Warnings from VT Professor Ignored


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Thin Black Line
April 18, 2007, 08:04 AM
I took a lot of creative writing classes in college and can tell you there was
some really off-the-wall stuff we read from other students at times since
everyone critiqued everyone else's work.

If this professor felt moved enough to make a warning, it must've been pretty
bad:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/04/18/wcampus1518.xml

Lucinda Roy, a former chairwoman of Virginia Tech’s English Department, told CNN she warned officials about the student in 2005 after seeing how disturbing his creative writing essays were.

But she said the warnings were not taken seriously enough. The university has not yet responded to her comments.

Ms Roy said that she was so disturbed by what she found that she decided to take him out of the classroom for one-to-one tutoring.

“I was so uncomfortable that I didn’t feel that I could leave him in the classroom,” she said.

<snip>

“There was some concern about him,” said Professor Carolyn Rude, head of the English department.

“Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they are describing things.”

A play he wrote last year as part of a writing class gave some clue to his thinking. Entitled Richard McBeef, it featured a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of paedophilia and murdering his father.

The teenager talks of killing the older man and, at one point, the child’s mother brandishes a chainsaw at the stepfather.

The play ends with the man striking the child “a deadly blow.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1668735.ece

“His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Stephanie Derry, a fellow student, told the Collegiate Times, the campus newspaper. She singled out an obscenity-strewn drama entitled Richard McBeef, in which a 13-year-old boy accuses his stepfather of paedophilia. The play was circulating on the internet last night.

“In the play the boy threw a chainsaw around, and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a rice krispy treat,” Ms Derry said.

“We always joked we were just waiting for him to do something, waiting to hear about something he did,” Ms Derry added. “But when I got the call it was Cho who had done this, I started crying, bawling.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, citing college officials, Cho even had time to post a deadly warning on a school online forum. He is reported to have written: “I’m going to kill people at vtech today”.

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Thin Black Line
April 18, 2007, 08:40 AM
http://news.aol.com/virginia-tech-shootings/cho-seung-hui/_a/richard-mcbeef-cover-page/20070417134109990001

Mmmmkay......

Titan6
April 18, 2007, 08:46 AM
They also had his roomies on the TV last night as well. They said they had turned him over to the campus police for suicide threats and general crazy behavior long before. He had also been in trouble with the police for stalking no less than three women, maybe more.

It is easy to point fingers now and say what should have been done but as usual the system failed to keep a dangerously crazy person from acting out. All the warning signs were there...

Iain
April 18, 2007, 08:50 AM
Before we get too excited about this...

Shocking

He read English at Sussex University and then became one of the first students to enrol for the creative writing course run by the late Sir Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia.

It was here that he first gave vent to his interest in the darker side of human nature. Bradbury conceded later that McEwan's early stories were shocking.

One of them, Homemade, contains a very detailed description of the 14-year-old narrator's plan to rape his 10-year-old sister. - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6530677.stm

If anyone has read The Cement Garden they'll know all about Ian McEwan's stuff. Then again, there is Atonement...

Thin Black Line
April 18, 2007, 09:12 AM
Iain, quite frankly the stuff in "McBeef" was not unlike the piles of boring tripe
I read back in the 80s --and would not have warranted a referral by faculty.
Point here is what exactly did worry Prof Roy? What kind of poetry got her
attention because it surely wasn't this....

They said they had turned him over to the campus police for suicide threats and general crazy behavior long before. He had also been in trouble with the police for stalking no less than three women, maybe more.


More warnings ignored?

This has happened prior to every mass shooting in this country.

crazed_ss
April 18, 2007, 09:25 AM
What can really happen to someone who writes crazy school essays though? The teachers can complain to the authorities, but in the end what real action can be taken? Can a person be kicked out of school or maybe involuntarily committed for writing crazy essays?

Titan6
April 18, 2007, 09:28 AM
They also said they took him out one time and after a few beers he told them that he had an imaginary girlfriend.

They asked them if they ever thought he could do something like what he did abd they said they were only a littl e surprised as he did not seem violent only depressed.

ilbob
April 18, 2007, 09:36 AM
It is very easy to criticize after the fact, but the reality is that we do not know enough about the human psyche to even begin to make accurate judgments about when someone's quirks will turn into being dangerous to others.

