Korean-Americans React to the Heinous Crime of One of Their Own

Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Timothy McVey, Charles Whitman, Seung-hui Cho -- all architects of mass murder, but one stands apart from the pack.

Cho, a 23-year-old Korean-American who killed 33 people, including himself, in a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, is one of few Asians to garner national attention for committing a horrific act of violence. As the world tries to make sense of Cho's brutality, some Korean-Americans worry about how his actions might affect their status in the United States.

On West 32nd Street, the heart of New York City's Koreatown, a neighborhood crammed with Korean barbecues, salons and Internet cafes, young people buzzed about Cho and the Virginia Tech massacre.

"I'm worried," said Sarah Song. "My family says be careful."

Song, an 18-year-old New York City native who's deciding where to go to college next year, believes Cho had something seriously wrong with him.

"I heard he had problems with his girlfriend," she said. "I don't know, he was like crazy."

She hopes people don't look to Cho to shape their opinion of Korean-Americans.

"I would hate that everyone would think Korean people are like that," she said. "Not every Korean person is like that. He had problems."

Asked whether he was worried about Cho's crime coloring Americans' thoughts about Koreans, David Lim nodded gravely. Like Cho, 24-year-old Lim immigrated to the United States from South Korea at a young age. He's dubious about the fate of his friends and relatives in South Korea who want to come to the United States too.

"We hope people don't think bad about Koreans," he said.

Regardless of Race, a Horrific Crime

Other Korean-Americans said what struck them about Cho wasn't his ethnicity, it was the heinousness of his crime.

"If he was white, black, Spanish, it's like he killed someone. It's the same crime," said 21-year-old Hunter College junior Grace Han. "It didn't really hit me that much that he was Korean."

Han said that as friends and classmates were following the Virginia Tech massacre, they were not focusing on the architect of it being Korean-American.

"People are talking about it. But mostly it wasn't, 'Oh my God, it was a Korean person.' Mostly it was, 'Can you believe 30 people were killed?'" she said. "I guess he was just a lonely person -- doesn't matter if he was Korean or not."

Dong Lee, a developer for BlueMatrix research systems, said seeing a Korean name tied to the shootings caught his eye. "When I first heard of it, I heard that he was Korean and I kind of took it a bit more personally than I would have otherwise," he said.

Cho's past behavior and writings show that he fantasized about killing. Because Cho's ethnicity didn't appear to influence his shooting rampage -- and because he didn't target any single race -- Lee hopes the United States labels Cho as a deeply disturbed young man, not as a stereotypical Korean-American.

"If it was a Korean guy targeting white people and only white people were killed, then that would be a different thing," Lee said. "But it seemed like just a crazy, random, insane event."

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