Gunman's family is `deeply sorry'

Cho's sister says she, her parents are `hopeless, helpless and lost'

Virginia Tech shootings

April 21, 2007|By David Zucchino | David Zucchino,Los Angeles Times

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The family of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho spoke out yesterday for the first time since the shootings, saying in a statement that they felt "hopeless, helpless and lost,"' and were left heartbroken by the "terrible, senseless tragedy" Cho inflicted on fellow students and teachers.

"I feel like I don't know this person," Cho's older sister, Sun-kyung Cho, said in the statement issued through a North Carolina attorney. "We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."

The family of immigrants from South Korea had not been heard from since Cho, 23, a senior majoring in English, shot 32 people to death Monday morning, then killed himself.

Sun-kyung Cho and her parents, who have a home in Centreville, Va., are staying with friends and relatives, the FBI said yesterday.

In the statement, Sun-kyung Cho said the family is "deeply sorry for the devastation my brother has caused." She said she and her parents pray every day for the students and teachers who were killed, and the statement listed the names of all 32 victims.

Sun-kyung Cho said the family is cooperating with police to "help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well."

Sun-kyung Cho contacted Wade Smith, a prominent defense lawyer in Raleigh, N.C., late Thursday through a third party.

Assistant FBI Director Joseph Persichini Jr. told the Associated Press yesterday that officials are in contact with Cho's family and that the family has not been placed in protective custody.

Meanwhile, police filed a search warrant request for Cho's cell phone records and e-mail accounts, saying they want to find out whether "he may have communicated with others concerning his plans to carry out attacks on students and faculty at Virginia Tech."

One of Cho's e-mail accounts was used to buy one of the guns he used in the killings. Authorities are also interested in looking at Cho's school e-mail account.

On Thursday, police sought search warrants for the cell phone and laptop belonging to Emily Jane Hilscher, a freshman who was one of the first two students killed by Cho. They are trying to find out whether Cho, who had a history of stalking female students at the school, had tried to contact Hilscher.

Police have said since Monday that they have not ruled out the possibility that Cho had an accomplice in the planning and execution of the attacks.

Across Virginia yesterday, a day of mourning was held for the victims. The Virginia Tech campus fell silent 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.

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

In Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon and about 100 city employees paused silently at City Hall while bells tolled at Zion Lutheran Church and the Baltimore Basilica. In a city park in Frederick, Md., student Claire Moblard rang a 3,400-pound bell once for each of the victims.

`A hard day'

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

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

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

Investigators are trying to determine why Cho - who was taken to a psychiatric hospital more than a year ago as a threat to himself - chose a dorm and a classroom building for the shootings and how he chose 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."

`Never forgotten'

During the campus memorial, hundreds of students and area residents, most of them wearing the school's colors, 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 were killed. 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 who was 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 one for 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.

President Bush 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, the White House said.

Seven people who were wounded in the shootings remained hospitalized yesterday, at least one of them in serious condition.

David Zucchino writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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