It is tempting to claim that "someone" should have done "something", but even if "something" had been done, there is no reason to believe it would have stopped this madness.

Thin Black Line
April 18, 2007, 09:43 AM
ilbob, understood. What I'm wondering about here is prior history w/ the police,
mental health, and what kind of things were expressed in his writing.

Example: if someone was stalking women on campus, referred to police for
it, sent to counseling, and still writing poems about rape/murder/etc of
women, then what would you want done?

Is a shoulder shrug the best we could still manage? :scrutiny:

Jimmypop97
April 18, 2007, 09:49 AM
Here is the play they are talking about in the story. To seem to be so arrogant about his "intellectual prowess", the little sicko wasn't even a good writer.
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/0417071vtech1.html

whoops, it's already posted above...

JWarren
April 18, 2007, 09:52 AM
I am up in the air on what could have been done regarding his writings. I sat through hours and hours of creative writing classes, and write to this day.

On one hand, I fully support being able to express yourself-- and that some darker writings are not indicitive of a disturbed mind. Sometimes, it is an exercise in stepping outside of your role and learning to write from a different persespective-- one that may be alien to you.

Consider this: We give writers of such movies as Saw, Silence of the Lambs, Hannabil, American Psycho, House of Wax, Hostel, Turistos, etc millions of dollars at the box office for writing equally disturbing and disgusting work.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we will commit them or give them an Oscar.


Now... on the other hand.

If I had to sit through a class and read the two plays I just read from a fellow student, I would be VERY concerned. There is a difference between creative writing that deals with uncomfortable subjects and deep-seated psychosis. I know that we are ALL experts in hindsight, but I truly believe that I would recognized-- if nothing else-- that this person was dangerous.

We had an issue somewhat similar to this in my college fraternity. We had a member that was a "genius." He entered college 2 years younger than most, and was a perfect student. He was also one of the most skilled writers I've ever read. It turns out that he was molested most of his life by an uncle. He became an alcoholic and drug addicted. He was struggling with his sexuality, and would routinely be found naked on campus when he drank. When we talked to him about getting help, he said nothing.-- but then went home the next weekend and stole a firearm from his step-father. He came back to school and told a "friend" that he was going to "take care" of the officers of the fraternity (one being me.)

Obviously, we were told. He was expelled from the fraternity. His family had him committed for his problems and I didn't see him again for over two years.

Skip ahead two years from that threat. I was on a date at a local Mexican restaurant. The waiter comes up to take our drink order and (Oh Snap!) it's him. He acts like he doesn't know me, but I see him look over at our table oddly as he left (maybe my imagination.) I gave the date a Cliff's Notes version of what happened as I dropped a few dollars on the table, and we rapidly left the building. There was no way I could have eaten or drank anything that he served to me.


To get back on topic, I guess there is no real easy answer to the issue of creative writing. I'd rather disturbed persons DO write. It would (A.) Possibly allow these persons to ave a "pressure release valve" that would allow them to contain themselves and (B.) allow them the opportunity to "slip up" and give us a real indication of future events. We simply must learn the warning signs.


John

nico
April 18, 2007, 09:55 AM
I've thought about this too. If one of the girls he was stalking had filed a restraining order against him, or if they had pursued the matter when he started a fire in the dorm, he might not have been able to buy the guns legally. That being said, a sociopath bent on killing people will likely find a way, and it's a lot easier to say things in retrospect than to predict what's going to happen.

ilbob
April 18, 2007, 10:20 AM
Example: if someone was stalking women on campus, referred to police for it, sent to counseling, and still writing poems about rape/murder/etc of women, then what would you want done?

It is very easy to claim he was a stalker, or crazy, or whatever after the fact. And in fact he may well have been all of the above. It is not so easy to make that judgment beforehand with any reliability.

A lot of people are sent to counseling. We laugh and joke about it every day when someone says something that is a little un-PC. "You will have to go take the class". Does that mean we should lock up eveyone that is not PC?

