What about the Mother of the Murderer?

I’ve not wanted to write about the shooting at Virginia Tech on Monday simply because it’s all over the airwaves – online, print, television, cable.  There’s not much I’ve wanted to say about it. Frankly, I can’t bear to watch the news coverage of this horrendous, callous incident.

As a teacher, though, my students wanted to talk about it today, especially my seniors, who are preparing to leave for college themselves in a few months or so.

A question one of my seniors presented was, “What about the gunman’s family? Where are they? What kind of family life did he have? Did he have brothers and sisters? Were they close?” As they asked those questions, I had to revisit what had been going through my mind since I heard about the massacre on the news Monday…

What about the mother of Cho Seung Hui?

I cannot imagine being the mother of any of the students who were killed. But I really cannot imagine being the mother of Cho Seung Hui, the killer.  What kind of questions are going through her head? What is she feeling? I certainly cannot empathize at all. Yet, this young man’s mother is, in all likelihood, bearing the weight of the carnage he inflicted upon 32 people on her shoulders.

I discovered a post at God’s Politics written by Diana Butler Bass, Ph.D. entitled “The Silence of a Murderer’s Mother.” It captures so well what’s been on my heart about the woman who brought Cho Seung Hui into the world 23 years ago. Dr. Bass writes,

“Other than being the mother of one of the murdered students, I can imagine nothing worse than being the mother of the murderer, a murderer who committed suicide. How isolated she must be. She, too, is grieving, mourning the loss of her only son, mourning her dreams for him, and mourning her memories of his childhood. She has little – except confusion, guilt (however misplaced that may be) and questions.”

As a religious studies scholar, Dr. Bass uses the biblical text to attempt to explain Cho’s mother’s silence. She compares Cho’s mother’s silence with that of Eve after she and Adam are banned from the Garden of Eden after their act of disobedience.

Her post is insightful as she comes to the following conclusion:

“Silence may well be the primal response to sin: a mother’s choked pain, the pain of birthing sin, and the pain of birthing children victimized by sin. What can one say in the face of it all? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We are mute. But we are not entirely alone; we are embraced by the silence of Eve.”

I cannot, as a mother, wrap my head around the fact that Monday’s killings occurred. Yet, to understand that a woman – a mother silenced – is out there somewhere (probably trying to make some sense out of her son’s actions) compels me to reach out to her in prayer, to have compassion on her during this time of great distress, and to get it that her silence may be necessary for her at this moment.

Silence. And a painful silence at that…


  1. Keith says:

    Hey KWiz.

    Finally. I’ve been wondering that same question. Like you I’ve been avoiding a lot of the coverage recently because I know the way the media worksand this headline will get squeezed until it’s dry as a piece of dust in the Nevada desert. But of the stories that I did watch – and read – none of them seemed to focus hardly at all on the family. And like you said, the mother of this boy has to be torn apart in ways that are almost impossible for anyone else to ever fully understand. But unlike the mother’s of the victims, she will be forced to bear that grief all alone forever.

    God, the pain…

  2. KWiz says:

    Hi Keith,
    And, in fact, there was a news report yesterday that Cho’s family reached out and expressed their own pain for the killings. I just can’t imagine…

  3. JD says:

    I have prayed for the soul of the killer and his family. They have spoken and are under potection from the FBI and moved daily.

  4. Anna says:

    A wonderful post KWiz. Most people tend to forget – or maybe choose to ignore, that there is another family involved in such horrific events. Take care – Anna

  5. Miss Profe says:

    I am not a mother. However, having talked to my own mother about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, she of course feels very deeply for Cho’s mother.

    Conversely, I have to ask, “Where was Cho’s mother? What role did she play in her son’s life? Did she try to get her son help? How did he get into the state in which he was in?”

    Although at 23 he was a legal adult, if I was in the sort of mental dysfunction as Cho obviously was, my parents, albeit I am an adult, would do everything in their power to get me the help I needed.

  6. KWiz says:

    Thank you everyone for commenting on this post. It’s been awhile and I’m trying to catch up on everything.

    JD, I remember when the family spoke out. I pray that people understand that the family did not make the choice to kill; Cho did. People should not take their anger out on the family at all.

    Anna, I appreciate you taking the time to read the post and to comment. Thank you!

    Gayla, I responded to your comment at your post.

    Miss Profe, there are so many unanswered questions. Issues of parenting can be so complicated, I think. Being the parent of an almost-3-year old, I can see these sorts of issues coming up as she goes to a daycare with children whose parenting is different than mine and my husbands. These are tough issues.

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