FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Four California men shot at a backyard gathering of family and friends will be laid to rest this month with traditional Hmong funerals, as police continue to search for two assailants, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
The victims were killed Nov. 17 when unknown gunmen entered a Fresno home through an unlocked gate and opened fire with semiautomatic weapons on people watching a football game in the yard.
All were of Hmong descent and the shooting has rattled the central California city, home to the second-largest Hmong community in the U.S.
A Hmong funeral can last several days with mourners singing songs and playing traditional instruments including the geej, a bamboo pipe instrument, according to the Fresno Bee. The ceremony’s length stems from the belief that mourners help lead the spirit of the deceased back through places that person visited throughout their life before reuniting with their ancestors’ spirits in their Hmong homeland of Laos and Thailand.
Many Hmong consider the funeral to be an important final stage of life.
Family members pay respects by presenting a deceased loved one with food and drinks and by burning paper “heaven money’’ believed to be useful in the afterlife. Burials occur on the funeral’s final day.
A service started on Dec. 6 for Kou Xiong, 38, who was hosting the party where the shooting occurred. Xiong is survived by his wife and young daughter. He was described as a gregarious sushi chef who loved having friends and family to his home.
“He was a big part of our lives and he took care of every one of us,’’ his cousin, Chris Xiong, told the Bee.
The funeral for Xy Lee, 23, began on Dec. 14. Lee was a popular singer in the community whose videos on YouTube have been viewed millions of times. He used the money he made making music to support his siblings—college students who work part time—and his parents, the newspaper said.
Funeral details for Kalaxang Thao, 40, were not included in the Bee’s story, per his family’s request for privacy. Thao, who worked at a grocery store, is survived by two daughters, ages 2 and 5, and a pregnant wife. They moved to Southern California after he was killed.
The ceremony for Phia Vang, 31, was set to start on Dec. 21. Vang supported his parents and younger siblings with earnings from his job delivering clinical lab results. His father Seng Vang shared a video with the newspaper of his son playing guitar alongside Lee, the singer.
The senior Vang said visitors would be welcome at the service.
“Please come and love my son,’’ Seng Vang said through interpreter Paula Yang.
Online fundraising accounts have been set up for all the families. A $15,000 reward is being offered for tips leading to the arrests of the two gunmen.
Investigators haven’t identified a motive.