Master Blaster
April 18, 2007, 10:27 AM
Harris and Klebold had been reported to the local police in Columbine Co, for Blowing things up out back of Harris house with pipe bombs, breaking into a neighbors van (led to an arrest).

They had also video taped themselves shooting stuff in the woods, pretending they were shooting people and passed that around.

And other odd and dangerous behavior.

Titan6
April 18, 2007, 10:39 AM
JWarren you bring up many excellent points. I agree in no way should the first ammendment be restricted, especially if someone has issues they are trying to work out.

Consider this though; This lady was head of the department. She has sat through countless hours of drivel and craziness from hundreds if not thousands of students for years on end. How many do you suppose she sent for counseling? I am willing to be it is a very, very small number.

Like I said it is easy to go back now and be the Monday Morning Quarterback.... It won't change a thing.

Beren
April 18, 2007, 10:58 AM
While riding down the apartment elevator today, one of my neighbors, a little old lady, commented on the VT tragedy. "Don't you think they could have done something to prevent this from happening? There were signs."

My response was short (in tone, I hate mornings): "You can't do anything about it until they actually do something wrong. Once it starts, you'd better already be armed."

She was a little put back by my response, but that was fine. We'd already reached the ground floor.

Nightcrawler
April 18, 2007, 11:08 AM
I wrote a short story, in my junior year of college, about a soldier sent in secret from a space colony to make trouble for the oppressive earth government, to including blowing up military transport ships as they lifted off and assassinating earth military leaders.

Professor liked it, but said it was a touch cliche. That it was.

We have to be careful about this. It's very easy to head down the road of wanting to expel people for writing things that one doesn't like. Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, my favorite one of his books, is an emotionally wrenching story of the dark side of human nature, and of redemption. It provided a lot of the inspiration for my stories posted online.

So did films like Kill Bill and the Boondock Saints, come to mention it. Some of you may have noticed that I have a particular interest in stories where the characters are morally ambiguous and there's no clear-cut right and wrong. That's kind of like real life, I suspect.

People say that stuff glorifies violence. I suppose it does; so does every action movie out there, especially the "light hearted" ones (Die Hard, anyone? Kill a badguy, crack a joke! What fun!).

We've come to accept that. I know I have; hell, my story would've been pretty damned boring without any of the gunfights. (I don't think I've glorified violence too much; my character, Valentine, is pretty messed up, up to and including having severe PTSD.)

Conflict is part of human nature, and is the crux of all story telling. At some level, every story involves good guys and bad guys struggling, even if the "bad guys" aren't really characters, but are other obstacles that the protaganist must overcome. No conflict, no story, period.

But stuff that glorifies violence against women? Pedophilia? Rape? What about torture? If you enjoy movies like SAW and Hostel you are comfortable watching horrible scenes of torture and mutilation (personally, I can't stomach such movies).

Jim Webb published some stuff like that (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/27/AR2006102701000.html?nav=hcmodule)and still got elected to the Senate. So I guess it just depends on what circles you travel in. I certainly don't believe Senator Webb to be a woman-hater or a pedophile.

We've pushed the boundaries so far in our society I think it's rather hypocritical to turn around at this late date and say that such and such should've been considered a warning sign. I think they're trying to play the blame game again. If not this, then it'll be "he played violent video games!" (so do I) or some such crap.

buzz_knox
April 18, 2007, 11:18 AM
It's one thing to write about unusual or strange topics (although some of the writing might itself indicate issues, such as expressing a desire to commit violence against nonfictional characters); it's another thing to combine those writings with exceedingly strange or aberrant behavior, including suicide threats or delusions.

As for discussions of whether the shooter would act this way, some students are coming out saying they wondered long before what they would do if this guy walked into class with a weapon.

nico
April 18, 2007, 11:26 AM
If not this, then it'll be "he played violent video games!" (so do I) or some such crap.
It's already being done. An hour or so ago, there was a "school shooting expert" (where do you go to school to get that degree?) on Fox trying to blame Counter Strike. Some mass murderer in Germany played CS, and apparently the Washington Post has an unsubstantiated article claiming that the killer at VT did too.

