Before Virginia Tech, before Columbine, there was Simon’s Rock.
Late on the evening of Dec. 14, 1992, Wayne Lo, an 18-year-old student at Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Mass., approached a security-guard shack on the campus and began shooting, as he says now, “at anything that moved.” Lo fired at least nine rounds during the following 20 minutes, killing another student and a Spanish professor and wounding four others.
A gifted violinist who had moved with his family from Taiwan to Billings, Mont., at age 12, Lo had bought his weapon, an SKS carbine rifle, that very afternoon at a sporting-goods store in nearby Pittsfield, Mass. His Montana driver’s license was the only documentation the purchase required. The cab driver who took him to the store would later describe Lo to the press as “a real gentleman.” That same morning he had received a package containing 200 rounds of ammunition, purchased the previous day from a mail-order company using his mother’s credit card.
Shortly after the shooting, Lo surrendered to police. When he appeared in court the next day, he was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words SICK OF IT ALL, the name of a rock band he liked. His lawyer would later use an insanity defense, but Lo never testified and has subsequently said he doesn’t believe he was insane. On Feb. 4, 1994, Lo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
This week, almost 15 years since that murderous night and two weeks after an even bloodier morning at Virginia Tech, Lo met with NEWSWEEK’s Samantha Henig in a conference room at MCI-Norfolk, the Massachusetts medium-security prison. Wearing a black T shirt tucked into the elastic waistband of his gray pants, Lo looked more like a young professional on casual Friday than a campus killer. He spoke candidly about his murderous tear at Simon’s Rock and shared his insights into the Virginia Tech shooting, which he said he had been following closely so that he could be ready with his opinion “if anybody wants to listen.” Yet his tone was oddly similar to that of most people when confronted by the tragedy—bewilderment at how such a thing could happen.
NEWSWEEK: What was your reaction when you heard about the Virginia Tech shooting?
Wayne Lo: When they said it was a perpetrator who was Asian, that really shocked me. The stereotype is that Asians don’t do these things. The Secret Service came and interviewed me for a report on school shooters that they put out in 2002, and even they said Asians don’t really do this.
Did you relate to Seung-Hui Cho because you’re both Asian?
At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as more details came out, there were just too many eerie similarities to me. He was an immigrant, like myself. The events leading up to the shooting, the warning signs he gave out really reminded me of what happened at Simon’s Rock. They said he had mental-health issues. I don’t really think I had mental-health issues, but I did give out those warning signs. He harassed women, and I also had an incident where I was accused of stalking a female classmate. He went and purchased a gun at a store 40 minutes out of town; so did I. He wrote papers that got people’s attention; I did that, too.
What was the paper that you wrote?
It was for my sophomore English class. The assignment was to come up with a 10-step program for anything, so being the smart ass that I am, I wrote a paper on how to eliminate AIDS, and at the end it was calling for the extermination of all people with AIDS—you know, tongue-in-cheek satire. But that’s not how the class interpreted it.
Do you think that Cho’s writings should have been more of a red flag than they were?
It’s ludicrous that they didn’t stop this guy with all the warning signs. I mean, come on, I did this 15 years ago. I was one of the first school shooters. The question is, how don’t we learn from it? They’ve done studies; they know the typical warning signs now. How could they not see this coming?
What should be done when teachers or parents spot these warning signs?
Drastic measures should be taken. You should kick the kid out of school.
But did either of you really do anything that warranted kicking you out?
No. I certainly didn’t. But for him, in 2007, with all these precedents, there should be different standards.
Do you believe that stricter gun control would help prevent such tragedies?
The people who do these things are people who don’t want contact. They wouldn’t be capable of going out there and stabbing people to death. But there’s such a disconnect when you’re using a gun. You don’t even feel like you’re killing anybody. The fact that I was able to buy a rifle in 15 minutes, that’s absurd. I was 18. I couldn’t have rented a car to drive home from school, yet I could purchase a rifle.
You were from Montana, and a member of the NRA. Had guns and hunting been a part of your life?
That night was the first time I fired a gun. Why should a person who has never touched a gun be able to buy one and the first time he fires it, be able to kill people? You wouldn’t be able to drive a car without a license.
What sort of gun control do you propose, then?
Ideally, guns should be eliminated, but I know that won’t happen. There should be stricter checks. Obviously a waiting period would be great. Personally, I only had five days left of school before winter break: school got out on Friday, and I did that on a Monday. If I had a two-week waiting period for the gun, I wouldn’t have done it.
You’ve talked about "warning signs." One of the common ones is social isolation. Is that something you experienced?
Most people at Simon’s Rock choose to leave high school because they felt isolated there. [Simon’s Rock College is designed for gifted students who want to pursue a college degree without having completed high school.] So the outcasts basically become the majority. For me, it wasn’t that I felt isolated at high school—I just wanted to get away from my parents. I was basically your typical normal kid. I wasn’t an outcast in high school. I was the kind of kid who made them feel isolated.
So did that make you an outsider there?
They didn’t like me. I felt defensive toward them, like, "If you don’t like me then I don’t like you." But I did have a close group of friends at Simon’s Rock.
You also mentioned relating to Cho because you are both immigrants.
The issue of mental health and stuff like that is not talked about in the Asian community, even within families. It puts a lot of pressure on you as a young person. As it builds up and builds up and builds up, [Cho] acted out just like I did. Asians tend to be passive aggressive: we don’t get in fights, so it doesn’t come out in little bits; it all comes out in one big act.