BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Virginia Tech student Jiyoun Yoo was terrified when she heard a gunman had rampaged through her campus, killing 32 people. When news broke on Tuesday that the gunman was a South Korean student, her fear took a new direction.
“I’m from South Korea, so I am a little bit scared,” said Yoo, 24, as she walked on campus. Only one person was responsible for the massacre, she said, “but maybe it will affect all South Korean students.”
The gunman who carried out the worst shooting rampage in modern U.S. history was identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, an English literature student. He had lived legally in the United States with his parents for 14 years, a U.S. immigration official said.
Yoo, a petite graduate student with long black hair, said she didn’t know the gunman and none of her Korean friends had heard of him either.
“If he speaks Korean, we’d maybe know him, but none of us does,” she said. She said her family in Seoul had called overnight, very concerned Yoo might be a target if there was a backlash against Asian students at Virginia Tech.
“It is big news in South Korea. Yesterday they were worried if I’m safe, now they are worried there might be a risk that I’m South Korean,” said Yoo.
In Seoul, the South Korean government also expressed fears of a backlash.
“We are working closely with our diplomatic missions and local Korean residents’ associations in anticipation of any situation that may arise,” a Foreign Ministry official said.
South Korea has the largest number of foreign students in the United States — nearly 15 percent — according to the U.S. Customs and Enforcement Web site.
Police say Cho chained doors closed to trap students inside as he gunned them down before killing himself. There were early rumors the gunman was Asian, but his identity was not disclosed until Tuesday.
Some 1,655 students at Virginia Tech, or 6.2 percent, are Asian, the university’s Web site says.
Annie Hang Tran, a member of the Korean American Student Association, said Cho did not belong to the group. “I didn’t know the shooter,” she said, declining further comment.
White students on campus dismissed suggestions there might be a backlash against foreigners at the university.
“It hadn’t even crossed my mind,” said Andrew Rush, 20, an accounting major. “There is a huge Asian community on campus and we’re all together in class all day. It’s so integrated I don’t think this will change anything.”
Foreign-born residents in Blacksburg said the town, nestled in the mountains of southwest Virginia, is a welcoming place.
“Everyone has always been open and supportive,” said Xiaojin Moore, co-owner of the Oasis World Market grocery store a mile from campus.
Moore, a native of China, hopes her three small children will not be targeted because of their Asian appearance.
“We just want to be left alone to figure things out, until things calm down,” Moore said.
Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul and Andy Sullivan in Washington