I liked Counter Strike (as to 10s, if not 100s of thousands of people) and would probably play it (or at least Half Life) now if I had a computer that could support the newer versions.

Nightcrawler
April 18, 2007, 11:41 AM
Valid points, all.

Personally, if someone wrote multiple stories about, say, a character that raped women, and glorified that, then I'd have to wonder about the author.

As an aside, I wonder about Japan sometimes. LINK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ero_guro) LINK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tentacle_rape)

All the same, we have to be VERY CAREFUL not to stray down the road of PC thoughtcrime. That's all I'm saying.

Titan6
April 18, 2007, 11:43 AM
Little things, big things, lots of things. Warnings from classmates, roommates, teachers, women he was stalking. And yet, I bet if we look hard enough there is not a major college campus in America that does not have at least one person that resembles this guy in nearly every way.

There is no magic crazy detector that we can point at someone and say he is a step away from climbing the clock tower with a rifle and high powered scope.

buzz_knox
April 18, 2007, 11:53 AM
The question is do we chalk it up to the inevitable or start thinking about how to weed out the crazy but relatively harmless from the crazy and about to go off?

solareclipse
April 18, 2007, 12:01 PM
well i've written some weird stuff for one of my drama/acting classes (free elective i had to take ages back) but at least i had style.

i skimped over those 7 pages of actual play and it made me cry, how poorly written it was.

:p

you can't really persecute people for what they write... if you do that, most of hollywood would be behind bars on death row.

there is no fine line here. you either persecute people for creative expression, or you treat it like so without question. this kid has been in trouble before, but then again, so have many people. not quite sure what profile one can make to accurately predict mass murderers.. we have the people who snap at an instant and the people who plan it. the later do not really fall in a profile.

Nightcrawler
April 18, 2007, 12:05 PM
if you do that, most of hollywood would be behind bars on death row.

Not to mention rappers.

Caimlas
April 18, 2007, 12:07 PM
They had also video taped themselves shooting stuff in the woods, pretending they were shooting people and passed that around.

And other odd and dangerous behavior.

That's odd and dangerous behavior? I guess it probably would be by the time a person reached high school, to some degree. But it was common occurance from what I recall about my peer group (of social rejects - people who didn't fit in any of the popular scenes in high school such as sports, drama, cheerleading, ALP, etc.). Nobody acted out on any of it, and many of them had access to guns, but I know quite a few of them would draw violent depictions of both teachers and students in their notebooks up until (through?) high school. Most of them were A students and are now pretty successful, some having served their country.

If I might be so bold to say so, I think part of the reason 'big' things like this happen is that people who are borderline sick - ie, not criminally sick in the traditional sense, but just enough nuts for things to build up and get broken under the surface - aren't allowed the little things anymore which can indicate sickness. There is no gradient, it's either "he's OK" or "he's nuts" - and I think this is largely due to the fact that any sort of perceived violence is so heavily shunned by society. In other words, its societally unacceptable to get into a mutually engaged fist fight to settle an argument and let off steam. Instead, people will brood indefinitely until they snap.

Beatnik
April 18, 2007, 12:38 PM
In other words, its societally unacceptable to get into a mutually engaged fist fight to settle an argument and let off steam.

This is utter crap.

I weighed 140 lbs when I graduated high school, and only sitting at a desk for 6 1/2 years has gotten me to my "scientifically determined ideal weight".

I was the victim of plenty of your "mutually engaged fist fights" in my youth. I did not fight, because I was taught that fighting is wrong. It's that simple.

As an adult, I have come to the more correct conclusion: There are times, very few and far between, when you need to fight. And when you do, you have to kill your opponent.

Random fistfights? Well, I can't really comment about them without bringing the size or functionality of the participant's manhood into question.

Thin Black Line
April 19, 2007, 09:13 AM
When we talked to him about getting help, he said nothing.-- but then went home the next weekend and stole a firearm from his step-father. He came back to school and told a "friend" that he was going to "take care" of the officers of the fraternity (one being me.)

Obviously, we were told. He was expelled from the fraternity. His family had him committed for his problems and I didn't see him again for over two years.


