BLACKSBURG, Va. - The family of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho told The Associated Press on Friday that they feel "hopeless, helpless and lost," and "never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."
"He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare," said a statement issued by Cho's sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, on the family's behalf.
It was the Chos' first public comment since the 23-year-old student killed 32 people and committed suicide Monday in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
Raleigh, N.C., lawyer Wade Smith provided the statement to the AP after the Cho family reached out to him. Smith said the family would not answer any questions, and neither would he.
"Our family is so very sorry for my brother's unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us," said Sun-Kyung Cho, a 2004 Princeton University graduate who works as a contractor for a State Department office that oversees American aid for Iraq.
"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," she said. "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."
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. Cho's name was given as "Cho Seung-Hui" by police and school officials earlier this week. But the the South Korean immigrant family said their preference was "Seung-Hui Cho." Many Asian immigrant families Americanize their names by reversing them and putting their surnames last. 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." During the campus memorial, hundreds of somber students and area residents, most wearing the school's maroon and orange, stood with heads bowed on the parade ground in front of Norris Hall, the classrooom building where all but two of the victims died. Along with the bouquets and candles was a sign reading, "Never forgotten." "It's good to feel the love of people around you," said Alice Lo, a Virginia Tech graduate and friend of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in the rampage. "With this evil, there is still goodness." The mourners gathered in front of stone memorials, each adorned with a basket of tulips and an American flag. There were 33 stones - one for each victim and Cho. "His family is suffering just as much as the other families," said Elizabeth Lineberry, who will be a freshman at Virginia Tech in the fall. In a city park in Frederick, Md., student Claire Moblard rang a 3,400-pound bell once for each of the slain. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland asked state residents to observe a moment of silence. And in Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon and about 100 city employees paused silently at City Hall while bells tolled at Zion Lutheran Church and the Baltimore Basilica. Near Richmond, Va., a dozen Tech alumni gathered at dawn at an intersection, waving school flags and banners and holding signs asking motorists to honk. The blare of car horns was deafening, and some drivers lowered their windows and raised their arms in a thumbs-up or V-for-victory salute. President Bush wore an orange and maroon tie in a show of support. The White House said he also asked top officials at the Justice, Health and Human Services and Education Departments to travel the country, talk to educators, mental health experts and others and compile a report on how to prevent similar tragedies. Seven people hurt in the rampage remained hospitalized, at least one in serious condition. (AP) Aaron Beard contributed to this story from Raleigh, N.C. AP-CS-04-20-07 2222EDT