The family of the gunman in the Virginia Tech shootings had struggled while living in South Korea and emigrated to the U.S. to seek a better life, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
The shooter at Virginia Tech University was identified as Cho Seung-Hui, a senior in the English department, who the South Korean Foreign Ministry said had been living in the United States since 1992. Cho was the only suspect named in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, which left 33 dead including himself.
South Korea's largest newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that Cho's family was poor when they lived in a Seoul suburb and decided to emigrate to seek a better life.
The family lived in a rented, basement apartment - usually the cheapest unit in a multi-apartment building, the newspaper reported quoting building owner Lim Bong-ae, 67. Police identified the shooter's father as Cho Seong-tae, 61.
"I didn't know what (Cho's father) did for a living. But they lived a poor life," Lim told the newspaper. "While emigrating, (Cho's father) said they were going to America because it is difficult to live here and that it's better to live in a place where he is unknown."
Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a special meeting with aides Wednesday to discuss the shooting, as the public expressed shame over a South Korean citizen being identified as the gunman.
"I and our people cannot contain our feelings of huge shock and grief," said Roh during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. "I pray for the souls of those killed and offer words of comfort from my heart for those injured, the bereaved families and the U.S. people."
It was the third time that Roh has offered condolences since Tuesday.
The case topped the front pages of nearly all South Korean newspapers Wednesday, which also voiced worries that the incident may trigger racial hatred in the U.S. and worsen relations between the strong allies.
"We hope that this incident won't create discrimination and prejudice against people of South Korean or Asian origin," said the Hankyoreh newspaper in an editorial.
A sense of despair prevailed among South Korean public.
"I'm too shameful that I'm a South Korean," wrote an Internet user identified only by the ID iknijmik on the country's top Web portal site, Naver - among hundreds of messages on the issue. "As a South Korean, I feel apologetic to the Virginia Tech victims."
Kim Min-kyung, a South Korean student at Virginia Tech reached by telephone from Seoul, said there were about 500 Koreans at the school, including Korean-Americans. She said she had never met Cho. She said South Korean students feared retaliation and were gathering in groups.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday night, expressing condolences and sympathy for the victims, the ministry said.
South Korean diplomats were traveling to the shooting site, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee-yong.
Cho Seung-Hui was in the U.S. as a resident alien with a home in Centreville, Virginia, and lived on campus, the university said. School spokesman Larry Hincker said Cho was a "loner."
Despite being technically a state of war for decades against North Korea, South Korea is a country where citizens are banned from privately owning guns, and where no school shootings are known to have occurred.
However, it has not been immune from shooting rampages.
In 2005, a military conscript believed to be angered by taunts from senior officers killed eight fellow soldiers, throwing a grenade into a barracks where his comrades were sleeping and firing a hail of bullets.