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Prof thought of shooter
Nikki Giovanni, local student recall shooter


Date published: 4/18/2007

BY EDIE GROSS

Before police ever named the Virginia Tech gunman, Nikki Giovanni knew who it was.

The award-winning poet and long-time Virginia Tech professor had removed a student from her class two years ago because he threatened others. As the tragedy unfolded Monday, she thought of him.

"When I heard about this, I thought I knew the shooter," Giovanni said yesterday. "It wasn't that he was crazy. It's that he was mean."

Police identified Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English senior from Northern Virginia, as the man who shot and killed 32 people at the university Monday before taking his own life.

Cho was a student in Giovanni's advanced poetry class at the same time as Colonial Forge High School graduate Tara Marciniak, who recalled that he often hid his face.

"He came to class every day with dark glasses on and a baseball cap pulled over his head," said Marciniak, a senior. "[Giovanni] asked him to take them off numerous times, but he never did."

The students would often sit in a large circle and exchange ideas, Marciniak said. One day, Cho snapped photos of all the students in the circle.

During the next class, he read a poem that many found disturbing.

"He called everyone a 'barbarian' and said they're all going to go to hell," she said. "I stopped going to class after that. I e-mailed [Giovanni] and said, 'I'm not real comfortable with this kid.'"

After more students stopped coming, Giovanni said she asked then-department head Lucinda H. Roy to remove Cho from her class.

"I said, 'He needs to get out of my classroom.' He was a scary fellow."

Giovanni said that Roy, who could not be reached, agreed to teach him one-on-one.

Giovanni said she never felt threatened by Cho but understood why his behavior bothered students.

"I'm an old woman. He didn't frighten me. But I did understand the students' feelings," she said. "It was all just extremely creepy."

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
Email: egross@freelancestar.com