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Va. Tech Gunman's Family Hands Over Mental Health Records To Investigative Panel

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A panel investigating the Virginia Tech massacre obtained university mental-health records of the student gunman after weeks of negotiation with his family, officials said Thursday.

Federal privacy laws governing health and student information had prevented the panel from reviewing Seung-Hui Cho's records. Panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill had said he would go to court if necessary to obtain them.

``This is not all the records that we will need,'' Massengill told The Associated Press. ``But this is certainly some that we felt a strong need to take a look at.''

Virginia Tech officials had been in negotiations with the family since the panel met in Blacksburg in May through a liaison that was ``some law enforcement organization,'' school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Panel members _ who do not have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony or obtain records _ have expressed frustration with state and school officials, who have said they couldn't turn over Cho's medical, mental health or scholastic records because federal privacy laws protect people even after death.

Cho killed himself on April 16 shortly after a shooting rampage in which he killed two students at a Virginia Tech dormitory and 30 other students and staff in a classroom building called Norris Hall. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

On Thursday, university officials let members of the news media tour Norris Hall, which has been locked since Cho fired 174 shots from two handguns in nine minutes in four classrooms. Bullet holes have been patched, walls were freshly painted off-white, and doors, ceilings and floors were replaced, leaving no visible evidence of the day.

``I almost didn't recognize my own classroom,'' said Virginia Tech professor Bryan Cloyd, whose daughter, Austin, was killed. ``It's changed that much.''

Cloyd toured the building last week. University officials have said classes will no longer be held in the building. Next week it will reopen for engineering laboratories and offices.

Hincker said Cho's family gave permission for the school to release his mental-health records late last week. Massengill said they were delivered to the eight-member panel on Wednesday, but that he had not yet examined them. They will not be made public.

Cho was involuntarily sent to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Center near Radford for an overnight stay and mental evaluation in December 2005 after a female student complained about unwanted computer messages from him. A special justice found him to be a danger to himself, but not to others, and ordered him to receive outpatient treatment.

After a nearly 15-hour stay at St. Albans, Cho made an appointment with Virginia Tech's Cook Counseling Center, but there was no indication that he received the treatment.

``I think these records should show a number of things, but certainly some of the questions that we had as to any counseling, any encounters he had had with the mental health community,'' said Massengill, a former Virginia State Police superintendent who oversaw the agency's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.

Massengill said he still wants access to other medical and school records.

``I think it's important that we learn as much about Cho as we can from his childhood on up,'' Massengill said.

``His high school years are of particular importance to us,'' he said.

Classmates have said that Cho, who moved to the U.S. from South Korea at a young age, was teased at affluent Westfield High School in Chantilly, apparently because of his shyness and mumbling speech. In a video diatribe that Cho mailed to NBC News on the day of the shootings, he ranted against rich ``brats'' with Mercedes-Benzes, gold necklaces, cognac and trust funds.

An attorney representing 20 victims' relatives who are fighting for representation on the governor-appointed panel said getting the university records was a good beginning, but the groups' work would be invalid unless the victims' loved ones are involved.

``We've got the government watching the government. That's the fox watching the chicken coop,'' Thomas Fadoul Jr. said.

Fadoul said the parents feel entitled to be able to review the records, although the Chos directed them to be used only by the eight-member panel.

Massengill said family members shouldn't be represented on the panel so its eventual findings don't appear emotionally driven.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Wednesday that he would meet with the victims' relatives in coming weeks to discuss their concerns.

The panel has one more meeting scheduled for July 18 in Charlottesville, but Massengill said it may have to meet several more times. Kaine has asked the panel to finish its work before school resumes in the fall.
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