This would seem to have been key in prevention.

Titan6
April 19, 2007, 09:28 AM
TBL- Surely you are not proposing a curb on 1st ammendment rights is proper?

Thin Black Line
April 19, 2007, 10:03 AM
No, surely I'm not. In fact, years back when I was an undergrad I took a
number of creative writing classes as extra electives. One was also with a
well-known vietnam vet poet. In all of the classes it was common practice
for us to make copies of our work for all our classmates and critique each
other's work, both verbally during class and in notes on the back (which could
be anonymous). We had our share of sex, violence, and the dark side.

I can never recall a student inspiring fear/dread/loathing in his/her classmates.
I can never recall a student that one of the instructors looked upon in such
a way and then pulled after class. It was always a go around the room based
on seating or alphabetical order kind of calling upon (or by name first if the
instructor was particularly impressed), then "have a good day, see you all
next week." There were plenty of times when students and instructors
expressed opinions on various topics that differed which gave rise to some
emotional debates.

In Cho's case, he inspired fear in his fellow students and instructor(s).

What I'm saying here is that we had someone inspiring fear in the faculty,
stalking girls on campus, having a couple police stop by (though probably
nothing prosecutable at that time), etc. My view at prevention would have
to do with addressing the person showing these kinds of behaviors rather
than the usual "let's ban guns" or "let's give everyone guns." Neither approach
addresses the real problem which is the person who has the problem.

Wouldn't you agree?

ATW525
April 19, 2007, 10:20 AM
I don't think it was the content of his writing that inspired fear, but the quality of it. I can't even finish reading McBeef because it's so badly written it's just down right painful. If I had been in his class I probably would've stopped showing up to be spared having to suffer through that, too. :barf:

cuchulainn
April 19, 2007, 10:40 AM
I wonder what fence-sitting lurkers think of some of the rhetoric on this board -- and worse on other gun boards -- about last-stand shootouts with the gub'mint, voting from the rooftops, feeding the hogs, it's time Claire!, and other violent antisocial death fantasies.

Sad.

Titan6
April 19, 2007, 01:28 PM
My view at prevention would have to do with addressing the person showing these kinds of behaviors rather than the usual "let's ban guns" or "let's give everyone guns." Neither approach addresses the real problem which is the person who has the problem.

Wouldn't you agree?

I agree with you to the point that this person should have been addressed. This is a difficult thing. Even today mental health as a science is in it's infancy. Doctors perscribe powerful drugs based on predictive analysis rather than a farily certain outcome. One doctor best described it to me as trying to figure out what is wrong with your car by putting your ear to the hood while it is running. I do not think in my life time we will see a scanner of any kind that will look into a man's heart and mind and determine what he is thinking and why.

Two hundred years ago if a man were going around writing what he was writing, doing what he was doing and calling himself "Question Mark" he would have had an answer quite quickly and been slapped in the stocks or had some similar treatment until he had modified his behavior. One hundred years ago he would have been sent to an asylum, probably to never return. Fifty years ago electric shocks, maybe an experimental frontal lobotomy.

Today as progressive and liberal as society is there are still a few ways to address this. So we can not really blame society either. A judge ordered him to go to a doctor. He went. The doctor said he did not need to be locked up. Was the doctor wrong? Maybe he was right on that day, but he was wrong two years later. A lot can happen to a 20 year old in two years.

Where does this leave us? In a difficult spot. We can not say enter his name into a database to prevent him from buying firearms. Why? Because if he is sane enough to be walking around in public interacting with people he should be sane enough to own a gun. If he is a danger to himself and others with a gun then he should be locked up.... The gun itself is immaterial. He could have just as easily drove a SUV around campus running people over until the police shot him. It is a catch-22.

So what would you propose?

ArmedBear
April 19, 2007, 01:32 PM
“There was some concern about him,” said Professor Carolyn Rude, head of the English department.

“Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they are describing things.”

A play he wrote last year as part of a writing class gave some clue to his thinking. Entitled Richard McBeef, it featured a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of paedophilia and murdering his father.

