US campus killer's family laments carnage

The family of a gunman who shot dead 32 people has apologised for the “excruciating grief” inflicted on a United States campus, saying as the nation mourned that he had made “the world weep”.

“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,” said a statement issued by the family of South Korean-born Cho Seung-Hui on Friday.

“We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost,” they said in the statement, which named all 32 of the victims who died in the shooting at Virginia Tech university on Monday.

Issued by 23-year-old Cho’s sister, Cho Sun-Kyung, the statement said that her brother was “quiet and reserved,” and had “struggled to fit in”.

“We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence,” the family said. “No words can express our sadness that 32 innocent people lost their lives this week in such a terrible, senseless tragedy.”

The statement came just after bells tolled around the country for the 27 students and five teachers mown down in a hail of gunfire when Cho rampaged through a dormitory block and a classroom complex.

Burning questions remain over whether Cho, who had been briefly hospitalised for mental health problems, should have been able to buy two guns and ammunition.

Police were probing the possibility that Cho may have confided to someone else his plans to unleash a massacre at Virginia Tech, ABC News reported.

According to the report, authorities were now seeking Cho’s cellphone records from Verizon Wireless in New Jersey.

“We can never fully understand what would cause a student to take the lives of 32 innocent people,” US President George Bush said, announcing that he had ordered a review of the questions raised by the shooting.

Top officials from the departments of education, justice and health are to travel around the country for discussions before reporting to Bush with recommendations on how to avoid such tragedies in the future.

Virginia Tech led the country in mourning Friday, as about 1 000 people crowded onto the campus’s drill-field and bowed their heads for several minutes of silence.

Amid the crying and hugging, a handful of students released 32 orange-and-maroon balloons, each bearing a name of the dead.

“You think you’ve cried it all out, and then there’s more,” said Christine Backhus, a psychology senior, from Centreville, Virginia, the same town Cho called home, who helped organise the balloon release.

And as the country mourned on Friday, it was hit by another shocking shooting, when a gunman killed a male hostage and himself at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, leaving a female hostage bound but otherwise unharmed.

The Virginia Tech memorial day fell on the eighth anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.

In a ranting, hate-filled final manifesto sent to a US television network, Cho referred to the two Columbine killers who on April 20 1999 killed 12 classmates and a teacher, before shooting themselves. He called them martyrs.

Known as a sullen loner, Cho was committed for less than 24 hours to a mental institution in December 2005 after stalking two students.—AFP

Paul Handley

Paul Handley

Paul Handley is a former AFP bureau chief in Riyadh. He is currently the US security correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Washington DC, covering crime, justice and US politics. His reporting has appeared in Business Insider, New Zealand Herald, AlterNet, France 24, Yahoo, The New York Times, The Times South Africa, The Globe and Mail, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He is author of The King Never Smiles about the late Thai monarch. Read more from Paul Handley

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