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South Korea Expresses Condolences Over Virginia Tech Shooting

The father of the gunman in the Virginia Tech shootings had said before emigrating to the U.S. that he wanted to live in a place where he was unknown, leaving behind a relatively poor existence in the South Korean capital, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Cho Seung-Hui's family lived in a Seoul suburb in a rented basement apartment — usually the cheapest unit in a multi-unit building, landlord Lim Bong-ae, 67, told Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest newspaper.

The paper reported that Cho's family decided to emigrate to seek a better life.

"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."

Police identified the shooter's father as Cho Seong-tae, 61.

Cho, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English at Virginia Tech, arrived in the United States as boy in 1992.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a special meeting with aides Wednesday to discuss the shooting, and was to speak publicly about the tragedy later in the day, his office said, without elaborating on what the president discussed with his aides.

On Tuesday, the presidential Blue House issued a condolence statement saying Roh "was shocked beyond description again over the fact that the tragic incident was caused by a South Korean native who has permanent residency" in the U.S.

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," the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial.

A sense of despair prevailed among the South Korean public.

"I'm too shameful that I'm a South Korean," an Internet user with the ID "iknijmik" wrote 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.

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.