Looking for Blame and Souvenirs From the 'Obliterated' Cho Family

In the five days that elapsed before the family of Seung-Hui Cho issued a public apology for the 32 Virginia Tech murders, Americans played the blame game.

Should the shooter's parents answer for his crimes? Why was the response so late? Why has the family not shared their pain on camera?

"The court of public opinion deals harshly with these families," said Dr. David Fox, a criminologist from Northeastern University who has worked on numerous mass murder cases. "Family shame is not limited to the Asian culture."

Families of killers are hounded by media and public venom. Curious onlookers stalk these families, peeking through their windows and looking for souvenirs. Some families are so persecuted they try to sell their homes.

Last year Fox led a task force following a mass murder in Seattle. Kyle Huff, 28, stormed into a rave after-party and killed six people, then turned the gun on himself. The family had to plan the funeral in secret for fear of reprisal.


In another case the mother of a victim said she "had it better" than the murderer's family, said Fox. "They have lost a child, too. There's lots of sympathy for the victims, but not for the perpetrator's family. Everyone is suffering."

"Historically, we have blamed parents for anything bad our kids do -- since Freud blamed his mother," said Fox. "If we don't blame ourselves, we think 'I should have seen it coming or recognized the impulse.' It happens all the time, even when it is totally unfair."

In a letter released by Cho's sister Sun-Kyung, the family said it was deeply sorry for the tragedy, naming each one of the victims.

"We are living a nightmare," wrote the Princeton University graduate.

The family is now reportedly under a suicide watch, and friends have moved them from their home in Centerville, Va.

Some Korean-Americans wondered why the Chos haven't already killed themselves. "What happened was unforgivable," confided one grown daughter of immigrants, who is well familiar with the traditional culture of shame.

In the nuances of Korean society, community and family take full responsibility for both their children's triumphs and their transgressions.

"How your child turns out is a reflection on you," said Katherine Moon, a Korean-American and associate fellow at the Asia Society.

"Their son has, in effect, killed them too. The Cho family has been destroyed -- obliterated by their own son. You don't recover from this," she said.

No one understands the Chos' desolation more than David Kaczynski, whose brother was dubbed the Unabomber for the mail bombs he sent to universities and airlines. From the late 1970s, Kaczynski's older brother went on an 18-year rampage, killing three and injuring 23. A brilliant academic, Ted Kaczynski suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

In 1995, The New York Times and the Washington Post published the former mathematician's "manifesto" -- a 35,000-word diatribe against technology -- hoping someone would recognize the author's style.

David helped the FBI identify the writings and led them to a reclusive Montana cabin where his estranged brother was arrested.

Today Ted Kaczynski is confined to the federal Supermax prison in Colorado and has refused all contact with his brother and 90-year-old mother.

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