National News

VT Gunman's Family Sorry for His 'Unspeakable Actions'

Posted April 20, 2007 5:43 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2007 7:37 a.m. EDT

— Some have called him a loner, but Sun-Kyung Cho says her younger brother was quiet and reserved. She grew up with Seung-Hui Cho, but now says she feels as if she no longer knows him.

From afar, she learned her brother was the gunman who went on a rampage at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people before committing suicide to cap the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

"He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare," Sun-Kyung Cho said in a statement issued Friday to The Associated Press. "We feel hopeless, helpless and lost."

It was the Chos' first public comment since Monday's massacre. Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith provided the statement to the AP after the Cho family reached out to him. Smith said the family would not answer any questions, and neither would he. (Read the entire statement.)

"Our family is so very sorry for my brother's unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us," said Cho, a 2004 Princeton University graduate who works as a contractor for a State Department office that oversees American aid for Iraq.

"We pray for their families and loved ones who are experiencing so much excruciating grief. And we pray for those who were injured and for those whose lives are changed forever because of what they witnessed and experienced," she said. "Each of these people had so much love, talent and gifts to offer, and their lives were cut short by a horrible and senseless act."

The Chos' whereabouts are unclear, but Virginia State Police said they are under law enforcement protection.

"I actually feel sympathy towards their family," said Virginia Tech freshman Andrea Hacker, 19. "A lot of people are probably looking down on them now, but they have no reason to."

"It's gotta be tragic for them as well. They're going through just as much grief as we are, plus the added pressure of having a brother do this."

The family's statement was issued during a statewide day of mourning for the victims. Silence fell across the Virginia Tech campus at noon and bells tolled in churches nationwide in memory of the victims.

At Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, a memorial service was held for Kevin Granata, a 45-year-old engineering science and mechanics professor.

Some 600 people packed the pews and stood along the walls while friends described Granata as a devoted father to three children, a beloved professor, a world-class researcher and a humble man of good humor.

"It's a hard day, but a day of trying to celebrate his life and his legacy," said Pastor Alex Evans.

Several memorial services are planned for Saturday, including Emily Hilscher and resident adviser Ryan Clark - Cho's first two victims.

"We pray for their families and loved ones who are experiencing so much excruciating grief. And we pray for those who were injured and for those whose lives are changed forever because of what they witnessed and experienced," said Sun-Kyung Cho, a 2004 Princeton University graduate who works as a contractor for a State Department office that oversees American aid for Iraq.

"Each of these people had so much love, talent and gifts to offer, and their lives were cut short by a horrible and senseless act."

Authorities are in frequent contact with Cho's family, but have not placed them in protective custody, said Assistant FBI Director Joe Persichini, who oversees the bureau's local Washington office. Authorities believe they remain in the Washington area, but are staying with friends and relatives.

Persichini said the FBI and Fairfax County Police have assured Cho's parents that they will investigate any hate crimes directed at the family if and when they ever return to their Centreville home.

Cho's sister said her family will cooperate fully and "do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well."

Wendy Adams, whose niece, Leslie Sherman, was killed in the massacre, said of the family's statement: "I'm not so generous to be able to forgive him for what he did. But I do feel for the family. I do feel sorry for them."

"I do believe they're living a nightmare," she added.

Robert Jeffers of Idaho Falls, Idaho, a friend of slain 25-year-old student Brian R. Bluhm, said: "I hope people can see that the right action to take from all of this is love, not hate."

"Based on this sorrowful statement, it is apparent that the family grieves with everyone in the world," Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Cho's name was given as "Cho Seung-Hui" by police and school officials earlier this week. But the South Korean immigrant family said their preference was "Seung-Hui Cho." Many Asian immigrant families Americanize their names by reversing them and putting their surnames last.

Although Cho clearly was seething and had been taken to a psychiatric hospital more than a year ago as a threat to himself, investigators are still trying to establish exactly what set him off, why he chose a dormitory and a classroom building for the rampage and how he selected his victims.

"The why and the how are the crux of the investigation," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. "The why may never be determined because the person responsible is deceased."

During the campus memorial, hundreds of somber students and area residents, most wearing the school's maroon and orange, stood with heads bowed on the parade ground in front of Norris Hall, the classroom building where all but two of the victims died. Along with the bouquets and candles was a sign reading, "Never forgotten."

"It's good to feel the love of people around you," said Alice Lo, a Virginia Tech graduate and friend of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in the rampage. "With this evil, there is still goodness."

The mourners gathered in front of stone memorials, each adorned with a basket of tulips and an American flag. There were 33 stones - one for each victim and Cho.

"His family is suffering just as much as the other families," said Elizabeth Lineberry, who will be a freshman at Virginia Tech in the fall.

College students around North Carolina are also reaching out to the victims in the Virginia Tech shooting.

At N.C. State, they are helping out the Hokies by selling ice cream. All of the proceeds raised next Friday will benefit the Virginia Tech Memorial Fund.

At Peace College, a group of students plan on selling orange bracelets that read "love thy neighbor" and the date of the tragedy.

Another Peace student, with ties to one of the victims, is asking fellow students to write letters to the victim's family.

President Bush wore an orange and maroon tie in a show of support. The White House said he also asked top officials at the Justice, Health and Human Services and Education Departments to travel the country, talk to educators, mental health experts and others and compile a report on how to prevent similar tragedies.

Seven people hurt in the rampage remained hospitalized, at least one in serious condition.