery calls into question the thoroughness of the criminal investigation and the findings of a commission appointed by the governor. The commission never interviewed Miller.
Victims' families want to know whether the file contains warning signs that could have prevented the nation's deadliest shooting rampage.
"Would things have been different if we had this information? What information is in those records?" asked Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shootings.
Miller, 54, declined to comment when reached by telephone at his private practice.
State officials said they would release the records publicly as soon as possible, either by getting consent from Cho's estate or through a subpoena. The medical records are protected under state privacy laws.
Miller told his attorney about Cho's file last Thursday, said Mark E. Rubin, the governor's chief legal counsel. According to a university memo shared with victims' families, Miller took the records for Cho and several other students home around the time he left his job at the centre in 2006.
After the massacre, the counsellingcentre conducted an exhaustive search for the records in 2007, and Miller told investigators at the time that he didn't know where they were, university spokesman Mark Owczarski said.
Virginia State Police are investigating whether a criminal act was committed, spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. Kaine said it was illegal to remove records from the centre.
The families of two of the dead were already claiming that Miller withheld troubling information about Cho. A lawsuit they filed in April claims Miller was told by Cho's English professors about his disturbing behaviour and by the school's residential director that Cho had a history of erratic behaviour and suicidal thoughts and had "blades" in his room.
The lawsuit claims Miller never passed that information on to either of the therapists from the counsellingcentre who dealt with Cho during three 45-minute triage sessions in 2005.
After the massacre, the panel faulted school officials for waiting two hours to warn students that Cho had killed two students in a dormitory. By the time the warning went out, Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building, where he killed 30 students and teachers before shooting himself as police closed in.
Some have also faulted the university for not responding more decisively to warning signs from Cho, including his increasingly sullen behaviour and twisted, violence-filled classroom writings. Cho also managed to buy two guns despite his history of mental illness.
Associated Press Writers Bob Lewis, Dena Potter and Steve Szkotak in Richmond contributed to this report.