'Nightmare of Nightmares'
The alert that two students had been shot on campus blipped into Jong Nam Lee's e-mail inbox around 9:30 that fateful Monday morning, April 16, as the Virginia Tech research scientist was writing a paper. Months earlier, a gunman had been loose on campus, and within the past two weeks, there had been two bomb threats.
Still, the warning prompted the soft-spoken engineer, who serves as an adviser to Virginia Tech's Korea Campus Crusade for Christ (KCCC), to check on his son, a student at the university. Josh Lee was safe. His morning class had been canceled.
But within minutes, Lee's wife, Mi Oak, shared the unimaginable news with her husband. A suicidal gunman had killed 32 and injured 28 on campus before putting a gun to his own head. Quickly, Lee and dozens of other campus ministry leaders and their student leaders pulled out all the stops to respond. Ninety miles away in Lynchburg, David Chung, pastor of Blacksburg's Korean Baptist Church and a professor in Liberty University's Korean-language seminary, heard the news while on class break. Immediately, he canceled class, packed a bag, and made a beeline for Blacksburg. Korea Campus Crusade is based at Korean Baptist Church, a Korean-language congregation. Worship is held Sunday afternoons at the 155-year-old Blacksburg Baptist Church, across the street from the sprawling Virginia Tech campus.
Nearly every congregation and on-campus ministry was hit in some way. "Cru"as Campus Crusade for Christ is known at Virginia Techhad four student fatalities. Baptist Collegiate Ministries lost one student. New Life Christian Fellowship, a student-oriented startup church, had two fatalities and ten student attenders injured. One graduate student affiliated with Korean Baptist took bullets in his hand and arm.
One of Their OwnLost in America
The day after the slaughter, Korean American leaders realized the tragedy had gone beyond the unimaginable. The shooter was Korean. Seung-Hui Cho was a 23-year-old South Korean immigrant with permanent resident status in the United States and a Virginia Tech senior English major. Inside Cho's dorm suite, police found a long-winded rant in which the mentally unstable student railed against rich kids, women, and religion. During Cho's nine-minute shooting rampage, he was supposed to be in a "Bible as Literature" class.
For the Korean American community, Cho was not a faceless perpetrator. He was one of their own who had lost himself. Working the phones, Lee and Chung talked to Korean Christians around the nation and in South Korea to ensure that Christian leaders received an accurate account of what had happened. "Everybody is in shock," Chung said, concerning his own congregation.
Later, South Korea's president issued a personal apology. Lee Tae Sik, South Korea's ambassador to the United States and a Christian, called on his fellow citizens to fast for 32 days to honor each of Cho's victims. Condolences and flowers poured into campus buildings from across the nation and the world. Among them were 32 identical bouquets flanking the center aisle of Virginia Tech's War Memorial Chapel. Tags revealed that the sender was the Korean Church Association of Austin, Texas.
For many Americans, the empathy of the global Korean community for all 33 who died was a struggle to comprehend. For Soo-Chan Steven Kang, a Korean American associate professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, it was perfectly understandable. Korean culture instills a sense of group identity and strong feelings and fears about shame. Also, many Koreans believe they are lumped together in public perception for good or for ill.