One of the men who opened fire on a crowd of partygoers in Long Beach, according to prosecutors, said he felt like he was “in the movies” as he pulled the trigger.
“I was like pow, pow, pow, pow,” prosecutors allege he said, as he described a shooting in which three people were killed and nine wounded—none of whom were the intended targets.
Another defendant, prosecutors say, bragged about how he’d hand-picked the three alleged shooters, whom he had “molded” into gangsters since they were 12 years old. This was the opportunity for them to “earn their stripes.”
Those statements, which prosecutors said were collected by undercover police officers posing as inmates locked up with the suspects, were just some of the evidence presented during the first day of trial for five men accused of carrying out one of Long Beach’s worst mass shootings.
“They planned this out,” Deputy District Michele Hanisee told jurors gathered in a Downtown Long Beach courtroom. “The plan was to kill rival gang members. … Only problem was, there were no rival gang members there.”
The trial, which began Tuesday, has been years in the making.
The defendants—Jeremy Penh, 29; David Heng Long, 23; Kaylin Thik, 24; Ryan Sim, 21; and Grant Johnson, 39—are accused of ambushing guests at a Halloween-themed birthday party in the backyard of a home in Long Beach’s Rose Park neighborhood on Oct. 29, 2019.
They’re each facing nine counts of attempted murder and three counts of murder for the deaths of 35-year-old Melvin Williams II, 28-year-old Ricardo Torres and 25-year-old Maurice Poe Jr., who were in attendance that night.
Hanisee, the prosecutor, said in her opening statement that Penh was the mastermind behind the attack—picking Sim, Long and Thik as the shooters and organizing a caravan of cars to drive them to the party and disguise their escape. Johnson is accused of being a passenger in one of those cars.
The motive for Penh to organize the shooting, Hanisee alleged, was a video on social media.
On the day of the party, Hanisee said, Penh was having lunch with a friend named Timothy Ngoy, and when Ngoy invited him to the party later that night, Penh disparaged the host, Daniel Chan, because Chan had disrespected Penh’s “hood” in a video, according to Hanisee.
After Ngoy had arrived at Chan’s party, he began getting calls from Penh, Hanisee said. During one call, Penh warned Ngoy that his gang would be going to the house and that he should go inside.
Ngoy told Chan about the call, according to Hanisee, who said partygoers, who were mostly Chan’s coworkers from Hollywood Park Casino, then went inside the house.
Chan, his dad, and Ngoy remained outside to check the area, Hanisee said. That’s when Ngoy got a second call from Penh, who started “cussing” at him for telling people to go inside the home, Hanisee said.
Ngoy told Penh not to have his crew show up and that nobody at the party “gang bangs,” Hanisee said. Penh hung up and Ngoy wasn’t able to get back in touch with him, according to prosecutors.
At some point, everything looked clear and partygoers began trickling back outside, Hanisee said.
Within minutes, bullets started flying, according to Hanisee said.
“Everyone thought it was fireworks at first,” she said. “What everyone describes next is chaos.”
Ingrid Cortes, whose birthday was being celebrated at the party, described the moment she was shot in the chest and fell as other partygoers started running around her.
She crawled to the front of the home where she blacked out. When she woke up, she was inside the Chan’s living room where her friends were applying pressure to her wound.
That’s when Ngoy told her: “It wasn’t suppose to happen like this,” Cortes said.
“I couldn’t breathe anymore,” Cortes said. “I thought that was it.”
Authorities arrived soon after to treat the victims and took a bus of potential witnesses back to the police station to interview, Hanisee said.
Eventually, detectives used these testimonies, along with dash-camera footage from a pest control car on Seventh Street and footage from gas stations to piece together who was responsible for the shooting, Hanisee said.
Through their investigation, police identified three vehicles that had been used by suspects involved in the shooting and eventually connected them to the suspects.
Eight suspects—Penh, Long, Sim, Thik, Johnson, Christopher Williams, Danny Sourn and Joshua Sam—were taken into custody in connection to the killings in September 2020.
Four other people were arrested in that operation, but they were booked on suspicion of weapons or accessory charges, not for the killings themselves.
After the arrests, Penh, Long, Sim, and Thik were all taken into different holding cells where officers posed as inmates in an undercover operation aimed at gathering evidence, according to Hanisee. During this operation, Penh, Long, Sim and Thik each admitted to different aspects of the shooting, she added.
It’s in those recordings, prosecutors said, that Penh makes the statement about “molding” the shooters, and Sims explains how it was like “the movies” when they snuck through the alley before unloading their weapons over the backyard fence.
Penh also seemingly admits to getting rid of the guns after the shooting, which police never found, according to Hanisee.
Penh’s attorney, Amy Jacks, didn’t deny that her client was a gang member but told jurors that he wasn’t guilty of the alleged crimes because he wasn’t actually present at the time of the shooting.
Jacks described Penh’s upbringing to jurors, explaining how he is the son of two Cambodian refugees who fled the Khmer Rouge before ending up in a Long Beach neighborhood where gang violence and socioeconomic issues were evident.
From a young age, Jacks said, Penh realized he needed protection, so he joined a gang.
On the day of the shooting, according to Jacks, Penh did everything possible to diffuse the situation and “thwart” the shooting.
“We’d all like to take back the damage that was caused,” Jacks said.
Long’s attorney, Daniel Nardoni, described the shooting as “tragic,” but said none of the evidence that would be presented during the trial would prove he took part in the shooting.
“This is an emotional case and what happened is wrong, but it’s important to remain neutral,” Nardoni said to jurors, adding that Long is not guilty of any of the crimes he’s been accused of.
The other three attorneys representing Thik, Sim, and Johnson chose to reserve their opening statements and may present them later in the case.
Sam, 44, is expected to testify against his fellow gang members later during trial after being offered a plea deal in exchange for his testimony, Hanisee said. If he cooperates, he will plead no contest to three counts each of voluntary manslaughter and attempted murder, for which he will be sentenced 17 years in prison, she added.
Sourn, 30, had his charges dropped in this case after pleading no contest to murder in an unrelated case and being sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.
Williams, 31, pleaded no contest to seven counts of attempted murder in connection to the shooting on Oct. 29, 2019, and was sentenced to 19 years in state prison.