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Dad: Virginia Tech treated suicidal son like 'joke'

  • Story Highlights
  • Daniel Kim killed himself after falling into depression after Virginia Tech massacre
  • His father says school officials treated his son's warning signs like a 'joke'
  • School policy says suicidal students should be seen by on-campus psychologist
  • Kim was never referred to psychologist, but school stands by its actions
  • Next Article in U.S. »
From Abbie Boudreau and Scott Zamost
CNN Special Investigations Unit
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RESTON, Virginia (CNN) -- William Kim still calls the cell phone of his son, a 21-year-old senior at Virginia Tech, just to hear his voice. He feels cheated out of a chance to save his only boy.

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Daniel Kim, 21, was a senior at Virginia Tech who had fallen into a deep depression after last year's massacre.

His son, Daniel Kim, wasn't a victim of last year's massacre that left 32 students and professors dead. His son committed suicide eight months later, after falling into a deep depression.

A Korean-American, Kim feared that classmates might mistake him for shooter Seung-Hui Cho.

"They treated it like some kind of joke," William Kim said of the way the university handled his son's warning signs.

In fact, one of Kim's friends from another state had e-mailed the Virginia Tech health center with the subject line: "Emergency About Suicidal Student."

"Daniel has been acting very suicidal recently, purchasing a $200 pistol and claiming he'll go through with it," said the e-mail from Shaun Pribush, who had become an online friend of Kim's. "Once again, this is very serious; this is not a joke."

The e-mail was sent at 3:58 a.m. November 5, 2007. Video Watch family say Kim feared people would think he looked like Cho »

University protocol states that a suicidal person needs to see the "psychologist on call," but that never happened. Instead, Virginia Tech passed on the information to the Blacksburg police, who at 11:45 a.m. that day showed up at Kim's doorstep for what police records show was a "welfare check," what school officials call a "wellness check."

"All they did was just knock on the door, and they got Dan, and that was pretty much it. Thirty seconds later, the door was closed," said Kim's roommate Chris Crumpler.

Emergency E-mail

Shaun Pribush sent this e-mail to Virginia Tech's health center on November 5, 2007.

"Dear health center,
This is a serious email, this is not a joke. I am Shaun Pribush, a student at RPI, but I am e-mailing because me and some other individuals are very worried about our friend at Virginia Tech, Daniel Kim.

Daniel has been acting very suicidal recently, purchasing a $200 pistol, and claiming he'll go through with it. In one incident, he said on a Friday, he would do it after the weekend, but then told us he failed to go through with it.

On about November 2nd, Daniel told me and a friend over "Instant Messenger" that he just swallowed 22 pills and said this is the end and signed off, but on the morning of November 5th, he logged on saying "third time will be a charm i made myself puke up the pills when i was on the road and then ... couldnt shoot myself so then i was thinking about getting into a car accident then i got all depressed over that sh-t and slept in my car. ..."

We are very concerned for his safety and are unsure the next time he might attempt suicide or go through with it, please forward this to who can give him the best care. Once again, this is very serious; this is not a joke.

Please update me if you acknowledge this and take action so I know if I reached the right e-mail adress. Thank you."

Virginia Tech stands by the way it handled Kim's case, even though he was never seen by the school's on-call psychologist as its policy mandates. "The appropriate measures were taken in his case," said Zenobia Hikes, the vice president for student affairs.

Why was the case referred to police and not an on-campus psychologist?

"Two-thirds of our students live off campus, and the protocol is for the police to go and do a wellness check if an individual lives off campus," Hikes said.

Virginia Tech later told CNN that Hikes was describing an unwritten policy for off-campus students. Also in the wake of Kim's suicide, the university says it is considering changing its policy for suicidal students so that a healthcare professional goes along with police on wellness checks.

"We followed the protocol for Daniel Kim in following all the procedures that we were scheduled to do based on ... information that we had in the e-mail, and we pursued the information in the e-mail, followed the protocol and acted appropriately," Hikes said.

Police officers, who Blacksburg police say are trained do to wellness checks, visited two Daniel Kims living off campus after receiving the e-mail from Pribush.

CNN tracked down the other Daniel Kim. In an e-mail, he wrote that officers did ask him about Pribush but said "they didn't seem very interested. ... They didn't ask me if I was feeling depressed or suicidal."

Blacksburg police repeatedly declined comment for this story.

Pribush, who recently graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, had met Kim online in the "World of Warcraft" game. In the months after the Virginia Tech massacre, Pribush said, he noticed a change in Kim.

"He was saying he was Asian, and he really didn't have too many friends in real life," Pribush said.

Then, in late October, Kim revealed his darkest thoughts. "He actually thought about purchasing a gun and planning to kill himself like soon. I'm like, 'Dan is that a joke; is that something funny? I don't think that's funny. You shouldn't joke about having a gun.' He said, 'I'm serious. I actually bought a gun.' "

Several days later, Kim threatened suicide again by "swallowing pills" and getting into a "car accident." Pribush became so concerned, he eventually e-mailed the Virginia Tech health officials.

Blacksburg police records show that they interviewed Kim and they classified him as "C-4," which is the code for OK. And then police drove off.

Three weeks later, Kim bought a pistol for $406.25 with his father's credit card at JND Pawnbrokers, the same Blacksburg, Virginia, store where Cho picked up his gun. William Kim said he had no idea about the purchase at the time.

Don't Miss

Then, on December 9, more than a month after police checked on Kim, his sister, Jeannette, got an urgent call from home. Something was wrong with her brother. "So I texted him, and I was like ... 'Where are you; I'm really worried about you,' " she said.

But it was too late. Her brother shot himself in the family car in a parking lot seven miles from campus. Today, his father still drives the car his son took his life in.

Asked whether the university let down his son, he said, "I feel like it, yes, especially after the April shooting."

The dad says his son had not exhibited depression previously. In addition, the father said, Virginia Tech never shared the emergency e-mail with him until it was too late.

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That especially pains the family.

"Virginia Tech is lucky this time that only my brother died. And to me, my brother was everything," said his sister. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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