To law enforcement, Nevada State College student Johnmarlo Balasta Napa’s fascination with the architect of the Virginia Tech massacre was clear.
He possessed photos of shooter Seung-Hui Cho, made comments related to the killer and created the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
But whether Napa simply had a morbid obsession with the student who killed 32 people nearly two years ago or was preparing to commit a copycat crime is the question to be hashed out during the Henderson man’s federal trial scheduled for later this month.
The answer is clear in the mind of College of Southern Nevada Police Chief Sandy Seda, who is confident cooperative efforts between local and federal law enforcement halted a killing spree.
“People have asked if I believe we averted a tragedy and I say absolutely,” said Seda, who was involved in the investigation that stretched from Virginia to Nevada.
Seda also said that when it comes to such tragedies that might be repeated, “this one is the case that comes to everyone’s mind.”
Napa, 27, was arrested at the Henderson home of his parents in June 2008 and charged with making threatening communications across state lines. In the home, authorities discovered three bullet-proof vests and about 13 weapons.
He made his initial court appearance in Las Vegas, but soon after was transferred to Roanoke, Va. Seda said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives contacted his office just days before the first anniversary of the April 16, 2007 shooting. Threats sent via e-mail to two former Virginia Tech students who had run-ins with Cho before the shootings originated in Southern Nevada.
The author of the e-mails wrote the date of Cho’s birth, the date of his death and the date of his resurrection, Seda said. Also included in the messages were photos of Cho with guns and portions of the manifesto he sent to a television network, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The e-mails were traced back to a college in Southern Nevada. Seda said the computer address, coupled with the time the threatening e-mails were sent and the time Napa was logged on, made the student the primary suspect. “It was a computer in an open area available to the students,” Seda said. “It was pretty easy for us to narrow it down as far as time, place and occurrence. It was John.”
During the investigation, authorities learned that two young students had, days earlier, told Nevada State College administrators about an argument with Napa. Seda said Napa felt disrespected and yelled, “Now you see how things like this could happen at Virginia Tech.”
Seda said those types of comments are not taken lightly.
“People don’t take this as a joke anymore,” Seda said. “Besides this was so close to the one-year anniversary of Virginia Tech.”
Seda said acquaintances of Napa said the man cheered Cho when images of him were shown on television. Napa’s parents are “hard-working, decent people,” who moved to the United States from the Philippines, Seda said. Little else is known about his background.
“His parents were very surprised,” Seda said. “This is a decent family. This is not something you would expect.” Seda’s attorneys, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, argued that Seda intended to hurt no one and made no specific threats, according to the Post. Napa’s trial is scheduled to begin April 28 in Roanoke.
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at email@example.com or 702-384-8710.