BLACKSBURG, Va. – They are grieving, too, the family who loved Seung-Hui Cho.
They love their son, their brother, as deeply as they deplore the things he did. Their hearts break in isolation, in hiding and in torment over hideously violent acts they are as unequipped as the rest of the world to comprehend.
Five days after her brother committed the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Cho’s sister, Sun-Kyung, issued an agonizing statement on behalf of the family, who she said “never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.”
“He has made the world weep,” she wrote. “We are living a nightmare.”
In about 420 carefully chosen words, she said her family shares the darkness that envelops the families of her brother’s 32 victims.
“We feel hopeless, helpless and lost,” she wrote. “This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.”
Raleigh, N.C., lawyer Wade Smith provided the statement after the Cho family reached out to him. Smith said the family would not answer any questions, and neither would he.
Few relatives of the victims were able to find the will or the words to respond. Wendy Adams, whose niece, Leslie Sherman, was killed, said she felt sorry for the Chos.
“I’m not so generous to be able to forgive him for what he did,” she said. “But I do feel for the family.”
Sun-Kyung Cho apologized for what she called her brother’s “unspeakable actions.”
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.
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.
The legacy Cho left – particularly through a package of photos, video and documents he mailed to NBC between the killings – is one of madness, rage and deeply disturbing images of violence.
“We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family,” his sister said. “My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.”
The statement came as police requested a search warrant for Cho’s cell-phone records and e-mail accounts, wanting to find out whether “he may have communicated with others concerning his plans to carry out attacks on students and faculty at Virginia Tech.”
Cho’s Hotmail account 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 in her dormitory Monday. 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 consistently since Monday that they have not ruled out the possibility of an accomplice in planning and executing the attacks. After the first shootings at the dormitory, police focused on Hilscher’s boyfriend, Karl David Thornhill. They were questioning him off campus as Cho mailed videos and other items to NBC and made his way to Norris Hall, where he murdered 30 people.
Police said Wednesday that Thornhill was no longer a “person of interest” but someone they believed could help provide information. He has not been charged or arrested.