At vigil, mourners grapple with fear, past trauma in wake of mass shooting

Dozens of community members gathered in front of St. Matthew Catholic Church in the city’s Rose Park area Wednesday night, a day after three men were killed and another nine people were wounded during a mass shooting at a house party less than a block away.

Many stood with lit candles surrounding the church’s steps at the corner of Seventh Street and Temple Avenue.

“I wish I could take back the last 24 hours,” said Gretchen Swanson, president of the Rose Park Neighborhood Association.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, whose district includes the Rose Park neighborhood, shared her office’s frustration at events like yesterday’s after feeling like they’ve done everything in their power to prevent gun violence.

“We too feel frustrated and powerless and a little scared,” Pearce said.

Roth Prom holds two candles as she attends a community vigil for the 12 people shot last night at a Halloween party in Long Beach Wednesday, October 30, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Sgt. James Smigla, who has patrolled the area for about a dozen years, called the neighborhood a “home away from home.”

“We’re working very diligently to get the perpetuators of this heinous crime in custody,” Smigla said.

Several hours earlier, chaos ensued when a masked suspect or suspects shot indiscriminately at a crowd of about 25 to 30 during a Halloween party at a home on Seventh Street, near Ohio Avenue.

Police believe it was a targeted attack but so far have released little suspect information.

Sithean San, chair of the nonprofit Cambodia Town Inc., said the family that hosted the party was in shock and feel terrible about the turn of events.

San, who attended the vigil, had visited the family earlier in the afternoon, the first time they were allowed back inside the house since last night’s shooting.

“They are all in trauma,” San said.

Sithean San stands with other members of the community at a vigil for the 12 people shot last night at a Halloween party in Long Beach Wednesday, October 30, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The family hosted a Halloween party that doubled as a birthday celebration for one of the son’s female coworker, San said.

The family told San that before the shooting erupted a masked man walked up to the son and asked, “You ready to die tonight?” before leaving.

The son thought it was a Halloween prank but still took the threat seriously, leading to the father bringing guests inside and turning the house lights off.

But guests kept arriving and soon everyone thought it was OK to go into the backyard. Then, the suspect climbed up on the alleyway fence and the shooting began.

Only one candle had a name on it at a community vigil for the 12 people shot last night at a Halloween party in Long Beach Wednesday, October 30, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Richer San, who works at the Pacific Asian Counseling Services, said the mother was especially distraught.

She knew all her son’s friends because they constantly visited.

The event also brought back her own horrifying past, the Khmer Rouge genocide she survived decades ago.

“She was saying this reminded her of the Killing Fields,” Richer San said.

Richer San, who is also a Khmer Rouge survivor, urged the family to not let the incident scare them.

“It’s our community,” Richer San said. “We need to protect it. We need to be vigilant.”

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.