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Va. Tech gunman used eBay to buy ammo clips, sell books

Computer forensics are playing a major role in the investigation.

Published April 22, 2007


BLACKSBURG, Va. - The Internet activities of the Virginia Tech gunman provided more insight Saturday into how he may have plotted for the rampage, with revelations that he bought two ammunition clips on eBay.

Seung-Hui Cho purchased two empty clips about three weeks before the attack in which he killed 32 people and himself. The clips were designed for one of the two types of handguns he used.

Cho, 23, also used the account to sell items ranging from Hokies football tickets to horror-themed books, some of which were assigned in one of his classes.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said that the purchase of the clips from a Web vendor based in Idaho was legal and that the company has cooperated with authorities.

A search warrant affidavit filed Friday stated that investigators wanted to search Cho's e-mail accounts, including the address Durzy confirmed Cho used the same blazers5505 handle on eBay.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said investigators are "aware of the eBay activity that mirrors" the Hotmail account.

Focus on computers

The eBay account demonstrates the prime role computer forensics and other digital information have played in the investigation. Authorities are examining the personal computers found in Cho's dorm room and seeking his cell phone records.

One question they hope to answer is whether Cho had any e-mail contact with Emily Hilscher, one of the first two victims. Investigators plan to search her Virginia Tech e-mail account.

Experts say that when the subject of an investigation is a loner like Cho, his computers and cell phone can be a rich source of information. Authorities say Cho had a history of sending menacing text messages and other communications - written and electronic.

On March 22, Cho bought two 10-round magazines for a Walther P22 gun. A day later, he made a purchase from a vendor named "oneclickshooting," which sells gun accessories and other items. Details on the purchase were unclear, and the seller could not be reached.

Tickets are sold

Cho sold tickets to Virginia Tech sporting events, including last year's Peach Bowl. He sold a Texas Instruments graphing calculator that contained several games, most of them with mild themes.

"The calculator was used for less than one semester then I dropped the class," Cho wrote on the site.

He sold many books about violence, death and mayhem. Several of those books were used in his English classes, meaning Cho simply could have been selling used books at the end of the semester.

His eBay rating was superb - 98.5 percent. That means he received one negative rating from people he dealt with on eBay, compared with 65 positive.

Andy Koch, Cho's roommate from 2005 to 2006, said he never saw Cho receive or send a package, although he didn't have much interaction with Cho.

Durzy, the eBay spokesman, said the company has been assisting investigators since the start of the case.

Attempts to reach the Idaho dealer were unsuccessful.

Experts say things like eBay transactions can be hugely valuable in trying to figure out the motivation behind crimes.

An examination of a computer is "very revealing, particularly for a person like this," said Mark Rasch of FTI Consulting, a computer and electronic investigation firm. "What we find ... particularly with people who are very uncommunicative in person, is that they may be much more communicative and free to express themselves with the anonymity that computers and the Internet give you."

[Last modified April 22, 2007, 01:11:40]

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