Like everyone, I felt sorry when I heard that 32 people had been killed at Virginia Tech in the worst mass shooting in American history. But my emotions went deeper than that. I also connected as someone who was held up at gunpoint during a terrifying restaurant robbery last year.
I learned about the shooting while I was at school a few hours after it happened on April 16. I saw a developing story on Yahoo! with the headline: “Virginia Tech Shooting: 32 Dead.” I discovered that there were two shooting incidents. One was in a dormitory at 7 in the morning, the other, two hours later in a classroom building. I wondered whether this was the next Columbine, in which two Colorado high school students shot and killed 13 classmates and teachers.
Later that night I got sucked in. The students being interviewed on the news said that the killer walked into classrooms and started shooting people. This was the type of thing I would expect in movies, not on the news. I was stunned. It was inhumane to kill 32 people. They were innocent students and teachers at Virginia Tech.
As I thought about what happened in the classrooms at Virginia Tech, I realized that those shootings had parallels with what happened to me during a restaurant robbery last December.
I flashed back to a Wednesday night when my parents, family friends and I were eating at a Korean restaurant. We were enjoying dinner when suddenly I saw two waiters crawling on the ground. At first I thought they were picking something up, but then I heard two men yell and walk in from the kitchen. One was waving a handgun in the air telling everyone to “get down.” I ducked under the table with my head down and was terrified along with everyone else.
“I have a gun with me, just do what we say. We want all cash, no credit cards, no checks, nothing else. All we want is cash,” one of them said.
They threatened to shoot someone
Immediately, I fumbled my wallet out of my pocket and took out $12 and placed it in front of me. The second guy came around collecting the cash and when my friend’s mom didn’t have anything out he threatened her. “I want cash. Look lady, I’ll shoot you if you don’t give me the money.”
It was obvious she couldn’t understand what he was saying. The thought, “I’m going to die,” ran through my head.
One of the robbers collected cash from everyone while the other emptied the register. Then they disappeared. We stayed on the floor until two people walked in and we realized the robbers had left.
This experience helped me understand how the people at Virginia Tech must have felt. You don’t know if the person is going to kill you. The feeling of “I’m next” had to be much worse for them than what I went through.
Even though in my situation no one died, I was still emotionally damaged. Every time I walk into a restaurant I think that I could be a victim again.
When I went to school the day after the shooting, people were talking about the latest news—the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, was Korean. My friend Raul said sarcastically: “Dude, Se, all I want to do is learn, come to school and be a regular student. I love you, man.” He was implying that I was going to do something violent. I laughed knowing this was a joke making fun of my Korean heritage. I wasn’t offended. But I still thought, why would he say that to me? My friend was joking, but what would other people, who aren’t my friends, think?
Over the next few days, I heard reports on the Korean news of potential hatred toward Asians, primarily Koreans. These reports frightened my parents, who mentioned the L.A. riots when people threw rocks at Koreans.
Although I didn’t think people would attack me, I was sure that Americans would view Koreans differently. When they’d meet me, or any other Koreans, their memories would always link back to this rampage and the crazy Asian killer. After the Sept. 11 attacks, even though I didn’t want to think this way, when I saw a Muslim person, my thoughts traced back to the plane crashes and I made assumptions about this person.
Also, I noticed that the Korean media covered the tragedy differently than the mainstream media, like CNN and the Los Angeles Times. In general, the Korean media put more emphasis on how Cho’s family reacted and how the Korean community could be affected as opposed to analyzing Cho. It was a very Korean response. In Korean society, parents are considered to be responsible for their children’s behavior. But I felt the Korean media should have focused more on the victims or emphasized how we need to do a better job identifying and treating people who might be a danger to others.
They weren’t mourning the victims; instead they were being defensive. Korean TV showed interviews with Americans and asked whether their views of Koreans would change. I think my reaction differed from other Koreans because of the robbery.
Now when I think about going to college I’m kind of worried that there could be another event similar to this. I believe the best way to prevent this from happening again is to remember this tragedy and to learn from what happened.
Other stories by this writer …
News you can use. Se learned how to become better informed about current events. (Jan. – Feb. 2007)