Below is an essay I submitted to The New York Times' Op-Ed page following the Virgina Tech tragedy. The following morning, Cho Seung-Hui’s family made their first public statement.
Although only a few days have passed since the massacre at Virginia Tech, the amount of coverage the tragedy has rightfully already received is equivalent to the amount that most incidents would get in a year, if that. And in these few days, with all that coverage (some tasteful, some ruthless), I’ve been surprised not to see an interview, or at least read a statement, from Cho Seung-Hui’s parents.
After watching and reading countless interviews with the families of students who survived, or did not survive, I wonder how Cho’s mother and father felt on the afternoon of April 16, after it was announced that their son was the shooter. I also wonder how they are dealing with the immediate consequences of his actions. What are they thinking and feeling as this, a practically unimaginable parents’ nightmare, continues to unfold? What daily rituals have paused? Are they able to get out of bed, tie their shoes, or swallow their food? Have they seen the footage of their son’s last, telling video flash large on their family room TV screen or splayed across the front page of the newspaper that I imagine delivered to their home each morning? If so, do they see the face of their son, or are his previously familiar features rendered unrecognizable with each horrifying revelation about his short life? What was their relationship with him like? And, the most difficult yet unavoidable question of all: to what extent did they know about their son’s mental state?
As questions of Virginia Tech’s responsibility regarding Cho’s mental health arise, the general public is being made aware that the way schools handle students with mental health problems is dictated by federal law, and that without a student’s consent, parents can’t be notified even if their child has severe mental problems. After such a horrendous event, we naturally sift through the evidence looking for answers, hoping to place or diffuse blame. Thus far, the evidence says that although he was not unknown, Cho was a stranger to his peers. Was he a stranger to his parents too?
Surely the life Cho’s parents knew as immigrants from Seoul who worked at a dry-cleaning business in Centreville, Virginia changed forever last Monday. Unfortunately, their lives will be eternally intertwined with their son’s horrific actions. I imagine that right now they are reeling in shock, and that they may be worried for their own safety. I hope that their lives are not jeopardized, and that they, along with all the other victims, can one day find peace. In the meantime, I hope they soon will publicly help shed some light on the mysterious student who has caused such heartbreak all over the world.