"Ismail Ax" The VT Gunman's Final Message?
The Would-Be Clue Sends The Blogosphere Spinning
"Ismail Ax." Eight letters scrawled in red ink across the inside arm of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui; possibly the last thing he wrote before taking his own life. As soon as police revealed that detail, search engines flew into a frenzy as bloggers hunted every inch of the world wide web for some meaning. The phrase surged into Technorati's top ten most popular searches by yesterday afternoon and soon conspiracy theories began popping up as fast as goosebumps on windy April day.
Boing Boing led the charge with a measured explanation: "Ismail is an Islamic prophet. AX may also stand for the Alpha Chi Omega women's fraternity."
But comments followed which began converting "Ismail" to "Ibrahim" a Muslim prophet who according to the Koran entered an idolater temple and "with his axe he destroyed all the statues except one." Though some bloggers jumped on the Islam terror bandwagon, others pointed out that Cho had never given any signs of being Muslim. Another theory changed the spelling again this time to read "Ishmael's Ax" which has connections to the novel Ishmael by E.D.E.N. Southworth about a poor kid growing up outside of what is now DC, just like Cho. Check out this line from it: "as the sound of Ishmael's ax fell upon his ears. Hannah arose and followed Gray to the door, and there before it stood Ishmael, chopping away at random, upon the pile of wood, his cheeks flushed with fever and his eyes wild with excitement." The similarities are tempting and Cho after all was an English major.
Still others suggested that perhaps he was referencing Moby Dick, which tells the tale of Ishmael's fateful battle against a giant whale. One far fetched entry proposed that police might have misread the final two letters confusing AX for YK. Ismail YK just happens to be the name of a fairly famous Turkish rapper, but beyond the name they seem to have little in common.
The idea which seemed most promising to me was that "Ismail AX" was possibly his screen name or maybe an anagram. I began playing around with the eight letters and reading through Cho's creative writing for some other clues. On of his plays, "Mr. Brownstone" reference a Guns and Roses song by the same name. The lead singer of GNR was Axl Rose, so perhaps his online identity might be "Axl is I am"? (You never know!)
Then I stumbled on a blog suggesting "Ismail Ax" could be his online identity for the first-person-shooter video game "Counterstrike." That seemed to fit the profile of a loner who honed his shooting skills playing violent computer games. So I joined the fray hunting through Counterstrike chatrooms to find out if anyone had heard of or seen an "Ismail Ax" aka "Ishmael's Axe," aka "Axl Is I Am". The closest thing I could find was this tempting link at conspiracytheorycentral asking "Has anyone heard from Ismail Ax lately?" But it seemed to be yet another dead end. Finally a search spat out this cryptic document from Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science which contained both the words "counterstrike" and "Ismail Ax." I scanned it top to bottom hoping to find some hidden meaning or maybe a motive or at least a hint where to look next. And though I can't say for sure it isn't related somehow to Cho's final message, it looks more likely to be a language program for translating English and Dutch.
At that point, stumped and nearly blind from squinting through computer code I was ready to give up. But then I remembered "Citizen Kane" and the concluding line of Jerry Thompson, the reporter hunting for Rosebud: "I don't think that any word can explain a man's life." And there it was! We bloggers spent yesterday searching high and low for Cho's Rosebud as if finding it would be some kind of poetic closure for the pain, or at least a clue as to why he committed this horrific crime. But the bottom line is that no 8 letters can explain the method of any human's madness and no explanation can bring back the 33 people who died as a result of it. "Ismail Ax" is instead a reason for us to examine this young man's life and the world it briefly inhabited, in the hopes that we can learn how to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.
-- Emil Steiner
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: jparker | April 18, 2007 11:31 AM
Posted by: jparker | April 18, 2007 11:34 AM
Posted by: smcgunia | April 18, 2007 12:55 PM
Posted by: xplicitmami1 | April 19, 2007 02:44 PM
Posted by: PresaDog666 | April 19, 2007 08:09 PM
Posted by: tank | April 19, 2007 10:51 PM
Posted by: ifcj | April 19, 2007 11:39 PM
Posted by: ifcj | April 19, 2007 11:52 PM
Posted by: ifcj | April 20, 2007 09:28 AM
Posted by: jaredsagal | April 20, 2007 12:29 PM
Posted by: boxer925 | April 21, 2007 11:59 AM
Posted by: cbuerkle | April 22, 2007 02:19 PM
Posted by: rugbekoa | April 25, 2007 05:41 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.