The teenager talks of killing the older man and, at one point, the child’s mother brandishes a chainsaw at the stepfather.

The play ends with the man striking the child “a deadly blow.”

I was a Writing major in college.

We had some interesting stories in our workshops, though not this one in particular.

What I ask, though, is should we have thrown Jonathan Swift, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and Alfred Hitchcock into mental institutions for what they wrote in school?

The notion is frightening.

Titan6
April 19, 2007, 01:52 PM
What I ask, though, is should we have thrown Jonathan Swift, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and Alfred Hitchcock into mental institutions for what they wrote in school?

Okay first off to compare this guy's rantings to any of the above people is not a good comparison. They were all actually good and or/are great even though I find Kafka a little wordy myself. While all writers are self indulgent most are not so egocentric that they do not even understand the world.

Second and this is quite ironic, several of the people on the list above were/ are in trouble with the law and/or/ were/are in mental/legal institutions on a regular basis. Some due to substance abuse problems and/or criminal behavior.

Third- no one is proposing anyone be thrown into a mental institution for what they write. This guy was deeply disturbed on many levels. It should have been caught, not just through bad writing but for many other reasons.

patentmike
April 19, 2007, 02:08 PM
To me, the obvious question is: If he was so obviously deranged that they couldn't even let him come to class, how is it that he didn't flunk out? What kind of self-esteem academy are they running there?

They were actually about to let this punk graduate with an English degree just because his tuition checks didn't bounce for four years? Granted, he probably could have gotten into grad school at Yale or Harvard, but then?

Thin Black Line
April 19, 2007, 02:44 PM
So what would you propose?


I noticed over lunch as I flipped between CNN and Fox that both were discussing
warning signs, mental health, and getting the individual treatment. Some of
the concerns were length of time on a waiting list, difficulty forcing treatment
when it's not mandated (ie, required by court), etc.

One of the people was a college student's father who took it upon himself to
get his son treatment. It sounded like things were very bad and this kid was
literally wearing a tinfoil hat.

So my proposal: Be your brother's keeper.

Titan6
April 19, 2007, 04:06 PM
So my proposal: Be your brother's keeper.

Ouch.

I am not saying I don't hear you. However you will not find a lot of agreement in the pro RKBA community on that. Many people here consider themselves rugged indivivdualists (regardless of the reality of their lives) along the lines of Ayn Rand, who of course was deliberately against this line of reasoning on the social, economic and political fronts. Many will gladly shoot a thief in the back for swiping their car stereo. Never mind ever giving a mentally ill person a second thought, other than to have a plan to do them in as soon as they present a threat.

If we look at the historical context where all members of the community were important in order to ensure survival of the community, those days are long gone. A great many people do not consider everyone to have value to them and therefore that person has NO value to anyone. Easier to shoot them and be done with it than to deal with trying to help a person to prevent a tragedy.

Thin Black Line
April 19, 2007, 06:25 PM
Titan6, excellent post. You're right. In fact, many people can use the "I'm
a rugged individualist" mentality as an excuse not to get involved. In practice,
this makes it little different than the typical liberal "no one is individually responsible
or accountable" attitude.

Titan6
April 19, 2007, 11:21 PM
Unfortunately I do not have the answer either.

This is something that requires much thought.

Thin Black Line
April 20, 2007, 10:27 AM
It does. My first inclination is that the individual's family needs to be the
first in line to take responsibility when that individual is impaired and can
not. I know this isn't always possible. I certainly do not want a government
agency being the first.

With Cho, I have to wonder who was footing his bills in school. It was said
he had family in the DC area and they have all lived here since 1992(?). I
know no one wants to blame the family (I certainly don't) for an adult's
actions, but I would still have to wonder what kind of help/effort was made.
I say this because I've known plenty of parents who took care of their
"adult" college kids when they began to have problems on campus. Often
you will find that there was some history back in HS. I would imagine Cho
had some quirks and possibly some prior in-patient mental health in JH or HS,
but that still isn't anything that would or should brand someone with the
proverbial scarlet letter as a future problem in the community.

I think we could still find some sort of balance when it comes to an individual
with a problem --we do it everyday.

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