BLACKSBURG, Va. — The family of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho said Friday that they felt “hopeless, helpless and lost” and “never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.”
“Our family is so very sorry for my brother’s unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us,” the family said in a statement issued by Cho’s sister, Sun-Kyung Cho.
Seung-Hui Cho, 23, an English major, killed 32 people and committed suicide Monday at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
“He has made the world weep,” the statement by Cho’s family said. “We are living a nightmare.”
Naming all 32 victims, the statement said: “We pray for their families and loved ones who are experiencing so much excruciating grief. And we pray for those who were injured and for those whose lives are changed forever because of what they witnessed and experienced.”
Wade Smith, a prominent lawyer in Raleigh, N.C., who represented one of the exonerated suspects in the recent Duke University rape case, said the family provided the statement to The Associated Press after reaching out to him. He said the family would not answer any questions, and neither would he.
The statement was the family’s first public comment. Cho’s sister is a graduate of Princeton University in New Jersey who works as a contractor for a State Department office that oversees billions of dollars in U.S. aid for Iraq. She would not comment when contacted earlier this week by the Princeton student newspaper.
The statement was issued during a statewide day of mourning for the victims of the worst massacre in modern U.S. history.
Sun-Kyung Cho said her family would cooperate fully with investigators and “do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well.”
Parents in contact with FBI
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.
Persichini said the FBI and Fairfax County Police have assured Cho’s parents that they will investigate any hate crimes directed at the family if and when they ever return to their Centreville home.
The family 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.
“We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person,” Cho’s sister said. “We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.”
She said her family will cooperate fully and “do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well.”
Wendy Adams, whose niece, Leslie Sherman, was killed in the massacre, said of the family’s statement: “I’m not so generous to be able to forgive him for what he did. But I do feel for the family. I do feel sorry for them.”
“I do believe they’re living a nightmare,” she added.
Robert Jeffers of Idaho Falls, Idaho, a friend of slain 25-year-old student Brian Bluhm, said: “I hope people can see that the right action to take from all of this is love, not hate.”
“Based on this sorrowful statement, it is apparent that the family grieves with everyone in the world,” Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.
The gunman’s name was given as Cho Seung-Hui by police earlier this week, with the surname first, as is common among many Korean families, but the Cho family statement rendered his name as Seung-Hui Cho, with the surname last in the American fashion. NBC News and MSNBC.com are adopting that rendering.
More search warrants filed
While Cho clearly was seething and had been taken to a psychiatric hospital more than a year ago as a threat to himself, investigators are still trying to establish exactly what set him off, why he chose a dormitory and a classroom building for the rampage and how he selected 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.”
On Friday, investigators continued their hunt for a connection between Cho and Emily Hilscher, one of the two victims killed at West Ambler Johnston Hall, filing a search warrants seeking information from the students’ Virginia Tech e-mail accounts.
Police also filed warrants seeking records from Cho’s Verizon Wireless cell phone, and Cho’s records from the student health center. Police recovered his medical file and counseling file, according to the warrant.
The contents of the warrants were first reported by ABC News.com.
‘Didn’t talk much when he was young’
On Thursday, an uncle of Cho’s, said the gunman was a worry to his family because he did not speak much as a child.
He was so quiet, his uncle said, that there were even concerns that he might be mute.
But there were no early indications that Cho, who immigrated with his family at age 8 to the United States, had serious problems, said the uncle, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Kim.
Cho “didn’t talk much when he was young. He was very quiet, but he didn’t display any peculiarities to suggest he may have problems,” Kim told the AP in a telephone interview. “We were concerned about him being too quiet and encouraged him to talk more.”
The Chos left South Korea in 1992 to seek a better life in the United States, Kim said. The family never visited their homeland, and Kim said he did not recognize his nephew when his picture appeared on television.
“I am devastated,” Kim said between heavy sighs. “I don’t know what I can tell the victims’ families and the U.S. citizens. I sincerely apologize ... as a family member.”
In South Korea, Cho’s parents ran a small bookstore in Seoul, Kim said. The family lived in a two-room apartment no larger than 430 square feet.
“They had trouble making ends meet in Korea. The bookstore they had didn’t turn much profit,” Kim said.
Grandfather: Cho quiet, but ‘well-behaved’
Kim said his sister — Cho’s mother — occasionally called around holidays but never mentioned having any problems with her son.
“She said the children were studying well. She didn’t seem worried about her children at all,” Kim said. “She just talked about how hard she had to work to make a living, to support the children.”
He said he has been unable to reach Cho’s mother since Monday’s massacre.
Cho’s maternal grandfather also told South Korean newspapers that relatives were concerned about Cho’s not talking much as a child.
Cho “troubled his parents a lot when he was young because he couldn’t speak well, but was well-behaved,” the grandfather, who also was identified by only the surname Kim, told the daily newspaper Dong-a Ilbo.
In Seoul, more than 1,000 people sang hymns and prayed for Cho’s victims at a special service at Myeongdong Cathedral, some fighting back tears. White flowers, candles and a U.S. flag adorned a small table in the center of the chapel.
© 2013 msnbc.com