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 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.
State officials said he had purchased the two handguns legally.
Yoo, a graduate student, said she did not know the gunman and that none of her Korean friends had heard of him either. She said her family in Seoul was 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.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said he did not expect a backlash against Asians after the shooting.
“This is an incident that cuts across all the barriers. There’s grief for all. I don’t believe this will be seen by people in this community and others as an excuse to exercise prejudice or intolerance against anyone,” he told a news conference.
The South Korean government had 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.
“I think it’s going to affect us quite seriously,” said Sunwoong Kim, president of the Korean-American University Professors Association.
“It’s certainly going to cause a negative stereotype of Korean Americans because he happens to be Korean and a loner and, under some emotional stress, he reacted very violently,” said Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Some 1,655 students at Virginia Tech, or 6.2 percent, are Asian, the university’s Web site says.
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, was a welcoming place.
“Everyone has always been open and supportive,” said Xiaojin Moore, co-owner of the Oasis World Market grocery store a mile (1.6 km) from campus.
Moore, a native of China, hoped her three small children would 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