By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
“That morning, we didn’t think that anything was going to be different,” Lam Lieu said in Vietnamese, in an interview with Northwest Asian Weekly. “Our family was so happy. But that night, people called me.”
On Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, Lieu’s wife, My-Linh Nguyen, 45, was shot just steps from the front door of their family home in South Seattle. Also known as Lily to her friends and neighbors, Nguyen was on her way home from work via light rail and a bus. At around 8:30 p.m., a man approached her and attempted to steal her purse at 39th Avenue South and South Warsaw Street. Nguyen reportedly fought back against her attacker.
“Her 15-year-old son heard her calling out his name for help and ran out to find a man kicking his mom,” neighbor Yukiko Sodos wrote on the GoFundMe page started on behalf of Nguyen’s family. “The man then shot My-Linh multiple times in front of her son. Fearing for her safety, her son dragged her from the street to the sidewalk and ran into the house to call 911 and her husband, who was at work.”
According to Assistant Police Chief Robert Merner at a briefing on Dec. 16, the suspect fled.
Nguyen was rushed to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition, where she later died.
A happy family
Nguyen and Lieu come from An Giang, Vietnam, which is in the southwest corner of the country in the Mekong Delta. Lieu immigrated to the United States about 15 years ago. He wasn’t able to bring his wife and young son over until about five years or so later.
“We came to this country because we want [our son]* to have a future,” said Lieu. “Because there are more possibilities here [in the United States].”
Lieu said that his wife worked long hours at a nail salon downtown on weekdays, during the day.
Lieu works nights in janitorial services, also downtown. He delivers newspapers when he isn’t at his full-time job, to scrimp and save for their son. Because of their opposing work schedules, Lieu said that early mornings when he got off of work were the only times their family was able to congregate and spend time together.
“That’s when we’d meet,” Lieu said. “As she was about to go to work, she’d fuss over [our son]. I’d just get home. Then we sit as a family and have a meal together. We worked very hard, but we were also very happy. We weren’t fearful or tired people. We were just a happy family.”
Property theft and robbery in Seattle increased at the end of last year across the board — however, a pattern that emerged is the high number of victims who are Asian men and women in their 50s and older.
Mark Solomon, crime prevention coordinator based out of Seattle Police Department (SPD)’s south precinct, told Northwest Asian Weekly last September that in the International District, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, and other areas with high concentrations of immigrants, older Asians have been targeted due to the high likelihood that they wear gold jewelry, carry purses, or carry large amounts of cash.
Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, SPD’s public affairs director, told Northwest Asian Weekly that the investigation into Nguyen’s homicide is ongoing and thus, SPD cannot share updates publicly at this time. He did speak to what efforts SPD has made toward preventing another occurrence.
“Both uniform and plainclothes patrols have been added,” said Whitcomb. “We are coordinating with our local and federal partners to address crime and safety concerns. Additionally, Linh Thach (SPD’s Asian community liaison), Mark Solomon, and South Precinct Community Police Team staff have been hard at work conducting outreach in the community to heighten awareness and increase safety by distributing multi-language crime prevention bulletins.”
Grappling with grief
In what felt like an instant, Lieu’s life completely changed.
“I’m so sad,” he said. In the weeks following the murder of his wife, Lieu has not only had to contend with his personal loss, but also with the violent nature of the loss and its public nature. He’s staying strong for his son. He said he worries about a lot of things. Their house, once a homebase, now sits largely empty.
“This event happened in front of [our son]. He saw the man, and the man saw him. I’m worried he’ll come back. So right now, I’m focused on the safety of [our son]. So I don’t let him stay at home by himself. He’s at his paternal grandpa’s house. I take him to school in the morning and then I leave him at grandpa’s. And I also stay there with him when I can. During the day [while my son is at school], I go home.”
“I worry that he’s traumatized and that seeing what he saw will affect him later on in life. I’m very worried.”
Vietnamese death rites
Nguyen’s funeral in Seattle was held Thursday, Dec. 22. Seven days later, early on Dec. 29, Nguyen’s husband and their son boarded a plan to take Nguyen’s body back to Vietnam.
For Vietnamese, funerals are significantly more elaborate when compared to American customs.
Death rites can last for years. Among Vietnamese, a proper funeral is one of the most filial acts family members bestow on one another. Additionally, the concept of home is important to Vietnamese, who believe that it is bad fortune to lay a body to rest far away from home. That is why many Vietnamese Americans take a long journey to complete death rights in Vietnam.
Sodos told Q13 Fox that she started the GoFundMe account to help Nguyen’s family with funeral costs and hospital bills. Sodos said that the family did not even want to accept the funds raised.
Lieu told Northwest Asian Weekly that he’d like for the money to go toward his son’s education and future.
“We are her neighbors and wanted to help her family in this terrible time. The Hillman City and Columbia City communities would like to reach out and ask for help for this family. Please make a donation,” wrote Sodos on the gofundme.com page.
“I want to really thank everyone who has reached out to us to help,” said Lieu. “The outpouring of support helped us immensely and it is humbling. It has helped to uplift us.”
“My mother was a great mom because of how generous she was with her time and money to help others,” said Nguyen and Lieu’s son. “She worked very hard along with my dad to give me a good life.”
To donate to Lieu and his son through GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/My-LinhNguyenATragicLossSeattleWA. To donate via check, Northwest Asian Weekly is collecting donations at its office (Address to Lam Lieu, c/o Northwest Asian Weekly, 412 Maynard Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98104) and we will pass donations along to the family.
Anyone with information about Nguyen’s homicide is asked to call the Seattle Police Department’s tip line, 206-233-5000, or Crime Stoppers, 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
*Lieu’s son is a minor and asked that we not name him in this story.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.